This is not the first time that we have discussed the importance of being present and it won’t be the last. For many reasons, we focus on this important exchange with children because it is powerful in helping to awaken their identity. Children are all unique but they can be uncomfortable with uniqueness if they never understand its meaning. Presence allows a parent to nurture a child’s identity.
Several years ago, Playgroup had the honor of hosting Madeline Levine as a speaker to its parent body. Although her new book at the time, The Price of Privilege, focused on adolescent and teen years, she gave a great deal of weight to the components that are necessary to grow a child who possesses a strong sense of self. Being present with children was a major component.
Sense of self is dynamic and, at times, complicated concept because it covers both the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ self. During the talk, Dr. Levine made a point of sharing that a strong sense of self should be properly incubated during the younger years so that it will be strong enough to handle the turbulence of the adolescent and teen years. In short, she offered, if you focus on helping your child know who they are early in life, they will have a larger set of tools to manage through the years when parents are no longer the go-to information source.
Moments that induce presence are curious because they generally arrived during non-planned instances that can catch a parent off guard. But if a parent is able to spot the moment and take advantage of it, the result can be a good dose of binding glue that a child can depend on to fill the gaps or breaks in their identity as they figure out who they are.
What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and or present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind. –Buddha
I recall, as a small child growing up on a farm, it was the moments under the weeping willow tree, lying on the grass, looking through the branches with my grandmother sitting nearby clipping beans for dinner that offered me the best thinking. In those moments, we were present. As my thoughts escaped, my grandmother queried or answered me. As I watched my own children grow, I saw how similar moments solidified their decision-making because those moments helped teach them who they are. Those moments help to build their budding sense of self.
In your own reflections, you can find your own moments that helped build and define who you are and what you stand for. Presence is not passive, although it can feel that way. In presence we’re being accessible, forthcoming, loving and compassionate while sharing the moment. As Madeline Levine told us, “presence develops courage and leads to mastery”.
In keeping with the subject of presence, here is an eloquent story about trees and their presence in the life of the world. This simple story with pleasing graphics helps define the tree’s presence while giving a child something to contemplate.
What Would Atticus Do?
David G. Allan, BBC
I recently had a discussion with my eldest child. He asked about literature that talks about levels of development, growing up, that are not coming of age books for young readers. There was one book that did come to mind that doubles as a coming of age book and a parenting guide. This book is To Kill A Mockingbird. Atticus Finch is one of the most interesting characters in literature that not only spoke about serious issues, but also demonstrated some useful parenting skills. Instead of recommending this book, I am attaching a link to a good article that ran on The Wisdom Project. This article is about being a fair minded individual, as well as a stable parent.
Questions for Lonna
Children look to adults to help define what they think about themselves. For many years, families have benefited from your thoughts, and those of your staff, on this important part of developing a child. Can you elaborate on what it means to be present with a child?
There is no more precious and serious role than that of an adult in a young child‘s life. We set the standard for who they will be, who they will want to be around and who they see themselves as. Parents are the most influential humans. I often think if peoplerealized the magnitude of their influenc e on young children the human species would cease to exist.
Perhaps the greatest challenge as a pre school leader has been this past election. What does it mean to be a child in America right now? I think it must be terrifying. If news is on tv or the car radio, I think it must be terrifying to be a child right now. Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development places pre school children with the conflict of trust vs. mistrust. Our job, in order to help the child pass onto the next stage of development, is to facilitate an environment where things are mostly predictable. The Montessori class has, for example, breakable containers on trays. If a child is silly the container will likely fall and break. The child will need to clean this up. A young child in our school learns to trust himself and the teachers. We will not yell or shame or punish. We will help them clean up and start all over again.
Imagine that same child listening to the screaming adults on CNN or Fox News? Images of dead babies, our President saying he will “bomb the shit” out of a country and the phrase “sexual harassment” used daily.
I have a family visiting Texas as they will be moving there. One of my five year olds said, “I heard on the news something bad happened in Texas this morning, I hope she is alright.”
I used to worry my student’s worse influence was a gorgeous mommy saying, “ I look awful!” when complimented. Now I worry they are learning how to be grown ups from cable news. I worry “alternative facts” will actually be a part of their lexicon. I worry they will think being a grown up means communicating by talking over each other and yelling. I worry they will have the image of their adult role models saying divisive and cruel things.
Dr. Montessori wanted the likes of me to bring education for peace to young children. I have taken this very seriously, more a vocation than a career. In thirty fives years of this vocation I find the last six months the most challenging.
What it means to be a child in Playgroup will always be unconditional acceptance and support and positive adult role models for them and their parents.