"We labor under a sort of superstition that the child has nothing to learn during the first five years of life. On the contrary, the fact is that the child never learns [afterward] what it does in its first five years." —Mahatma Gandhi, 1925
In the May newsletter, we discussed the benefit of listening to our children, especially to their feelings. Now let's focus now on how useful it can be to discover what our children are interested in.
Dr. Stanley Greenspan, the wonderful child researcher, developed an infant assessment process he called "Floortime." The parents and the young child would sit on the floor with Dr. Greenspan, and he would observe the child and the child-parent interactions. He then began to realize that a variant of this process could be used to enhance the parent-child relationship.
He suggested that for about 15 minutes a day, parents get onto the floor with their child and allow the child to direct the activities. The parent becomes a benign assistant. This is the time for the child to show the parent what she wants to do, what interests her, and what she feels.
"Floortime is a warm and intimate way of relating to a child," says Dr. Greenspan. "It means engaging, respecting, and getting in tune with the child in order to help the child express through gestures, words, and pretend play what is on the child's mind. This enhances the child's self-esteem and ability to be assertive and gives the child a feeling that 'I can have an impact on the world.' As you support the child's play, the child benefits from experiencing a sense of warmth, connectedness, and being understood."
All of this promotes the notion of listening to the child. Listening to the child gives the child the sense that he is valued, that what he thinks and feels and is interested in counts for something. This, in turn, enhances the child's self-esteem.
So, let's get back to the issue of interest. Listening to and validating what the child is interested in pays huge dividends throughout the child's life. If the child is made aware that his/her interests are important, then the child can more clearly identify genuine likes and dislikes, leading more readily to choices of career, spouse, and so on.
It is a sad occurrence, but not infrequent, to have patients at 30 or 40 or 50 years old say they do not know what they want to do or what they are interested in. They did not have the opportunity early in life to learn that what really counted was what they were interested in.
Technically, the key component here is the affect of interest, as we have discussed previously. Interest operates on a continuum from interest (or its close cousin, curiosity) to excitement. As psychologist Silvan Tomkins says, "It is interest which is primary. Interest supports both what is necessary for life and what is possible." Interest is responsible for our learning, exploratory activities, and creativity.
To summarize, listening to the child's feelings gives tremendous benefits. Interest can be promoted early on in children—listening to them, finding out the things they are intrigued with and enjoy.
What a gift!