Browndale Philosophy III
The philosophy and rationales of The Browndale Treatment Process
by JOHN L. BROWN, FRSH, ACSW, AGPA Founder of Browndale
- All of our work with children is based on the recognition that they need logical, reasonable structures and limits within an atmosphere of acceptance and love so that they can test and develop their own capacities and judgments that they will need for independent living. The family civilizes the child who is born uncivilized, without language, without experience, without knowledge other than that which is carried within his genetic inheritance. The family is society's major tool for civilizing the young. The task is so unbelievably burdensome that biological parents cannot do it alone. Kinship, as it was experienced historically, provided the support systems that biological parents needed to perform this task. A large extended family, with all the generations close at hand, provided an orderly social structure with time-tested limits and expectations which were familiar to and part of each person who made up the kin. Without the limits and structures that guide the child's life energy into patterns of behaviour that are civilized, the child is left to his base impulses and his primary pleasure drives that isolate him from the evolution of his society and those acts that are essential to the collective good.
In the extended family structure, the value system, the ethics, the morals, the standards, were a part of the normal daily life routine. If they were taught, they were taught by story, by illustration, by direct experience — they were never preached, they were never lectured, they were never forced. This process should not be idealized — it must be tied to the practical realities of life and the society in which we live.
This requires that each staff person, as indeed each parent in life, must choose by which means he will civilize his children and what ethical and moral values he will pass onto them. If the parent and family do not assume this role, or if they are confused and misguided in how and what they select as important, the child cannot become a civilized adult. Nor can the civilizing be done by the state, or the church, without the functioning of the family; and this is the weakest point in the whole of our social order in the western world. Under the guise of our dedication to individual freedom, we have, in almost all of our child and family law, undermined the family, weakened it, removed from it its central role and purpose in the rearing of the young. It is not strange then that the social organizations that formed the essential part of our society, the schools and the churches, have tended to follow suit and have in a like fashion undermined and been destructive to the role and function of the family.
A person's mind functions to collect and organize data. The mind works constantly to correlate and integrate data that can be connected, or has a relationship. Orderliness and organization of life is not in itself repressive to the child. It does not inhibit his curiosity, or limit his growth and development. However, the orderliness that the child experiences must be in harmony with his maturation, with his needs, with his readiness to function. (Piaget and Wicks)
- Children need opportunities for adventure. Exploring, discovering, building, role playing, and fantasy, are ways in which children find adventure directly. They can also find it, vicariously, in film, story, and drama. For the normal child the problem of providing adventure is no great task. He finds it in a cardboard box which becomes a house, a plane, a spaceship, a boat, or a cave. He finds it in the back garden which becomes a jungle. He finds it in daydreams and waking fantasies, in exploration and discovery of threat, attack, heroics, and adventure. His growth, development and maturation depend on his doing this. For the child that comes to us, adventure does not come so easily. The child, if freed enough, may be able to generate his own "life of adventure" but, often, the disturbed child's fantasies are dangerous and threatening, annihilative in character. He is not able to control them and so they don't go away when he has finished playing. These fantasies and adventures are unwelcome. They serve a purpose only insofar as they help us recognize the child's mechanisms for relating to the world around him and his inner fears and anxieties that account for his peculiarities in behaviour. We must make his environment and his human relationships such that these "unwelcome adventures" are minimized and we, as adults, directly and indirectly through other children, must help these children experience safe and gratifying adventure through role play and little dramas that we create as a normal part of the life style of our home. As the child gets older and his need for adventure requires that he explore the world around him — the city, the country, the land, the water, and the air— it requires that, within the context of our modern day, he experience propelling himself through space with tricycle, bicycle, motorcycle, car, airplane, glider, sled, skiis, and skates, etc. It requires that we provide the child with opportunities to climb and hunt and discover the earth and space through telescopes and observatories, the inner world of the microorganisms his eye cannot see unassisted, the world underground, the world underwater, nature and matter, the world of the mind, and of thought, in literature, drama, music, and in art.
