Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the fact that people in power often don’t prioritise the needs of children.
HOW are school libraries NOT a statutory requirement?! HOW is CAMHS so pitifully underfunded? Given we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, HOW are we also one of most unequal?
I was having one of these moments when UNICEF got in touch. Having worked with them on a YouTube series exploring the science of love in childhood, they asked me to write a poem-film on the subject.
The science of love in childhood. Summarised. In a poem.
My initial reaction was AHRGAHRGAHRGHAGRHAGRHAGRAHR.
I’m comfortable being asked to write poems about specific subjects. I’ve done it enough now that I have faith I can do it – even if it does take five reject poems before I write (and rewrite and rewrite) one I’m actually happy with.
But this was a BIG ask.
So I immediately emailed the very brilliant Robbie Duschinsky at Cambridge University, the consultant on a book I’m writing for adults about attachment theory. And Robbie emailed fellow world-leading thinkers and researchers on the subject. My question for them was – which images do you think best describe love in childhood?
(Full disclosure – I didn’t technically use the word love. I used the phrase ‘secure attachment’. According to his family, John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory, wanted to use the word ‘love’ but didn’t as he was worried the scientific community wouldn’t like it… So love feels like an acceptable shorthand for what is an incredibly complex theory of human development.)
The world leading experts talked about the importance of feeling received, welcome, accepted – and suggested images including: the feeling of a parents’ hand around yours; being folded into a huge hug; bandaging a hurt knee; being helped across stepping stones; and reading a book together.
Just to be clear – some of the world’s best thinkers on the subject of love in childhood, people who work in leading academic institutions around the globe and have dedicated their entire lives to the study of the subject, cited reading a book together as an image that came to mind when trying to describe it.
I thanked the academics in a profuse yet professional manner. I finished the poem-film (see below). And I got back to my work with a renewed vigour.
But their words had reminded me of something important that’s all too easy to forget – reading with children can be an act of love.
Through poetry, words, and books, we can help young people make sense of what is going on with them and with the others around them. We can give words to things they themselves may not be able to. We can bear witness. Decode. Connect. We can help them escape. Laugh. Learn, imagine, rest. We can block out the ceaseless distractions the world has to offer and devote our uninterrupted attention. We can engender empathy. We can open up urgent but difficult conversations – conversations that say “it’s OK, this isn’t your fault” or “this is important, let’s talk about this” or “you’re not alone”.
In doing so, no matter what is going on with the people in power, through the simple act of reading a poem or a book, we can each take microsteps towards creating a society where all children and young people are welcome, accepted and loved.
Laura Mucha is an award-winning poet whose books include Being Me, Rita’s Rabbit, We Need to Talk About Love and Dear Ugly Sisters. She writes for young people and adults and has several fiction and non-fiction books forthcoming with Walker, Hachette, Nosy Crow, Audible and Bloomsbury. As well as writing, Laura works with organisations such as the Royal Society of Medicine, National Literacy Trust and UNICEF to improve the lives of children.
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