Watch a young child very closely. Notice how a newborn stretches her arms and legs, how when given the freedom, she will teach herself to roll over. Pay attention to the way a young child moves her body within a safe and big boundary to run and to jump, to dig in the earth. Look at the way a child relishes in her freedom of self-expression, the intent in her eyes as she cracks the eggs into the mixing bowl.
What we witness is how to fully BE in the world. We witness the organic intelligence that all of us are born with that is absolutely and simply brilliant. In our book, A Child’s Way: Slowing Down for Goodness Sake, co-written with my mother, Sharon Elliott, we propose that our children come to us with gifts to unfold and that they can prod us toward our own higher potentials. My daughter doesn’t care if we make perfect pancakes; she wants full engagement in the process. All she asks of me is to be present. And that is my invitation to enter into a life-giving relationship, where we give each other the gift of truly and deeply seeing one another.
This desire for real connection is built into our DNA. But there are many things in this fast-paced society that are interfering with our abilities to feel connected, and to well, feel period. We start with our youngest, falling prey to the reinforcement that rides in on a measuring stick, telling us that life is a race, and our children must get ahead.
Do we really think that having a three-year-old memorize the alphabet is going to produce a world leader?
Instead of forcing abstract thinking before it’s developed, what if we offered children opportunities that aligned with their natural state of being? Not only does this recognize the child for who she is as an intelligent being, it nurtures those capacities that can truly change a world: empathy, imagination, creativity, belonging, love, courage, and many more.
Opportunities such as true imaginative play and storytelling cannot be underestimated in the life of a child. Renowned author Joseph Chilton Pearce says that when a child learns through his play that his “own internal capacities of creation can modify and make a profound difference in his external world,” he has learned a great secret upon which the future of our world depends. With a capacity to imagine, children are less prone to violence and have the neural structures for creating internal imagery, an ability that translates to later abstract thought. Which is why when Einstein was asked how to develop a great scientist, he replied, “Tell them stories as little children.”
Empathy is inspired when a child feels connected to the world around her. We can nourish this connection in very simple ways, such as spending time in nature, growing vegetables, and chopping them for soup. At school or in the home, when a child is responsible for setting out the napkins or washing the dish towels, she learns a deep truth about life, requiring no explanation from adults, as she sees that her actions affect the whole. She is an important, contributing member of her community.
Our children will always learn more from how we show up than what we say or even do. So even if we don’t grow our own vegetables, the question is -- are we willing to live whole-heartedly, to enter into the wonder of life and an empathic relationship with our kids? Are we willing to pay attention to how children learn naturally so that both parent and child engage in the creative process?