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Simple Ways to Bring Joy to ChildrenOctober 25, 2014
My husband Dan and I have fallen in love. Yes with each other, but now there is someone new in our hearts. Our little neighbor, who is "free, almost foh" years old, has captivated us. When she sees us on the beach at sunset as Dan takes his nightly photos, she runs toward us as fast as her little legs will carry her, fists pumping. Sometimes she dances for the camera, and sunset takes second place as Dan captures her silhouette in graceful poses, the last golden rays shining over her shoulder or creating a corona of light around her curly hair.
The delight she takes in our simple attention reminds me of how little it takes to bring joy to a child – writing in the sand with coral pieces she finds, playing the simple games she devises with her growing Creativity such as hermit crab races. She coaxes them out of their tight withdrawal, by whistling at them, and their claws emerge -- a new learning for me.
A child's natural potential for virtues is ready to flower at her age. It is clear she is a well-loved child because her virtues are blossoming. She is surprisingly Orderly. When she visits us at home, we have some children's books, a coloring book, colored pencils, and a collection of tiny wooden animals stored in wee match boxes. Unlike many children her age, who scribble madly and indiscriminately over the pictures, she colors neatly within the lines, without any instruction on my part. She is Helpful. She takes the tiny animals out of the boxes carefully and when she is finished puts them away. When she does this, I say, "You're being helpful." and she says "Yeah!" as if it should come as no surprise. The odd time she forgets and dashes out to the deck to play with Dan, I ask her to come back and remind her, "It's time to be helpful and put things away." Using the Virtues Language gives her the meaning and the spirit of what she is doing. Naming the virtue, "Be helpful" is far kinder and more empowering than "Don't leave toys around or you can't play anymore." Or worse still, to label her negatively, "Don't be lazy." It is always better to transform shaming to naming. Tell children what we DO want them to do rather than what not to do. When we say, "Don't hit!" the emphasis is on the word "hit". When we say "Be gentle" Or "Be peaceful", we are mentoring them spiritually, educating their character. When you catch them in the act of committing a virtue, naming it strengthens it in their awareness, and teaches them they can choose to practice it again.
Our young friend knows about Cooperation. When we play a game or write in the sand, she says, "Your turn." She also practices Respect. When we set boundaries such as telling her a room in our house is off limits, and to stay in the lounge, she does. When we are in the house praying or resting, she peeks in, then quietly goes away. We tell her she is being Respectful. "Uh, huh," she says as if to say, "Duh, of course I am."
We all get busy. We all have too much to do. Yet, a few minutes spent in kind, loving attention to a child is an important, even sacred activity. Playing with a child doesn't spoil them; it is their way of learning. As we mirror their virtues to them, whether affirming or correcting them, we become a mentor to their willing, enthusiastic souls. Better to be a mentor, than a tormentor.