“Over confidence”

A really great student teacher from a previous placement visited our centre with her godson yesterday. She referred to him as ‘over-confident‘ and it occurred to me that I really, strongly disagree with this term.

Calling a child ‘over-confident’ implies that there is something inherently wrong with that child’s ability to make good choices and care for him/herself. It is a negative judgement and one that shapes the relationship between adult and child in unequal ways; with this term, their relationship is re-defined as a relationship between a long-suffering, worrying adult and a careless, unthinking child.

The term ‘over-confident’ shifts responsibility for the choices being made by that child away from the adult guardians involved. It obscures all the adult choices and behaviours that could lead a child to climb ‘too high’, jump on to ‘unsafe ground’, etc. (i.e., to make choices which might be dangerous and, so, judged as ‘over-confident’).

When people describe a very young child as ‘over-confident’, they generally mean that this child takes physical risks beyond his/her abilities (leaping off boxes three times their height; climbing walls they can’t climb down, etc.). It implies that, if injury hasn’t already occurred, it is only a matter of time, unless the adult is there to stop it all from happening.

However, …

…of the children I have come across who are described as ‘over-confident’ (and excluding an autistic girl who rarely got hurt but certainly loved climbing anything by the age of three – including the scaffolding in construction sites – and who wasn’t really described as over-confident, so much as fearless and perhaps unshakably focused on her own goals)…

‘over-confident’ children are generally those same children who get helped into swings and on to climbing frames; who get helped up on to monkey bars by adults and helped over obstacle courses by adults and helped to do all manner of things they can’t yet do for themselves. They are the ones who get helped on to boxes they don’t know how to climb on to themselves and who then get caught with a smile when they jump off (with no knowledge of the distance to the ground).

I don’t think these children are given the freedom to decide for themselves what is fun and challenging. They are pushed beyond their abilities by adults who unwittingly, perhaps, teach them ‘you are a poor judge of what you might be capable of‘ and ‘the fun part is not the challenge of actually doing it for yourself‘. It’s weird to call a child over-confident and then help him walk across an obstacle course he can’t even climb on to by himself, all the while making gasping sounds (witnessed yesterday).

To me, a better way of describing a child whose risky behaviours are being captured by the term ‘over-confident’ would be: ‘mistrusted’ and ‘pushed too hard to reach the next level’.

(Tellingly, this same child got a bump on his head later in the day, when he stood up on the same equipment the four year olds were jumping on to – and had been jumping on to for some time. The adult who got me thinking about all this fingered a particular four year old as being responsible for the accident (interesting! She described what happened to me – the ‘over-confident’ one-year-old lost his balance on a foam box when the older child jumped on to it (jumping on to this box was the game!). I would say no child was responsible here – and as to the role of adults, I rest my case.)

Rant over.

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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