- The child needs opportunities to make and appreciate art and drama in all its various forms. Each person has the capacity to create out of materials objects of beauty and worth. In our society, which is so consumer oriented, these latent talents seldom have opportunity for stimulation or expression because so many things are so readily available. There is a rich history in the world of man's achievements in
the arts. Our children need to experience this as freely as possible by direct exposure and with-. out the prejudicial restrictions of opinionated adults.
We tend to think, in our ignorance, that appreciation of the arts is the result of privilege and education. But art is not for the privileged few. Man has appreciated art and beauty and form and colour and sound from the beginning of his time. I have collected, over the years, objects of exquisite beauty that were made generations ago by people who had no formal schooling, knew nothing of the arts, had very little in the way of materials, yet out of an inner creative sense of the unity and beauty of nature, made exquisite things which lasted beyond theirtime and which bring pleasure and a deeper understanding to people who now have the opportunity to see them.
- Children need to experience, throughout their infancy and childhood, an open, positive, ex
tended environment. This is especially needed for the handicapped child since almost inevitably his handicap would have produced limiting human contact. We mean by this that the child needs to experience people who are open, avail able, responsive and extending of themselves to others. Child care has frequently been relegated to the domain of rigid, unsharing, overly controlling adults who are clean and proper and ever-so-godly in their faultlessness. This condition can only be attained by being a cjosed person. An open person falls prey to the many vicissitudes of life that inevitably expose his weakness, his inadequacy, his folly. We can see in the lives of children who come from families who are restrictive and repressive, a dreadful frustration if they do not identify with these adults, or — if they do identify — a young person who is shut off from himself and the world around him by rigidities not of his own making.
- All children need to be treated with dignity and respect by others particularly by the adults and older members of the family. This doesn't mean that there can't be moments of crisis, confrontation, and criticism, but there must also be a proper tactfulness which respects the child's capacities and feelings from his point of view. Laughing at children's mistakes, ridiculing them, comparing their performance in a deroga tory way with other children's performance, these are the dreadful practices that wound and handicap children and which are done by many persons thoughtlessly and sometimes with indifference. One of the most common failures that I see in the work of my colleagues who have dealt with the children before they are sent to us lies in this very area. As a young man in the field, I was horrified by the gross tactlessness of my professionally trained colleagues in dealing with handicapped children. For a child to have a serious problem and to be part of a clinic, or a residence, or a hospital, or an institution, requires that there is some self, however fragile, within that child. To do things and to say things that ignore or depreciate whatever rudimentary self exists within the child is to rob that child of all else that you try to give him: "How can I get from a person who ridicules or depreciates me? Why would I want to?"
Recently, I heard a social worker describing a 15-year-old retarded boy in a small village in Michigan critically, enumerating his faults and his weaknesses, one of which was that he had taped the sole of his running shoe with masking tape to keep it from flapping. This was meant to illustrate the inappropriateness of his dress and presentation of himself. First, in my mind, it showed a practical capacity to deal with reality because it is very uncomfortable to walk with a flapping sole; if you don't think so, try it. Secondly, it illustrated in my mind that the 15 year-old retarded boy had some sense of his own dignity and made the effort to do the best he could under the circumstances to present himself in the best light. So often our tactlessness is the result of our ignorance of what life is for the people we are dealing with. Our services to children are class oriented and are staffed by people from the lower-middle and upper-middle classes who aspire to upward social mobility. Either they don't know what it means to be a victim of class, race, poverty, and handicap, or they are defensive about these things to the point of insensitivity.
- All children need to be listened to and talked to as separate and valuable persons. In the western society of North America, children are talked at or talked to, but seldom listened to and seldom talked with. Most adults become tongue-tied or ridiculous if left to carry on conversations with children. They almost inevitably, immediately reveal their own infantilism and childish frustrations from their own childhood experience. Most people find it difficult to be with a child sharing silently and have to fill the time with inappropriate talk.
