As announced earlier this month, we are publishing small articles for your parental enrichment. Enjoy these suggestions with your little ones.
THE JOY OF SPONTANEOUS DELIGHT
I was alone one day, walking to lunch on a busy Boston street. Ahead was an old man, begging, “Any spare change?” The young businessman ahead of me brushed him off. “No, no–sorry.” Too busy. Then I came up to the beggar. I saw his face. I saw character mixed with tragedy in the old eyes. “Come on–come to lunch with me.” Spontaneous, spur of the moment. The man was surprised. I was surprised. I’ll forget other lunches, but never that one. The incredible story of a broken man’s life–it did him good to tell it; it did me good to hear it. He left with a full stomach & with a flicker of hope because someone had cared & listened. I left happy because I had helped, but also because I had done something spontaneous–free–open.
The Child’s Perspective
I was upstairs in my bedroom; eighteen-month-old Josh was right below me downstairs in his sister’s room. At first I thought he was crying, but as I listened again, I heard it for what it was; a loud, spontaneous belly-laugh. I knew he was down there by himself, because I could hear his sisters with Linda in the kitchen, so I sneaked quietly down to observe. I peeked through the door just in time for the next peal of laughter. Josh, his back to me, was sitting on his haunches facing Saren’s bed. The bedspread, hanging to the floor, suddenly bulged & then lifted to reveal Barney, our big black Labrador, squirming out from under the bed. There was something funny about Barney’s shifty-eyed sheepish look as he pushed his head out from under the spread. Josh laughed so hard he fell sideways. Then he promptly crawled under the end of the bed (Barney following), crawled back out from under the bedspread, & turned to watch Barney come out again.
Josh’s laugh made me smile, made me feel free. Adult laughter is too often sarcastic or boisterous or somehow forced & brittle. Josh’s spontaneous laugh pealed out like a thousand bells–the kind of free, delighted laugh that most little children have & most adults lose.
The key method is encouragement & reinforcement. Children will repeat what they are praised for.
There are many ways to encourage & sanction a particular behaviour; perhaps the best way of all is by participating in that particular behaviour yourself.
Get excited with children. Swallow your sophistication–be a child with them, emote with them. When they say, “Oh, look!” you say, “Wow, yes!” Don’t say, “Calm down, son,” or “Not here, dear.”
Do spontaneous things with them. “Josh, your mom looks tired. Let’s put her to bed for a nap, & you & I will fix dinner.”
Make spontaneity a high priority. Place enough value on spontaneity that you let it happen even if it’s a little inconvenient. Suppose you are walking outside on a warm Summer afternoon & you spot your two-year-old stomping with delight in his first puddle. Resist the urge to yank him out with a “No, no!” Put rubber boots on him & let him do it. (Or put boots on yourself & do it with him!)
Get up & do a little dance when the music & the mood hit you.
Engage in the kind of play that produces exciting & unpredictable results.
Blow bubbles with a straw (in a glass of soapy water, or in the tub at bath time).
Play in water with empty plastic bottles, straws, or funnels.
Finger paint with shaving cream. Squirt a small amount of aerosol shaving cream on a smooth formica surface or table in front of each child & sprinkle on a little red powdered tempera paint. Let the children spread it around with their fingers or whole hands. Then sprinkle on a little blue & yellow tempera paint in different places so they can mix colours & see what happens.
The Family Treasure Chest
We have a “treasure chest.” It is just an old wooden box, painted many beautiful colours, with a big combination lock on it. The children know from experience that there is always a surprise in it.
Once or twice a week, on special occasions or perhaps for rewards, the chest is opened by daddy, the only one who knows the lock’s combination. It is amazing how delighted a child can be with one small peanut butter ball, a pine cone, or even a small sponge so he can help wipe off the table. Anything, so long as it comes out of the treasure chest, produces spontaneous delight.