During a patriotic week, I’d like to bring up the topic of freedom. And the fact that with it, kids can do great things.
We all want our children to succeed. We want our toddlers to obey rules without tantrums. We want our preschoolers to get along and share. And we want our school-aged children to follow the rules and work hard to get good grades.
What we miss, in all this wanting, is sometimes tragic; it’s the child’s inner spark that needs, wants, and yearns to be seen. The child says this:
“See me. Know me. Show that you know me.”
My eight-year-old son “borrowed” my iPhone the other day and made a little video. He walked around the house, flashing the camera at crazy angles and singing an improv rap. The results were hard to watch, but when you took the time to listen to the lyrics, his song was hilarious. It was about each member of the family and what they were doing at the time, complete with rhyme, changing rhythms, made-up words, and fantastic humor. I watched it over and over, laughing my head off. When I finished, I told him what I liked about the video. How the rhymes were so funny, and the changing rhythms kept it interesting. He glowed. He felt seen, known, and recognized.
This is a child who works extremely hard and excels at school. But I doubt any school assignment could have brought out the sheer creative excess that he put into that one little video. And that’s the power of freedom. Children crave it. They love it; they thrive on it.
I have another child who is sweet and intelligent. However, academics are not her strong point. But things are different when she plays “school.” Given a little freedom, this girl is the reader, writer, and ‘rithmatic-er-in-chief. She’s got all her words organized by vowels, and she wants to know how to spell “supercalifragilousdigexpialidocious.” She’s got word charts and number charts and home-made books full of math work. In short, a teacher’s pet. That’s the power of freedom. And I tell her, “What a great lesson you teach. Those kids sure are going to know their short vowels.” And she glows. She has been seen, known, and recognized.
The compliment you give your child on his good math test is good parenting. The praise you give your child on something s/he has done in freedom is compassion, connection, and love. It is seeing him, knowing him, and recognizing him.
This is true not only of children but of anyone with whom you hope to have a deep, emotionally satisfying relationship. The biggest step you can make toward that is to see, know, and recognize the great things that person does with their freedom. Just you try it. And watch them glow.
By Chaya Glatt