The other day I watched an interaction between a young child and the parent of another child. Something happened on the playground that upset this child and she started to cry.  The parent closest to the scene went over to investigate.  This woman is quite tall, and before she said anything, she folded herself down, bending at the knees and hips so she was just about as tall, for the moment, as this child.  They spoke for a few seconds, the child’s sobs subsided, and they both went back to what they were doing.

It took me a moment to figure out what got my attention about this interaction.  This kind of exchange happens all the time – a child is upset, an adult comes to check it out, comforts the child or otherwise intervenes, and life goes on.

What was unusual was that this person didn’t speak until she was really where the child could see her.  It’s easier to address a child from where we are, from up above, where we live.  It doesn’t seem like a big distance, but the gesture of closing that gap can have a big impact.  When we put ourselves where kids are, literally as well as figuratively, they can see us more fully and we can see them.  For the most part, also literally and figuratively, we pull them toward us.  When they’re very young (first out of necessity because they can’t move themselves around yet, then later out of habit), we pick them up, carry them around, tell them what’s happening next and when and where it’s happening.  When they get older, we tell them what to learn and how and when and where to learn it.  If they’re begging to have more time to draw when we think they should be practicing the violin or learning about ancient Egypt, we don’t look into it.  We don’t ask them about it.  We don’t consider that there may be something we don’t already know or understand about what the world looks like from where they are and what might be in the drawing for them.  We want them to be like us, to do the things that we’ve decided are important.  Of course we do this.  We want them to be ready to be adults when the time comes,there’s lots to learn, and we’ve been told that the only way for them to get what they’ll need is to pull.

But what gets lost when we overdo it – when we only pull them toward us and don’t receive them as they are and where they are – is the children themselves. We’re all in a hurry, and it’s easier to just keep pulling.  But the cost is great; kids have entire worlds of thought and perspective to share and as busy and worried as we are, finding our way closer to what they’ve got means everybody wins.

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