I overheard an exchange at Starbucks the other day between a mother and daughter. Most would probably consider it innocuous, but it struck me as an example of a commonly missed opportunity to connect with a child:
“Do you know what ‘art’ starts with?” asked the mom.
“A!” the girl triumphantly announced after a moment.
“Right. And then what letter comes next in ‘a-r-r-r-t’”?
The girl immediately replied, “R!”
“And then what? A-r-t-t-t”
“Right”, the mom affirmed. “So…do you still think R is for ‘art’?”
“Uh-huh!” chirped the girl, nodding and still pleased with herself, though her mother’s annoyed expression showed she clearly wasn’t thrilled.
I understood (and don’t judge) this mom’s focus on “getting it right,” but couldn’t help but wonder why she didn’t take just a moment to acknowledge her little girl’s clever way of thinking. “R is for Art” makes sense, doesn’t it?
“A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow.” – Charles Brower
I was impressed by the little girl’s conviction in spite of her mother’s not so subtle disapproval. This would seem to bode well for her as a creative and original thinker, a budding writer, poet, graphic artist, designer. After all, creativity is the ability to perceive and express things in interesting, unconventional ways.
I secretly wished this mom had been more encouraging, but I also identified with her. Some of us are very hard on ourselves, which might lead us to project our self-dissatisfaction or perfectionism onto our kids. We might feel the need for them to perform, to prove themselves to us — so that we can feel okay. The best antidote for this is trust.
I remembered how endearing I found many of the “wrong” answers my three kids came up with, especially in those first years of school with all the multiple choice vocabulary quizzes. I so appreciated my kids’ unique interpretations of language and always perceived these “flubs” as precious little windows into their minds — far more intriguing, enjoyable and educational for me than their right answers.
Most of us would not choose to be with people who regularly quizzed us or put us on the spot, even if it was just as a game. And yet how often do we do this to our children?
Where’s your nose? What color is this? What does the cow say? What’s two plus two?
But the good news is that it’s never too late to decide to release our copious doubts and worries, tune in and revel in discoveries about our kids.
“I keep trying to convey the pleasure every parent and teacher could feel while observing, appreciating and enjoying what the infant is doing. This attitude would change our educational climate from worry to joy. Can anybody argue about the benefits for a child who is appreciated and enjoyed for what she can do and does naturally? …I believe this issue is so basic, so important, that it cannot be overstated.” – Magda Gerber
I share more about parenting with trust in Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting