Posted by Owen Calvert-Lyons, Ovalhouse
Loretta feels completely alone since (spoiler alert) her older sister left home. During the research phase of this project, we found this to be a common experience, particularly amongst children with significantly older siblings (5-10 years older). For many of these children, the older sibling acts as a confidant and an important support structure. Yet inevitably, with this large age gap, the older sibling will leave the family home significantly earlier, and often during an important developmental stage for the younger sibling – the transition from Primary to Secondary school. Loretta struggles to cope with this upheaval, particularly because she worries that her problems aren’t important enough.
Eventually, Loretta invents a story which she thinks will carry more weight: she tells the other children that her sister has cancer. As one audience member pointed out “people often view children’s problems as being ‘low stakes’; she has to say the word ‘cancer’ before anyone takes her seriously.” This captures the problem beautifully – children’s problem’s aren’t taken seriously. As adults we often look at children’s’ concerns through our own adult experience and think ‘they will be alright in the end’.
We think that children will eventually look back on these experiences and know that they survived them; and we’re probably right. But as a child, you don’t have the luxury of experience. You don’t know it’s going to be ok. I’m reminded of Margaret Atwood’s line from Cat’s Eye: “Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life sized”.
Perhaps at times our adult experience is itself a barrier to understanding and supporting children. Children understand how big these problems feel. Perhaps, in order to help solve children’s problems, we need to support children to help children.