See Infant Willa. See Preschooler Lincoln. See how they grow.
Is it tempting, as an adult, to respond with one of these knee-jerks?
Look closer with me because there is much more to see.
I know it’s just a snapshot, a brief second out of two continuous, highly-busy streams of behavior, chock-full of meaning-making and meaning-sharing. SO much is happening—so much more than either or both of those initial knee-jerk reactions.
Look deeper with me, for a moment.
Of course, there is all sorts of boring and mundane developmental stuff going on. Baby Willa is learning how to focus her eyes on and differentiate all the patterns in her environment, from the blanket’s border, to the rug, to Lincoln’s stack of blocks. There’s other physical development going on, too: Willa is strengthening her neck and torso, by holding up her head and lifting her upper body. Lincoln is strengthening and gaining coordination in the small muscles of his fingers and around his mouth, as he snaps blocks together and talks to Willa. Both are learning language, but at vastly different levels of achievement: Willa on the receptive end of the process and Lincoln on the expressive end.
Lincoln is gathering some of his earliest learnings about physics (applied force, balance), art (the aesthetics of color), and math (patterns and, maybe, counting). Both children are learning to regulate their behavior in the absence of an engaged, interacting adult. They are learning to play “on their own.”
Of most interest to me, though, as the heart of what is going on here, are the emotional and social connections happening for both children. Look at this baby girl’s bright, interested gaze, as her older brother “teaches her to play with Legos.” Look at this little boy’s relaxed, easy posture, and casual comfort as he talks with his baby sister, almost three years his junior. What is the development happening in their hearts?
She is learning to trust other people to meet her needs for engaged learning, social interaction, and fun. He is learning to believe in himself as a person with important information and insight to share. Maybe he is already learning to be clear about what he wants and doesn’t want—the yes and no lists of his emerging social context. She is mining the Childhood Treasure of Trust, while he polishes up his Treasure of Faith and steps up to the mine shaft to find his capacity for Negotiation.
If you’re the adult caregiver/educator/parent for these children, what can you do to foster these different needs? Equally as important, what do you want to avoid doing, to keep from getting in the way of these normal processes for healthy interpersonal development?
Number one on the to-do side is #slowdowntunein. To see children for who they really are, especially to be fully present to an infant’s earliest communications, requires you to come down off the adult autobahn of life. Slow Down. Ease up off your gas pedal, as you zoom through your busy adult world, and I mean ease up a LOT! Then Tune In! Infants like Willa need an almost Zen-like focus in the present moment, an almost-exclusive attention to their needs and how they are communicating them. Preschoolers, like Lincoln, as busy as they seem, also need us to slow down to the speed of their hesitant, stuttering, stumbling speech, as the speed of their thoughts and their excitement outstrip their ability to articulate words and create sentences.
To ruin children’s chances of mining the 7 Childhood Treasures, just stay focused on how fast you need to move to accomplish everything you see as important. Do not focus on the micro-life of the children. Tell them you don’t have time. (Please. STOP doing this!)
Number two on the to-do side is #seethemnotyou. One natural tendency, as human beings, is to think that our experience is shared by others. A second tendency is to believe that we understand someone else’s thoughts and motivations, without asking them; to believe that we can discern that which is completely internal and invisible in another. Projecting the motivations of adults or, even, older children onto infants, toddlers, and preschoolers is a certain road to suppressing their authentic expressions. They need to know that you See Them, Not You, as your own reflection in the mirror of their behavior.
To keep kids out of the mineshafts to the 7 Childhood Treasures, just project onto them your worst fears about their behavior. When an infant like Willa cries whenever you put her down, assume she’s manipulating you and refuse to “spoil” her by picking her up—let her cry herself into exhaustion and sleep. (Please. Don’t EVER do this!) When a young preschooler like Lincoln effervesces with enthusiasm over his idea to grow up to be or do something fantastically improbable or impossible, be sure to bring him back to earth with the facts of the situation. Prove his dream is impossible, so he won’t be disappointed later. (Please. Don’t EVER do this, either!)
Moms, Dads, Aunties, Grannies, teachers, and others, what are your “to do” items for giving children the tools they need for healthy emotional and social development? What would you add to my dynamic duo of Slow Down, Tune In and See Them, Not You? Please share your thoughts on my Facebook page!
Just Be Your S.E.L.F.—Your Guide to Improving Any Relationship makes a great holiday gift! Buy several copies today for your best beloveds!
By late December or early January, I’ll be on my way for the 2019 speaking tour! Do you belong to a group that would like to hear more? Use the Contact page on my website to suggest a conference, training event, or other venue. In addition to teachers and parents, I also speak to congregations at progressive churches, alumni groups in alcohol/drug rehab, women’s groups, business leaders, and fraternal organizations (e.g., Rotary, Kiwanis).