There is little as glorious and beautiful as watching children be children. Dancing with their whole soul, singing with their whole range, expressing honest astonishment, telling fantastic stories, dressing themselves in ensembles you never thought should exist, making magical art, laughing themselves silly, learning with open wonder, and smiling with their entire body.
How do you help the little ones in your life stay open to the world like this? I don’t have all the answers but here are 5 things you can do to help keep your child’s beautiful spirit intact:
1. Respect them.
As much as you can, treat them like a person. Guide them instead of forcing them. Correct them when you need to, but make up for negatives with at least as many positives. Refuse the idea of “children should be seen and not heard.” Let them use their voice.
Respect them by respecting their space. Let them do their thing in a safe, or mostly safe, area. Give them space and let them decide how to use it.
Respect them by allowing them to form their own opinions. Encourage it, even. Ask questions about their preferences: “Which do you like better? This shirt or this one? How come?” “What was your favorite part of the movie?”
Agree when you want to, and disagree, politely and calmly, when you don’t. Show them that it’s ok for people to like different things.
Respect them by giving them some control. Not only do they need to be allowed to have their own preferences but they need to be given opportunities to exercise them. Let them choose their clothes when you can, pick their bedtime story, or decide what ingredients will go on their pizza.
2. Let them talk to strangers.
Please research “stranger danger” before implementing it. Teaching them to fear everyone closes them off from the world and teaches them not to trust their gut feelings about people.
3. Make room for creativity.
If they want to color the cat in the picture blue, then let them. What will it hurt? Of course he or she knows that (most) cats aren’t blue, but hey, this one will be, because it’s fun.
Let them sing funny words to a song. It’s great practice for speaking and thinking on the spot. What’s the point in stopping them? They already know “that’s not how it goes.”
Let them make up crazy stories about completely impossible things, and tell them that they are doing a great job of using their imagination. They could be the next JK Rowling, after all.
Applaud their accomplishments, in all areas, no matter how minor. They need to hear that they are doing a good job.
4. Relax and enjoy your time with them.
Just chill with them. Reading books, coloring, dancing and singing, exploring the outdoors, playing games (even simple word games), talking about anything, goofing off, snuggling on the couch, and telling corny jokes to one another are great ways to touch base and make them feel like a human being. Chances are good that these will also become their favorite memories as they get older.
Keep rules simple. If a rule doesn’t work to either keep everyone safe or to keep everyone happy it’s unnecessarily limiting.
5. Do everything you can think of to empower them.
Remind them of how much they can accomplish, learn and try. Hug them when you can. Listen to their woes, and don’t discount them. Remember how huge those “little” disasters felt when you were young? Sit close to them, let them cry, and then talk it out. Offer to help if appropriate. Be their best ally
Originally published on One Fierce Mama.
Elizebeth Tong is a mom, wife, metal smith, logistics engineer, bassoonista, beer snob, teacher, henna artist, humanist, gamer, quiet activist, maid, amateur psychologist, perpetual student, knitter, drill sergeant, nail biter, musician, milkmaid, writer, ombudsperson, geek, traveler, baker, photographer, pack mule, foodie, bitter philosopher, lover, nurse, sister, comedienne, farmhand, stargazer, role model, Rock Bander, daughter. Read more from her on her blog, One Fierce Mama.