The Invisible Child
What It Means to Really See Your Child
My husband and I went out to dinner last night, gliding over icy roads to sit by a cheerful fire and chat with friends. We had just started on our soup when a family of five--mom, dad, and three children--slid into the booth next to us. We were deep in conversation so it took me a while to make sense of what I was hearing, but eventually it dawned on me: I could hear the voices of the three children, but nothing else. I leaned over as discreetly as I could and took a peek, and saw two little girls and a boy sitting quietly, and chattering away to their parents--who were so engrossed in their phones that they didn't even notice.
Now, let me be clear: this is the sort of restaurant with butcher paper on the tables and jars of crayons so everyone can draw. It's cheerful and noisy, the sort of place where kids can move around and just be kids without disturbing anyone else. And these children were beautifully behaved, sitting calmly and speaking in their best "indoor voices." Their parents were simply tuned out. Occasionally, mom or dad would make an "uh huh" or "mmmmm" noise, but otherwise, there was no response. And somehow, given the setting and the mood, I seriously doubt they were occupied with an emergency that required their rapt attention. Gradually, the children stopped talking and silence settled over the table.
When I was a child, my brother and I watched a cartoon show called "Casper the Friendly Ghost." Casper was a white, blobby sort of ghost who was always smiling; he was the farthest thing from scary you could imagine and just wanted to make friends with the people around him. Sadly for Casper, no one could see him--which is, after all, the definition of ghosthood. And sadly, I fear we may be raising a generation of "Casper kids"; unless they're misbehaving, they receive little focused time or attention. I grew up in the "children should be seen and not heard" era, but I believe the Casper kids have it worse: at least we were seen. Far too many children today have become invisible, expected to behave themselves, to comply with adult commands, and otherwise, to politely disappear. No wonder so many children whine, act out, and raise their voices; they've realized that even negative attention is better than no attention at all.
I understand how stressful parenting can be. Most of the parents I know work hard to provide for their families and do their best to create a loving and peaceful home. Parents are people, too, and need time to relax. But here's the catch: children need attachment and real connection. It's not optional, something you can provide if you have the time. A child's cognitive, social and emotional development, especially in the early years, depends entirely on the quality of the connection he has with parents and other caregivers. Everything he learns, he learns from you--and that requires time and energy.
Children, it turns out, need to be seen and heard. They need you to look at them, and not only when you're angry. They need you to be interested in all the many things that fascinate them. And when you're busy--and parents often are--they need to know that if they can wait patiently, you'll find time to really see and hear them, to be fully present with them.
Do you know any "Casper kids"? If you do, how many opportunities for connection and learning are you missing? Consider putting down the phone, turning off the TV, and shutting down the computer. Have a conversation; play a game together. Go to dinner and draw funny pictures with crayons. Laugh together. You may be pleasantly surprised to notice that misbehavior decreases when invisible children become visible.
| Posted by cheryl | Saturday, January 19, 2013|