In the film ‘The Sound of Music’ Maria sings ‘Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start’ I am using this rather ‘odd’ opening paragraph to illustrate my strongly held belief that in order to create confidence in adult life we need to start very early in childhood.
Far more parents than we realise don’t encourage their children to display originality, and to challenge attitudes they don’t understand and or, for that matter, accept.As a very young mother bringing up four children whilst pursuing my own simultaneous careers in education and politics I tried to involve the whole family. They were involved in my activities as I was in theirs.So whether it was deciding on schools, hobbies, pets (lots of those including ponies) entering competitions, playing sports their father and i encouraged them, wherever possible and safe!
I believe this upbringing led to a ‘can do’ approach in later life. For example, one of the boys started his own business as a summer language school for poor children from Europe. He later went on to Africa post-Idi Amin to teach young boys from disadvantaged homes. Eventually and just before his premature death he was appointed International Director at Durham University .My only daughter ran her own film-making business and was business and was, I think, the first woman to stay overnight in stormy seas on an oil rig whilst filming there. She is now a part-time artist and created the cover for my first novel and will be doing the same for the sequel. My eldest son and his wife ran a village pub for 17 years and the youngest son works in IT where his colleagues call him ‘The Professor’.
So to take this theory further, early childcare, schools, colleges and universities have an enormous responsibility to create and enhance the confidence of the children and young people in their care. Sadly this does not always happen. I am sure we all remember a teacher or lecturer or, indeed, parent who said or wrote something which undermined our confidence. I will always remember a geography teacher writing in my school report ‘she needs to grow up and not reset criticism so sharply.’ I was 12 and my beloved father had just died. I never did like geography after that.
A few years ago I had a one-year contract to run a childcare organisation. This was in a deprived area of Edinburgh. We looked after 200 families,with babies from six weeks to after school up to the age of 13. I decided to be innovative from the start. The staff were not all on my side! Though many were I wanted to involve the children and carers in all aspects of the running of the organisation which was on three sites. I got them to undertake new activities such as pony riding, creating a garden, organising professional musicians and artists as well as being involved in planning meals. I encouraged two parents to join the board and thus show their confidence in the new regime.
We decided, collectively, to have a Graduation ceremony for those children going off to primary school. The children wanted a pirate theme. Not a good look for me though wearing the patches was good practice for my recent adventure with a black eye. The children ‘built’ a boat from cardboard and wood, with the help of our driver and painted it all. The carers duly lined the plank .They read out the names of the children and guided them carefully down the plank where I stood at the bottom and ‘capped’ the young graduands and presented the their scrolls. I hope, and believe this added to their individual and collective confidence.
Finally, if we extrapolate all these experiences in to the world of work, I hope good experiences throughout childhood and education lead to confident and effective employees and business people.
Christine Richard, OBE