Many adults, in the course of their daily interactions with children often miss out on what I believe are some of the most precious and insightful experiences we can have with young children. Sure, they often say cute and adorable things, but more often than not the truly wonderful moments come when we are not tuned into or aware of the profundity of what can appear to be very simple (and sometimes annoying) actions or behavior.
A few years ago, I spent some time at a friend’s house while her children and grandchildren were visiting. My foot was encased in a rather complex walking cast that could be opened and closed partly by manipulating two outer and two inner Velcro straps.
The two-year-old looked with fascination at my strange boot. When I asked her if she wanted to see how it worked her eyes lit up! Yes, she quickly and eagerly replied. Having first explained why I was wearing it – I broke some bones in my foot and this special shoe is helping to make them better – I showed her how I carefully opened each strap using slow, deliberate movements and making sure that she could see each step. I removed my foot, showed her the empty boot, replaced my foot in the boot and then began the process of closing up the boot again.
I then invited her to try it herself saying, “Would you like a turn?” Needing no second invitation she immediately began the “lesson”, going through each step exactly as I had done – even lifting my foot gently out of the boot. Only when she got to the more complicated part of rethreading the outer Velcro straps did she say, “I need help.”
I positioned the strap just enough to get her started and said, “Your turn.” Off she went to complete the task. No sooner had she finished than she started the entire process again. Nothing changed the second time around. Her manipulation of the boot was exactly the same even to where she said, “I need help.”
After about 30 minutes of this repetition, her mother intervened suggesting that I tell her to stop as she had been doing this long enough. No doubt there was also a genuine concern that I was just being a polite guest or even worse that her child might damage my boot! I reassured mom that all was well and that her daughter was doing exactly what two-year olds do –first – they find something that interests them, second – they become fully engrossed in the activity, and third – they engage in repetition. The child continued the activity for an additional 30 minutes until guests began heading home.
If you look carefully and with an open mind you will see this process repeated everywhere you see young children. In fact, it is integral to the young child’s development. Unfortunately, more often than not we the “interfering adults” interrupt this process. While being of good intent, our need to constantly monitor and direct children can be a great impediment to their development.
On another occasion I watched a toddler at an outdoor family festival pick up discarded Styrofoam cups and place them in a large trash bin for forty-five minutes while mom and dad chatted with friends, stopping only because his parents were leaving. The next time you see a young child engaged in repetition, I encourage you to sit back and watch – allow the process to take its natural course. I promise you will not be disappointed.