During our recent summer holidays we spent some time in the tiny seaside village of Mahia on New Zealand’s east coast. There were eight children, ranging in age from 13 to our darling two year-old.
One of the privileges of a holidaying in a small village is that the older and middle-sized children can generally wander as they wish – with a few firm rules in place. One morning, an 11 year-old, a nine year-old and an eight year-old went off biking together. They wandered a bit and then ended up at the top of a steep hill.
On the way down that hill the eight year-old (N) – her first time on this particular bike – used her front brakes instead of her rear brakes and crashed over the handle-bars onto the tarmac. She was in a great deal of pain and there was a great deal of blood. Without hesitation, the nine year-old (J) raced back to the adults for help and calmly informed us that N needed urgent assistance. The 11 year-old (B) also acted immediately – she hopped off her bike and stayed with N; she used her own sweatshirt to mop-up blood as best she could, all the while reassuring N that help was on the way and that it would all work out OK.
Next and without prompting, J returned to the scene with a bucket of water to wash away the blood from the road and B realised that the deepest wounds were on N’s knees so attended to them the most.
Sure enough N needed to travel by ambulance to the nearest hospital, but luckily had not done as much damage as the ambulance officers originally thought – thanks to her bike helmet. (She’s fully recovered now.)
What struck all the adults present was the maturity of B and J. They were completely calm (yes..that word again); they knew they could not manage themselves – so they sought help; and the things they did do were helpful, not harmful. They were empathic and they were practical. And no-one told them what to do.
All three children have different temperaments, and at first glance seem to come from different styles of parenting – yet on closer investigation we find…
1. All three come from highly demonstrative and affectionate families and have all bed-shared at some stage.
2. All three come from families where outdoor and imaginative play are encouraged.
3. All three come from families where brattish or sassy behaviour isn’t tolerated in any way manner or form; yet they are also listened to when they have real needs or worries.
4. All three come from families where stories are highly valued.