I recently watched a young boy playing in a park. It was a Friday, and the sun was shining brightly down on him, when he paused from his activity to look up and await his mother’s glance. He was contently on his own, with his mother near, but he wanted eye contact from her, as if to remind both of them of one another’s presence. He didn’t need her in that moment, and she knew as much, but she looked toward him anyway, gave him a warm smile, then peacefully back to his activity he went.
Our children are fragile, small and gentle, while at the same time, the opposite of all that, too. They are courageous without understanding why they need to be, and they see a reflection of themselves that is bigger, stronger and mightier than their small bodies stand. They need our love, but they also believe in themselves so fully, that if their might were tangible, it could still the ocean. If we all believed in ourselves even half as recklessly as a child, well, what couldn’t we do?
But this doesn’t discount the connection between a caregiver and a child. As they discover and observe the world around them, children look to us for validation. They watch closely as we communicate, walk, eat or tie our shoes, and they are fascinated by what we can do. As you so much as open a door, watch as your young child’s eyes follow your hand while you fiddle the keys. How did she do that? How can I do that, too?
Not only do they revere our interactions with the world, they look to us with admiration and hope. They want to be near us and learn from us and be a part of our world just as much as we want to be near them. But unlike our everlasting compulsion to care for the child and keep the child safe, the child merely wants from us to be guided and equal. They want to be just like us, and they want us to see when they make strides in that direction.
How can we nurture the appreciation and respect the child has for the adult? Is it not enough to show them the way?
Think of someone you look up to — someone you respect, think highly of and want to be around. What does it feel like to have reciprocation in that relationship? When you see they feel equally for you, does it compel you to strive more? What would happen if our children felt this way, too?
We have the capability to prepare a child’s surroundings in a way that motivates, inspires, and proves to him that he is able. When we return his glance or give him room to observe our interactions with the environment around us, he will begin to believe in his own power and ability to participate in the world just like we do. A child deserves that kind of empowerment, to feel included and that he can open the door, too — to a world of possibilities that only the child in the reflection could conquer.