Sunday, August 07, 2011

Natural Hierarchy?

I'm watching a group of kids play. The older kids take the lead. They can do things better, more competently. The younger children look up to them, admire them and want to be like them.

I think of my four year old niece. She's in awe of her five year old cousin (another niece).  The five year old has excellent fine motor skills, can ride a bike, can read a little, can draw amazingly and can hula- hoop to boot. She's just... better as far as the four year old is concerned.

I notice the scorn displayed on a child's face when the younger, less competent kid "can't do it," or "doesn't get it."

I see the dismay, or the befuddlement but also the respect that the younger displays for the older.

Watching the interaction of the group of children, I start to wonder about natural hierarchy.

It is not that the more competent child (or adult for the matter) is a 'better person, or that he has some superior value as a person; it is simply that he can do things better at that time and is therefore the leader in that situation - as  that situation dictates.
At another time, in another situation someone else will be better, or more competent and then her leadership will be called upon-naturally.

So what I think I'm noticing and what I think I'm saying is that hierarchy is not necessarily a bad thing, nor wrong. It needs to be flexible and give way gracefully to the next person-as kids (and grown ups too!) become more competent; rather than hold on and become domination.

My daughter says, "Little kids should respect older ones."

"How do you figure?" I ask her (herself the youngest of three is eagerly moving into leadership roles in the family).
"Well, they shouldn't be coddled by their parents. They should be out there, trying to keep up with the older kids in the group. It keeps them in line."

She refers to an unschooling family we know of whom she approves of where the youngest- aged four-has more free range than most kids we know and who fiercely tries to be included and be part of his older siblings' action.

On a hike, the older kids will race ahead while he struggles to keep up. That's fine with the older kids. They don't tell him to go away but at the same time, aside from a backward glance or a "hurry up," it's up to him to keep up. Hard for him, but he wouldn't have it any other way. He is so proud when he manages to keep them in sight.
" It toughens him up," B insists.

Of course, I've seen it happen that when he needs help they will stop and help but as soon as he is okay they are back to their thing. These kids give no more help than is asked for. They do not try to control or belittle the younger kid, or boss him. They get annoyed only when the younger kid gets in the way of their activities-maybe because they just don't want to be interrupted.

"Otherwise they get too big for their britches and act like brats, " B says.

I find it fascinating. Maybe we all need another pair of eyes, someone we respect and who actually likes and respects us too, to slap us across the hand when we are 'out of order.' Even the thought of someone we respect and admire hearing or seeing us act a certain way isn't enough to stop us acting out and think twice before we let ourselves go.


p2.rab said...

it's interesting to find how Even at young age, some children have ideas about parenting principles and effects of pampering :)

recently, I came across this interesting research by Frank J. Sulloway on how Birth-Order correlates with a child's personality and behavior.

The link-> (

Although not backed by strong evidence other than statistics, it's an interesting topic.

rfs said...

Thanks so much for the link!

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