By Nina Watts-Carrier
International Children’s’ Day celebrates children globally and draws attention to the Rights of the Child. Rights, by definition, are the fundamental normative rules about what is allowed of people or owed to people. These innate rights recognise that the child is a human being, a citizen with entitlements and dignity from birth. How we view children influences how we interact with them and our perception of childhood generally derives from our historical, cultural and social experiences; subsequently expectations of childhood, and how it is lived, differ from place to place. It is also fair to say that childhood is not the same for all children and “idealised” notions of childhood may be inappropriate and / or unrealistic. (Morrow, 2011)
The Sisters of St Joseph have a long history with education, particularly of children, in Australia. In the mid 1990’s the Sisters supported the development of a secular, small group, peer-based education program to support and empower children and young people to adjust to experiences of change, loss and grief as they felt that it was an unmet need within contemporary society; thus Seasons for Growth was created. Change is a certainty throughout life; sometimes we choose it and sometimes it is unwelcome and beyond our control. Skills that are developed to support positive-adjustment to change can be beneficial over a lifetime.
Good Grief takes a very particular view of Childhood which is that children are present in our world as human “beings” not human “becomings” (Mayall, 2002). We recognise the importance of respecting the dignity and self-worth of all children, including trying to understand their lives from their own viewpoints, without judgement. We believe that children are capable of adapting to loss and coping with grief, but their ability to do so relies on adult support to help them make sense of and grow from their experience. Seasons for Growth endeavours to realize this possibility. While it is fair to say that a large portion of children in the western world enjoy a high standard of living, especially compared to the majority of their peers in the developing world, there still remains opportunities to further recognise children and childhood and their position in western society. Are the Kids Alright is the final report of the Child Wellbeing Project about young Australians between 8 and 14 years and it finds that young people are experts in their own lives so their views need to impact policy. This article discusses how the Good Grief understanding of childhood correlates with the UN Rights of the child, specifically across the three articles identified
Article 3 of the UN Rights of the Child states that: All organisations concerned with children should work towards what is best for each child. Behaviours that are developed early in life to protect one from emotional pain become the automatic way of coping with difficulties. These strategies may be good, or not so good. It is important that children and young people are taught coping strategies that are healthy and contribute to their overall wellbeing. The World Health Organisation defines wellbeing as a state of mental health “in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” Schools are, by far, the most common agency through which Seasons for Growth is delivered to children and young people. Graham et al 2014, conclude that relationships are central to achieving the WHO wellbeing objectives and schools play a key role in nurturing experiences of being cared for, valued and respected which are key to wellbeing
Article 6 says: Children have the right to live a full life. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily. Resilience, the ability to recover from setbacks, cannot grow without support so Seasons for Growth purposes to help participants understand that their reaction to change and loss is normal, to enable the development of help-seeking behaviours and to recognise their own autonomy. Peer support and a person centred learning approach underpin Seasons for Growth. Peer support is the social, instrumental or emotional support that persons sharing similar life challenges or circumstances provide to each other in reciprocal fashion. Listening to others can often assist us with listening to ourselves. A person–centred learning approach doesn’t use specific group processes or identify the Companion (facilitator) as the expert, but aspires to create an environment where participants become aware of their own strengths and resources, and decide on their own solutions. Companions model empathy, understanding and acceptance in the group in order to empower participants to be partners in learning. The intention of Seasons for Growth is to ensure that the learning experience assists participants well beyond the duration of the program
Article 12 instructs that: Children have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account. A component of the Good Grief understanding of childhood is acknowledging the voice of the child, that is; the validity of a child’s opinion and a child’s understanding of their experience. We advocate that no child or young person should participate in the Seasons for Growth Program unless it is of their own accord. Seasons for Growth endeavours to help participants recognise their own agency i.e. their ability to make positive decisions regarding self-care, emotional support and identifying and utilising a support network. Change brings about uncertainty. Through being actively engaged in processing their experiences, participants move from being passive to pro-active and develop an understanding of their own autonomy in their lives. This is a behaviour that they can continue to build into adulthood.
Our environment and our experiences shape our expectations; therefore it is logical to conclude that children who grow up in an inclusive society where, they are treated fairly and authentically, will model the behaviour that they have been shown. A world in which all individuals are accepted, supported and treated with respect is certainly worth aspiring to.