I remember listening to my mother or one of my aunts talk about things I did when I was little. But, for the most part, I could never remember doing any of those things. However, there were certain other things I can distinctly remember in great detail about my childhood… like my dad and me dancing together every night to an old McGuire Sisters record, how my mom would always have a hug and a bowl of chicken noodle soup waiting when I walked home for lunch from elementary school, and how caring and thoughtful my dad was towards my mom.
There is definitely certain stuff kids hold on to as they grow up. Parents and teachers would be wise to keep a few things in mind during the day-to-day with their littles…
The positive words you say to them. Try to watch how many negative or critical comments you toss their way. Balance it out with plenty of encouraging phrases like, “You really did your best on that,” or, “I am so proud of you.” Hearing these things will bolster their self-esteem and identity.
How you deal with stress and pressure. If you want a child to find ways to push down stress and move on, you must be aware of how you handle it yourself… because, guess who’s watching?
Those little interactions you have with them. Each semester, in one of my Early Childhood intro courses, I always ask my students to think back and try to recall a special adult in their childhood. Then, I want them to share what it was that earned that designation… an important exercise for understanding our influence and what, ultimately, matters most. Sometimes it’s a parent or grandparent and often a teacher they remember. Most interesting is the source of the “specialness.” Nine times out of ten, it is experiential, relational, or emotional… something that was said or done with that person that made an impact. And, it wasn’t necessarily outwardly significant, but just something simple and everyday, yet deeply and personally meaningful… like dancing with my daddy.
The way you and other adults relate to each other. What children pick up from your exchanges with other adults… your caring, concern, and respect… becomes the working model they use in learning to form relationships throughout their lives.
How you handle tough situations. Life isn’t perfect. Things happen, and children are often in the middle of it. They will remember how you reacted, how you were strong and held it together, if only outwardly. But, more importantly, how you looked beyond yourself to provide comfort and make them feel safe and protected.
The times you let out the leash a little more than expected and they had to do things on their own without you. This provides a sense of pride and accomplishment that will ignite their confidence and motivation to become an independent adult.
The times you put down your phone and other distractions and were present in the moment with them. When adults are preoccupied with checking their devices, they can miss a lot of little things that are super important to a child. One-on-one, undivided attention is a gift. It is also something that, if granted to a child, will be replicated in his own relationships with peers, partners, and someday, his own children.
I know these kinds of things, these little things, became part of who I am… the essence of my MO. Will you be someone’s best memory when asked? I believe it comes down to this:
Be the best you.