A year and a half ago we brought home a two and a half year old little girl from China. This girl was quiet and smart. She would babble a bit in Chinese, sometimes singing a song or two, but for the most part she just watched life go on around her. You could almost see the wheels turning inside her head. She was taking life in, but something stopped her from jumping into life.
Fast forward to today… this girl is full force, full on LIVING. She runs EVERYWHERE. She rarely stops talking. She can crawl up into a strangers lap and have them wrapped around her finger in less than two minutes. She asks questions and makes statements that are literally astounding sometimes. She laughs often, loves deeply, and lives fully.
What changed? Well, yes, she lived in an orphanage for two and a half years and yes, I am sure that largely contributed to the way she was when we brought her home. I, however, often wonder if Kate would be the Kate we have at home if she were still with her biological parents. There is much to be said for DNA in personality development, but I think there is more to it than that. I know now, as an adult, that there were many factors that kept me from ever blossoming fully as a child. Three things stand out when I consider the way that I have parented and how it has allowed my children to fully develop their personality. Don’t get me wrong… I’m no expert. I will not be writing parenting books any time soon. However, I think I have stumbled upon three things that I have mostly done right for my kids.
Children need space. Yes, structure is a good thing…even a necessary thing, but a child will never thrive under rigid rules all the time. You will not get to see and experience everything that God created your child to be under the heavy curtain of inflexibility. A child needs time to get messy without being wiped every five seconds… time to run in the house without being chastised about the knick knacks (put those things in storage already)… time to be naked and silly… time to be loud and flamboyant. There is a time for everything, of course, but that should include this kind of time. Giving your child space means letting them breathe…letting them be themselves… letting them experience freedom.
Children need grace. High love, high discipline… I totally get it. Yes, children need boundaries and they need to be taught to follow those boundaries, but they also need to be able to make mistakes. When it is not a game changer, choose grace. When the milk is spilled all over the floor, when they have slammed the door for 4th time today, when they need a few extra minutes to finish their game before they go to bed…choose grace. There are many, many things that we, as parents, can harp on because it makes OUR lives easier. If we really want to see our children live life fully, we have to set aside our “pet peeves”, reminding ourselves that some day we will miss the spills and the noise and the reluctant bedtimes. Giving your child grace means letting them breathe…letting them make mistakes…letting them know that some things are just NOT a big deal.
Children need face. Attention is key for a child. Your full attention means that they are important and they know this. This is why children will vie for an adult’s attention…because every time a face is turned toward them, they hear “you are important.” When my children speak, I try to fully listen and fully engage (provided they are not interrupting a conversation or talking to me while I am on a rare phone call, in which case, I have this eerie “tune you out” ability). I have never been one for much baby talk, except with babies… so often I will speak to them in the same way that I would talk to another adult, maybe in an age appropriate form of conversation, but not in any way patronizing or demeaning. Respect your child like you respect any other human on the planet…because shocker…wait for it… your child is a human. GASP! and one day they will be an adult human just like the ones you interact with on a daily basis. Follow them into their imagination. Help them make up the story. Play along. But also answer their questions. Be as truthful as possible. Explain things they don’t understand when you can. In the end, you will be surprised at how much they can process. Children also need to be “in” your face…they need time to be close to you. They need to be DAILY swept up in hugs…covered in kisses… tickled and soothed. It isn’t good to have physical boundaries with your children (Obviously I am not talking about ANYTHING inappropriate here)… they should have access to hugs when they need them, to time right in your face, to ability to touch your hair and your nose and put their fingers in your mouth. They thrive when they have full access. (Disclaimer: I know there are times when we don’t want our children right in our face and I am not saying it is never okay to say “not right now”, I’m just talking about saying “it is never okay”. Again, I am speaking only of appropriate contact) Giving your child grace means letting them breathe…letting them be seen AND heard… letting them as close as they want to be.
Parenting this way does not automatically mean that your child will fully open up to life. I know that there are other factors that go into this and they greatly vary in every family and every situation. And please don’t think that I am saying this is ALL children need. Please keep feeding your children, giving them structure, disciplining them, and most importantly, praying for them. However, if you can give space, grace, and face to your child on a daily basis, it will help give them the courage and freedom to learn to live.
No, I can’t imagine that Kate would be the same little girl back in China, even if her parents could have raised her. I saw nothing in China that gave indication these three things are priorities in parenting there. But as I look back over my list, I realize that I, myself, daily receive every one of these things from my Father in heaven…that these are parenting strategies that He uses with this child over here…and there’s no better recommendation than that.