Is it possible for an adult and a child to be friends? // by Esther in Brussels

“When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles ’em.”
I look after 3 children. I spend a lot of time with the youngest of the three, his name is Clarence, he is 7 years old and he loves to play Lego. At night I read to him, we love to read the Mr Men books, and we always laugh at Mr Bump when he gets his foot stuck in a bucket. We also live together because I am their nanny. This means Clarence and I spend a great deal of time together; every day Monday to Friday I play with him, I teach him English and help him practice guitar. We have a lot of fun. The other day as we were going downstairs for dinner he stopped, looked up at me and said, with angelic earnestness, ‘you are my best friend’.
I thought about it for a while and I realised that we are friends. We get on very well, we tell each other jokes and we trust each other. By all definitions we are friends. He is a lucky boy; he has a companion who will play anything he likes with him after school, who cares for him and is someone who he can rely on. In turn I get a loyal, loving and joyfully innocent little buddy.
The nature of my work allows this. How can you not create such a close bond with someone whose company you are in at least 8 hours a day? It helps that I am not required to be strict or controlling. In the beginning I tried to enforce a certain air of discipline in the way I thought the parents would want. This was not necessary. The parents had done all the right groundwork themselves. This was a massive shift for me from my previous childcare experience with a troubled and very difficult teenager who needed (or, at least, his mother thought he needed) very strict boundaries. I am freer nowadays. I am free to trust that the kids have been raised well, free to assume that not everything they do is part of some unspoken, malicious power-battle and therefore free to relax and work on having fun and bonding. It is because of this that we can develop a friendship.In my experience, one of the biggest factors contributing to developing and maintaining a friendship with a child is how to deal with disagreement and anger.
Perhaps it is a certain type of personality that enables the child to be friends with an adult, or maybe the treatment of a child as a friend and confidant reveals a certain maturity within a child that might have always been there but just needed nurturing to bring it to the surface. Every week you spend with a child you can see how they mature at a rapid rate therefore it makes sense to change your treatment of them accordingly.
When I am with Clarence I remember the relationship between Atticus Finch and his daughter Scout. This means that I remember not to be presumptuous. And I remember not to evade explaining things just because in the past ‘because I say so’ was the easiest thing to say. There should be very little ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitudes. Simplicity and directness is key. Of course I don’t speak to him how I would speak to adults. When I am with adults I swear and I’m blunt and I assume many adults don’t need most things explained to them. How I do behave is with respect and honesty. This treatment of a child becomes something self fulfilling. I have seen it happen before my own eyes. In the past I used to become instantly angry when he didn’t automatically know how to behave in a situation. In turn he would become angry because he didn’t understand why I was angry. Now, with time and practice, when we are annoyed with each other we say why, we explain, and we certainly don’t shout. With children you need to adjust expectations. You don’t need to lower them. I expect him to respond maturely if I explain my feelings rather than presume he understands them.  He expects me to communicate and because of this, in turn, his own behaviour has changed and become calmer when he explains why has been annoyed by me.
There’s a formula in there somewhere that may enable child/adult friendships to be present more frequently in every-day life situations such as school and activity-clubs. But there will always be the (sometimes necessary) barrier of authority between child and adult. Although my situation is unique it is not completely uncommon therefore it is best to simplify things and ask – how do all relationships prosper? When you are frank with one another. When you have fun. When care and respect is paramount. And finally, when you know how to forgive each other and understand each other’s moods. When pared-down we can see that this is more than possible to achieve with a child. Trust me, I’ve done it.