Seeing children as they are

Every day, in a 100 small ways, our children ask, ‘Do you hear me? Do you see me? Do I matter?’ Their behavior often reflects our response.”

~ L.R. Knost

Do we really see or hear children? Do we help them understand how much they matter? For the most part, we see what we want to see. Many people see children as less – helpless, careless, restless, powerless. They think their only value is what they can become. But for children to reach their potential, we must see their value at the outset.

Children are:

Helpful – they provide a perspective on the world that can help us understand the world as a place for growth and change; as we watch our child grow, they act as mirrors that reflect back our many strengths and faults, inspiring us to be better people and role models

Peaceful – they are kind and forgiving in ways that most adults are not; some will find fault in their kindness, but their willingness to listen, to forgive, to

Powerful – a look from their eyes, the sound of their laughter, the touch of their hand can break an adult; they can provide a truth we have forgotten; they can bring the toughest of us to tears; they can break the tension in a room; they can remind us of all that is good in the world

“Their behavior often reflects our response.” When we believe in the value, the ability, the power of children, we give to them the responsibility to meet those expectations. When we look down upon what they are; when we fault them for being young and naive and unknowing, we scare them into staying immature and inexperienced.

Give back what we’ve taken away…1% at a time

People speak of how the world has changed, how kids have changed. But why? Children have not made some conscious choice to be different than the generations before them, yet adults seem to place blame on them. So what has really changed? Society? Adults? Our environment? Our culture? Our expectations? None of these are the result of a child’s choice.

We (adults) have taken away their freedom to explore without supervision, we have taken away the opportunities to play freely with friends. We have put devices in their hands to occupy their minds. Children didn’t ask to stay inside, and they didn’t create electronic tablets or computers.

If we want our children to change, we have to commit to creating that change as parents. Most of our choices, when it comes to supervision, devices, unstructured play time, are selfish in nature. They are for our own peace of mind, not really our kids. Maybe we need to ask our parents why and how they felt comfortable enough to let us roam around the neighborhood with our friends; why they didn’t fill our entire day with organized, adult-led activities; how they managed without electronic devices to keep us quiet in the car? It’s clearly possible.

The pendulum swing, from mostly unsupervised to completely supervised (by adults or devices), seems to be swinging slightly back in the other direction – see the movement toward outdoor classrooms and natural playgrounds. The commitment to helping children be all of the things we know they are capable of must be intentional. Our choices must be intentional – not huge commitments of time or effort, just purposeful.

One way to think of this is systematically making small improvements, even 1% improvements. How can I be one percent better as a teacher, a parent, a role model for kids tomorrow. In one day, there are 1,440 minutes. If 8 hours of those are spent sleeping, we’ve got 960 hours left. One percent of that is about 10 minutes.

What if I could take 10 minutes out of each day to help my kid gain some of the skills I think he needs? What if I told her to go outside for 10 minutes and he wasn’t allowed back until the time was up? What if I told him to choose a non-device activity for 10 minutes each day – read, draw, write, meditate? What if I did those activities with my kid?

Our job as adults is to help kids do things that are challenging. (Yes, it might feel weird to say that it is challenging for kids to go outside and play, but we have created a situation where that is more true today than before.) Parents and teachers help kids with little challenges every day – we create checklists, routines, structures, that help kids manage different scenarios. We make little challenges manageable. We need to make big challenges manageable.

Start by choosing one, whichever might worry you most, or whichever you think will be easiest to conquer. Find a way to use 10 minutes a day to work toward a better situation. You can even work on the plan with your child. Together! You’d prove to your child that all problems are solvable. That even parents need to come up with a plan. And if you stick with that plan, you just might solve it – or you won’t and you make a new plan. At the worst, you’ve lost 10 minutes. 10 minutes you probably would have wasted on the internet reading a blog or something.

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