Kids and adults are alike in the need to be seen. Kids might seem more naked in their expression of that need but then adults can be pretty unrestrained in their attention-seeking too. Just look at social media.
We tend to frown at attention-seeking. But what if we brought more compassion to the table and saw the basic human need that’s underpinning it – the need to be seen. The need to have your thoughts/feelings/uniqueness validated.
I know with my daughter that I am often guilty of overlooking this basic need and instead seeing her acting-out as either 1) about me. ie. she’s deliberately provoking me or 2) due to some material cause. ie. she’s tired/hungry.
Of course sometimes these are the reasons. But sometimes she just needs me to be fully present with her, really seeing her. And when I do. Wow! The change can be almost instantaneous. Her tantrum dissolves away and suddenly we’re together, really communicating with one another.
So here are 5 things I personally find useful for getting myself in to a state of real presence with my daughter. Since I have no formal training either in mindfulness or in early years psychology please feel free to to dismiss them as the ramblings of an unschooled amateur (which they totally are).
But they help me. And if any of them can help you, that’s awesome.
1. Get down to their level (literally). I find just crouching down to my daughter’s eye level completely changes the dynamic between us. It’s kind of incredible how putting myself physically in her perspective actually helps me to see things from her perspective too. Even just the reminder of the simple fact that, ‘Wow, the world looks really big from down here’ can help a lot.
Meet them at an equal place and with curiosity
2. Be genuinely curious. I ask my daughter nearly every school day, ‘So how was school?’ She almost never responds. Kids have strong intuition, so they can smell insincerity from a mile away. And most of the time I’m not really that interested in how her day went, I’ve got other things on my mind, I’m sure it was fine. But when I push myself to approach her with a sense of wonder about who this person really is then she feels that straight away. So: what exactly are you drawing? And what an amazing scene you’ve created here? Tell me about it.
3. Be in your own body. Personally my own thoughts are probably the biggest obstacle to being present with her. So I find that anything that can help me get out of my head helps hugely. So take a few deep breathes. Feel your hands, your feet pressing against the floor. And just be here.
4. Stop being their parent for a while. I really believe that the perceived roles of parent/child do a lot to create distance between grownups and children. I see it all the time – parents so busy ‘parenting’ they don’t even see the incredible little being beaming up at them. And if I’m seeing it in others you better be sure I’m guilty of it myself! I think it’s really important to relieve yourself (and your kid) of the burden of this power dynamic sometimes and approach the relationship in a genuine spirit of equality. A dad once told me that sometimes he lets his toddler just lead him around the neighborhood for half an hour. I thought that was a brilliant idea.
5. Don’t forget your own needs. Being present with your child shouldn’t mean completely forgetting you are a person with needs and wants. I think a lot of parents (myself included) feel that they have to feign interest in what their kid is doing out of some misguided belief that this will make the child feel valued. But (as I mentioned earlier) kids easily sense when you’re faking it. What’s more you’re going to zone out if you’re doing something you find totally banal for too long. So it’s better to spend 10 mins playing piggy-back in full presence than laboring at the task for half an hour and finding yourself increasingly bored, irritated and disengaged.
So there you are! Peace out.