What do you want most for your child? I bet it is what a good number of us desire. It is simply to see our children happy. We want many other things too, but overall, in any state or circumstance, we find ourselves wanting to see the sunlight on their faces, their smiles. Children come into this world expressing happiness almost immediately. The first smile comes as a reflex in the first days of birth. Experts say the first real smile happens between 6 and 12 weeks. Many cultures celebrate baby’s first laugh that occurs about three months of age. Even children who are born with or acquire in childhood a serious malady or deformity are often heralded for the joyful spirit of their strength. Joyfulness is a natural state. It is imbued in birth and intended for life. How many times (a day) do you melt when your new baby smiles, coos gaily, and giggles gleefully? Probably every single time. This is an act of play. An infant’s first play thing is it’s caregiver. The infant becomes a quick master at eliciting play. Play is the expression of joy. It is the working out of the desires and interests of our heart. Play begets joy. Joy begets play.
As our babes grow, we begin to see their interests lie in a certain category. Interesting fact: infants begin to “categorize” things starting at 4-6 months. They recognize that a cat is not a dog even in the absence of the language constructs and despite the similarities. This further develops from 6 months forward. One thing is certain however, your child’s preferences present effortlessly and it’s easy enough to see what brings them happiness at every turn.
Happiness is a certain category I hope we all choose to encourage for ourselves and with our children. How do we do that?
It is all in the noticing! What is it that your child naturally responds to right now? Is there an underlying theme as your child ages?
The child who is always into Mommy’s makeup and loves when the camera comes out is already a star. She is playing her part as a public face. Her imagination may have her as a YouTube sensation releasing the next batch of stage makeup tutorials that go viral. Or she may be envisioning herself as the next American-born Princess. It’s happened! What she plays with and how she plays may not be clear to the observer. However, seeing her happily at play is hard to miss.
How does your child play? This is a big question that has a big future. Let me explain.
I looked up one morning and noticed that my child, now in mid-twenties with a son of his own, is still playing. My adult son makes his living by playing! I drove to his workplace, a beautifully decorated space on the thoroughfare of our densely packed city. It screams my child in the beauty of the artwork that his own two hands crafted upon his tailor-made signage. It’s a stylish place. He’s a stylish guy. More importantly, this business is his. The middle school entrepreneur who broke rules that hadn’t even been written into the school code yet has succeeded in crafting his dream job.
That kiddo daunted school officials on a few occasions. Smart and defiant, unfocused. Bored. Impulsive. They missed his most beautiful attributes. They didn’t see that I was always having to wait just inside the store entryway because his generosity led him to stand and hold open the door to everyone. To everyone. He had no fear. From his early days of motor cross riding to those days greeting people at the door, he displayed a persistent disregard of certain fear. School authorities did notice something about him early on. He wasn’t much for being bossed about. They insisted that medication could help with that. Those letters behind my name (L.S.S.P.) were a career choice made so I could understand what they were saying and know directly how to fight for my son. I knew from pre-school my son would be subjected to misunderstandings. The very first school misunderstanding is when he got in trouble for laying his head on the paper to color. This was daycare at age 4. “Tell him to keep his head up, he can’t fall asleep during work.” Well guess what lady, that doesn’t help. Luckily someone cared enough to give me some better advice. I came to understand the factors at play and was able to advocate effectively and preemptively on that point. Other times I furthered us into ignorance by failing to investigate.
My point is from the beginning I knew there was much for me to learn from my child. It started with observing, having a watchful noticing eye. My son liked wheels. His Hot Wheels collection started before it was age appropriate. His bedroom was decorated with scale reproductions of automobiles, He had race track sets, riding toys, motorized and radio controlled motorcycles and cars. Long before he reached high school, he stopped playing with cars. His interests branched out. He participated in the experience of a summer job at an art museum. He worked for family and friends. He announced early on that he was to be his own boss. In hindsight I laugh, my son will be an entrepreneur was the real takeaway from that meeting with the principal and teacher in kindergarten. They were fortune tellers!
Driving up to his business I realized my son has never stopped playing. He has built that thing that perpetually keeps him playing. Our children are powerful creators. We don’t need to be worried or scared for their future. We don’t need to be hard on ourselves for not always being perfect. There will be mishaps. Sometimes we will mistakenly see in our child more of what the others see and less of what we know is there. There will be times when we fall short providing for them— that’s mostly in our minds. It is a parent’s natural instinct to want to give to their child. Our children once supplied with their physical needs, craves our attention above all else. Our noticing.
Noticing starts with just the intent to be aware. Some parents will write down each and every milestone, journaling an index of the days. Others will make less entries but will document the feelings and the memories in the recesses of the mind with the waves and beats of the heart. Still others will keep a photographical treasure map of the ins and outs of life with the littles.
The next step is encouragement. Again, I believe this is every parent’s true nature. We simply need the reminder. i heard once that shame and guilt are the cornerstones of good parenting. I dare admit I overheard this in the offices of a psychology department at an academic institution. I shudder to confess I tried out the theory. No! Absolutely, no! We all feel enough shame and guilt running through our DNA and the messages of society. We don’t need more oppression.
It’s time we call for the opposite. It’s time we encourage. Encouragement is not a patronizing statement “you get this trophy because you were on the team”. Encouragement is authenticity. It is saying “We give this token to remind you that you’ve accomplished a goal.” It is a celebration of being, doing, and creating. Celebration of life’s little victories build the foundation for realization of the dream. It is waking up to the fact that the dream is now the reality. Acknowledge, congratulate every little victory along the path. Let the face, the body, the voice exclaim the celebration. Become a master at play. It is the way of creation.
Today I celebrate that I woke up to notice my son is still playing. It used to be with Hot Wheels. Now it is in the acquiring, brokering, and selling of affordable automobiles to the living class. All of those “descriptors” others used once to mislabel and wrongly highlight my son’s natural traits matter not today. It is his singularity of interest, his disregard of fear, his independence, his perseverance, his generosity, and his passion that plays into his purpose. He is living that out in the world today happily. Loving what we do is a spiritual right. It represents living in alignment to our purpose. Doing what we love allows us to always play. I’m still learning how to play.
The next time you wonder if you are doing right by a child (even your inner child) take a moment to breathe, let out a laugh, and exclaim, “Go forth wild child and play!”. It will feed the future.
Misty Barron is a retired Licensed Specialist in School Psychology, a grandmother and founder of Laughter Exercise.Com
She is a Laughter Yoga Leader and a whole-hearted advocate for intentional playful laughter.