Of course, it is obvious that children need experience in talking. They have only recently learned how to manipulate words. They are increasing their vocabulary. They are striving for fulfillment through symbolic experience of speech. They need maximum opportunity to test and experience all this. We need to develop skills as staff and as parents in learning how to be good conversationalists — not to the point where that takes precedence over feeling, or the non-verbal communication that is so essential in love and intimate relationships, but to enable us to offer our children opportunities to experience the usefulness and beauty of language and to help them to develop their communication skills so that they can be more a part of others. Speech and talking skills are learned first in the home and then in the community and schools. We have a responsibility to provide an appropriate, rich environment for this learning to take place.
It is important that we spend time talking about the things that are a part of daily life with a focus on and an interest in how the child perceives and experiences his daily life so that he is interested in and has a part in the things that are being talked about. Telling stories, especially of the saga type, where conversations between characters are part of the story and where the adventure or the safety or the success of a character's endeavors rests on verbal communication, is another useful way of teaching children appropriate ways of expressing their feelings verbally.
Children who find difficulty in talking have either never experienced opportunities for talking or have had indifferent or negative adults to talk to. Their normal desire to talk and share has been stifled by their previous experiences. I am sure we have all experienced at one time or another, the wonderment that comes when someone we are talking to seems to have just the right combination of interest, response, and participation, and we find ourselves chattering, words rushing on words, as we verbally lay ourselves bare to another person. To help someone learn to talk who has difficulty talking, we have to extend ourselves, take some risks, and be prepared for conversation on whatever level the person responds to us. We don't have to teach correct speech, proper grammar, or poetic presentation. Children see events and people in simpler terms. The language of the cartoon, the comic book, the romance story, the adventure story, help the child who is inhibited in speech learn how to say things.
The easiest way to get a child talking is to observe the things that he does and has interest in and then give him an opportunity to tell you about them. Make sure you have allowed yourself enough time so that he can. It is very frustrating for a child who is reluctant to talk to start talking only to find that his listener is dashing off to do something else in the middle of a sentence.
- The child needs to be treated with tactfulness and consideration in all circumstances. The greatest fear of a growing child is that he will expose an incapacity, or a weakness, or an inadequacy. These instances cannot always be avoided by the adult. They sometimes have to be dealt with directly and openly for what they are. In a positive loving relationship, tactfulness requires a reality orientation that deals with the child where he is at, not just where he wishes to be.
A common error that we make with adolescents especially, is our knowing where they are at, because where they are at might be obviously quite different from where we are at, or in opposition to where we are at. Under such circumstances there is a tendency for adults to evade and avoid when they should be straight and direct. Often adults will change their voice or their volume and engage the child in the presence of others in such a manner that it is difficult for the child to handle the condescension. I usually tell staff not to say anything to a child in the presence of his peers, or his family, that they wouldn't say to him when they are sitting quietly and intimately facing him eyeball to eyeball.
Often we are tactless out of an unawareness of a child's sensitivities. Some children find It hard to sit by a child of their same age of the opposite sex. Some children find it difficult to be comfortable sitting between two adults at home, in a car, or in public. How we organize these kinds of things will communicate our sensitivity or crudity to the child, independent of anything we are saying to the contrary.
One of the most common tactlessnesses of adults is manipulating children with the phrase, "you will like this", or "this will be good for you", without bothering to find out what the child feels about it. Maybe you can remember a kind of special moment when you were growing up and you scraped up enough courage to say back to the adult, "maybe this will be good for you, but I don't want it", or "it isn't good for me". Children suffer greatly at the hands of manipulating adults who tactlessly put on to them inappropriate roles or situations. This is often a disguise for rejection and hostility of the child. In fact, I view all tactlessness with children as hostility and rejection.
- The child needs protection from his total environment against his inadequate controls or judgements. The child has to learn what is safe and what is not safe, what is painful and what is pleasurable, and he can't learn it all at once, and he can't learn it if his handicap is overly stressed by those around him. It falls to our role as adults to protect him without unduly limiting his opportunities to experience his total environment. This means we sometimes have to let the child do things that will hurt him or cause him pain. No one can live for another person. We each have to experience life directly ourselves. A person's control of his behaviour and judgement of what is wise is not developed by preaching but by the mistakes we make which are correctable. The wise parent or adult does not allow the child to make uncorrectable mistakes, but he gives the child a great deal of opportunity to make correctable mistakes in action and judgement. ^