Here at Elm House, we try to honor the children’s wishes to the best of our abilities. Part of this comes down to consent. We don’t touch the children without their permission, we don’t put their name on their art without them first showing us where, and participation isn’t a requirement in any of our activities. Another part of this is that we see and the children as whole people. If I saw an adult wearing a messy shirt, I certainly wouldn’t dream of just walking over and attempting to change it without saying anything. I wouldn’t tell an adult that they had to finish their food on their plate, and I wouldn’t tell an adult that if they just listened to me, things would go more smoothly. Thus, we don’t do these things with the children. As much as possible, we treat the children the same way we treat adults that we respect and care for. I was able to watch this play out this morning in our studio.
Amber was sitting on the floor, hair dressing materials all around her. She was smiling softly as she observed the children, her body at ease. WS approached her holding a comb and a bow. “Bow please!?” he asked.
“You would like me to put a bow in your hair, WS?” she reflected back.
“Bow!” he confirmed, with an enthusiastic nod and a big grin.
Amber opened her arms slightly, giving nonverbal consent for WS to sit in her lap. He stepped forward, turned around thoughtfully, and then gleefully PLOPPED down. The children love having their hair done.
Amber handed WS a mirror so that he could observe what she was doing as it was happening.
She gently combed out his hair as he watched intently.
They made eye contact in the mirror and smiled.
LR approached, hand outstretched with a comb.
“I want to comb WS’s hair!”
“You want to comb WS’s hair?” Amber echoed back.
“Yeah!” LR confirmed her understanding.
“WS, LR would like your consent to comb your hair. Is that okay with you?”
“No.” he replied.
“LR, it sounds like WS doesn’t want you to comb his hair, he said no, but you could comb mine!” Amber offered.
“Nooo! I want to comb WS’s!” she exclaimed with a stomp and a brisk hand gesture.
“I hear that you want to comb WS’s hair. But he said no. You can comb my hair, your hair, or someone elses.”
LR considered this briefly, and promptly sat down. “I will comb my foot!” she compromised.
Amber went back to fixing WS’s hair. After she was finished combing it, she held out her hand, a silent ask for the bow that he was holding. WS immediately turn it over to her and looked back into the mirror to watch as she put it in his hair.
“All done!” Amber exclaimed. “What do you think WS? I think it looks great!”
WS looked into the mirror, and his brow furrowed slightly.
A feeling that happens for me all too often in the salon chair washed across his face. Something was not quite right.
With full trust in both Amber and her intentions, WS gestured to a point further back on his head. Amber leaned over, looking directly at him, offering up her full attention.
“You don’t like that bow there. You had something different in mind. Were you wanting a pony with a bow? The way that Bee does it?”
“Bee does it.” WS nodded and echoed back.
“Okay, thanks for letting me know. Let’s fix that.”
Amber removed the clip, gathered the comb and a hair tie (pony, as we call both the ties, and the hair style themselves) and got back to work.
“Hows that?” Amber asked, after she was finished.
WS gazed into the mirror again, and his face lit up.
He pulled the mirror closer, the better to see himself with, and he beamed at his reflection. This was it! This was precisely how he wanted his hair done.
As WS smiled at himself, Amber looked down and smiled at him as well.
This moment seems so simple from the outside, but to me it is the perfect example of what we try to do here at Elm House. When WS saw his hair the first time, and reached up for it, Amber could have dismissed his nonverbal cue that he wasn’t satisfied. Instead she was actively searching for confirmation that what was being done with his hair was exactly what he wanted. Upon noticing his dismay, Amber could have brushed by it. “WS, if you don’t like your hair, you can take it out. There are other friends waiting.” She didn’t. She supported WS through his attempt to get what he was truly after, and in doing so she modeled to the other children that we value their opinions, their needs, and that we are here to help them, no matter how little the issue may seem from the outside. Taking her time and honoring WS’s wishes was more important than everyone getting a turn as quickly as possible. Our community values patience because it allows us to make sure that everyone’s needs are met with our full attention and presence. Often the children let us know verbally, “I can wait!” or “I’m waiting right here.” Waiting isn’t passive at Elm House. It is an active offering that we gift one another. The children observing this interaction walked away with the knowledge that Amber would care for and support them to the same degree that she did WS. To see Amber’s obvious enjoyment of WS’s happiness with his hair, was the cherry on the cake. Taking care of one another, respecting one another, and helping one another feels good. And thats what we are all about. Connection, care, and love. Here’s to hoping that your next hair do goes as well as WS’s. 😉