“Just take her shoes off and pop her up here.” The attendant patted the bench. I lifted my little girl from her pram and set her down. The attendant picked up her foot and placed it carefully in the gauge, intent on what she was doing.

“Hel-lo,” came a small, high voice.

The attendant looked up, shocked, then smiled back. “Oh I’m so sorry! Hello!”

Then she looked guiltily at me.

She hadn’t thought to speak to my daughter, hadn’t even made eye contact with her. It’s understandable. She and I were focused on what she was doing and there were other customers for her to help. However, we’d both forgotten our manners, forgotten to include this small but whole important person (who is waking up to a whole new world of interaction and social complexities) in the process.

 

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Maria Montessori said, “Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.”

I love the respect part, but I’d suggest it’s not just innocence or the possibility of what they might be that we should value. They’re also better at the “here and now” than we are. And they have plenty to teach us.

Children are a work in progress, but so are we

As adults, we don’t have access to their world anymore. There’s no going back. While we’re growing up, we focus on what we want to gain: our independence, our experience, our ability to articulate our thoughts and feelings. Once we’re there, we become nostalgic for childhood, but we don’t always appreciate the value of learning from childhood a second time around. We yearn to go back when we should be learning what we can to carry on moving forward.

It’s easy to cast ourselves as teachers, with our kids as the students, so it’s pretty humbling to realize that it’s a dialogue. They’re teaching us too, and my daughter teaches me things other adults can’t.

Whatever she’s doing, she’s fully present

When she plays, she’s engrossed in the game. When she eats, she thinks about her food (you can almost see the cogs whirring in her mind). She plays with it to understand the texture and what happens when it spills or she flings it. She practices the names of the fruits. When she sleeps, she’s out for the count.

She also has a really good handle on when I’m fully present too. Of course, there are meals to make and laundry to do, but I know I’m my best self when I can give my full attention to her. For me, sometimes that means getting us both out of the house (where I’ll always find another chore that needs doing) and taking her somewhere where we can both play without distractions.

When I get to the end of those kind of days, the ones when we’ve really played together, I always feel more fulfilled than if I’ve done a little of everything, but nothing properly.

She takes pleasure in the simple things

Singing a song and falling down on the floor. Blowing raspberries. A tickle under the chin. Her joy is infectious.

I often think I know where to find happiness, but I don’t. I don’t always know where to find it or how to stop and enjoy it. She helps me do that.

She’s always ready to learn

She’ll practice over and again until she gets it. She registers frustration when she can’t do something, but moves on and tries once more.

I consider myself pretty determined, by adult standards, but compared to her, my threshold for shrugging my shoulders and giving up is shamefully low.

Okay, our capacity to learn diminishes as we get older, but as adults, we shouldn’t write ourselves off. Whatever your age, there’s still time to boost your self-confidence and broaden your horizons.

She processes her own emotions, good and bad

When she falls down and hurts herself, I’ve tried to resist the urge to tell her she’s okay. She doesn’t feel okay, and if I say she is, it’s confusing. It’s an adult response to try and speed up the negative part and make our child happy again.

That’s not to say we should wallow, but perhaps we should recognize the bad along with the good.

Kids do this. They let the emotion take control. They really feel it, instead of pushing it aside. They seek comfort and it takes as long as it takes to feel better. Then they move on. That sounds pretty healthy to me.

She tunes in to other people’s emotions and practices understanding them

We were at the playground when a little girl fell over and started to cry. My daughter stopped playing and scrunched her face up, the way she does when we get to the sad part of a story. At eighteen months old, she’s beginning to understand that someone else’s sadness can make her sad too, and that the other person might want help or comfort.

When it comes to strangers, how often do we recognize other people’s suffering? How often do we ignore it because it’s awkward or embarrassing, or it isn’t convenient to stop and offer help?

My child helps me remember the basics of being human when I forget and she can fell an adult with a simple “hello”.

That’s a pretty cool superpower.