In this article, Jane Evans reflects upon her new book Cyril Squirrel Finds Out About Love to discuss how we can help children aged 2-6 learn about the ways that love, friendships and kindness can look, sound or feel in this increasingly complicated world.
It may seem strange to think about teaching children about love and kindness. Surely that’s what they grow up knowing. They feel it every time they are picked up, rocked, fed, and sung to. They see it in the eyes of those around them. They are taught the difference between a kind act and an unkind one once they begin to be around other children. Lessons on sharing and ‘not pushing and snatching’ can become regular and repetitive!
What prompted me to write about Cyril Squirrel going on an adventure to find out about love and kindness was a sense that these simple concepts are getting lost and confused in modern day life. Children can easily come to equate love and kindness with things. We live in a consumer driven world in which parents and carers can feel a real pressure to show children how much they matter by providing material comforts, fabulous toys, equipment and experiences. But is that a great example of love?
Treats and fantastic outings and parties can become ways over-worked parents and carers show children they were thinking of them and feel sorry at ‘not having enough time with them’. What children most need are simple daily examples of what love and kindness look and feel like. And that is what the story of Cyril Squirrel is all about. Cyril experiences love through kindly touch, hearing a soothing sound, seeing a warm smile, smelling warm fur and tasting food and cool water all offered to him with kindness and affection.
Small acts of love and kindness are what we all need, especially children. In return they make children able to give love and kindness back. However, Cyril also encounters an animal that appears kind, but as he speaks to him it becomes clear that the animal makes Cyril feel ‘cold, wobbly and grey inside’. It is so important that we help children access and make sense of the messages from their intuition as it will always serve them well; its nature’s free gift of a ready-made safety alarm system!
The world can seems like a threatening, violent and unpredictable place at present. Instant media means many children are regularly and repeatedly exposed to the latest atrocity and to hearing adults discuss it and their anxieties about violence, terrorism and other threats. Using a simple story like Cyril Squirrel Finds Out About Love can encourage them to spot small acts of kindness in daily life which is reassuring, and a wonderful way to go through each day.
For children who have grown up around domestic abuse, experienced harsh, cold parenting, and adults absorbed in their own troubles, such as a divorce or family break up, discovering another version of what love and kindness looks and feels like, is essential. Cyril Squirrel’s story provides endless opportunities to explore these themes with children in all situations.
The story of Cyril Squirrel’s curiosity about love encourages children to see the strength in kindness and love. For these often turbulent times, it seems more important than ever to teach children that we can all be kind and that love comes through simple acts we can all do.
Fred Rogers says it so well:
‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’
Jane Evans is a trauma parenting specialist, international speaker and freelance trainer. She has worked as a respite foster carer, a domestic violence parenting worker, a registered child minder and a family support worker. Jane recently gave a TEDx talk in Bristol on how children can calm their anxiety, whatever troubles they may have experienced. She is the author of How Are You Feeling Today Baby Bear?: Exploring Big Feelings After Living in a Stormy Home, Kit Kitten and the Topsy-Turvy Feelings: A Story About Parents Who Aren’t Always Able to Care and Little Meerkat’s Big Panic: A Story About Learning New Ways to Feel Calm, all published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Click here to find out more about Cyril Squirrel Finds Out About Love.