Do you have dreams for your children? What nature of character would you like to see them acquire? Children learn what's important to us and what we value by living with us and observing the outward expressions of our character. They remember, imitate, and recreate these ways of being in the world. When I intentionally take time to learn ways of being that are rooted in compassionate self-understanding I am also taking an important step in an unfolding process that supports my children to know themselves.
I remember experiencing the beauty of this with one of my grandsons when he was two-years-old. My three grandchildren were visiting, Rylan and I had a fun and busy morning with them. We put together puzzles, read and told stories, shared pretend play in the play-room, and observed Uncle Rylan's frog, Mr. Ed.
When I noticed lunchtime was drawing near, I brought out the color books and crayons and asked, "Would anyone like to color while Grammy works in the kitchen?" All three exclaimed, "Yeah!" And they happily scampered to the table and began coloring.
As I started pulling out food to prepare, both Andrew and Carter's eyes opened wide. They slid off their chairs and began scooting them across the floor towards me. Andrew asked, "Me help Grammy?" to which Carter replied, frowning towards his brother, "No, me help Grammy!" Smiling, I reached to help them both move the chairs safely to the counter, I said, "We can all help each other!" As they climbed up onto the chairs, I saw my vitamins and supplements might be within reach and pushed them back into the corner out of the way.
What followed was a comedy in cooking! We had a grand time taking turns pushing and pulling on the rolling pin carrying on a conversation I was hard pressed to follow. As I engaged with them, I found myself marveling at the way they communicated with each other and with me; sharing attention, using reciprocity, and resonating with one another's emotional expressions. However, when they would repeat for the third or fourth time the same thing to Grammy, I found it extremely helpful to ask my four-year-old granddaughter for a translation!
After about 15-20 minutes, I noticed cooking was taking much longer with all the help I was getting! My energy began to run low, and I noticed I was taking deep breathes more and more often. I paused to glance about the room for support, my eyes landed on the television. "How about a short Winnie the Pooh movie while Grammy finishes up in the kitchen?" I asked.
"Yeah!" Hannah and Andrew, squealed with delight, they were quick to follow Uncle Rylan into the next room to sit on the couch, ready to watch the movie. I looked over to see if Carter was coming, I saw him stretching over the counter to pick up one of my supplement bottles. Automatically, I snatched it out of his hand and quickly picked him up, setting him on the floor and saying, "No, thank you, Carter, Grammy puts these up for safety! You want to go sit with Uncle and watch Winnie the Pooh?"
"No!" Carter exclaimed. I looked at him closer and saw his eyes were suddenly brimming with tears, his jaw was set, and his lower lip was pouting.
I squatted down beside him, reached out to touch his shoulder, and asked, "Are you feeling sad?"
Pulling back to cross his arms in front of him, his face reddened as the tears spilled over. With some effort he answered loudly, "No! Mad! Me mad!"
I felt my own face reflecting the surprise I was feeling, "Oh! You feel mad? Is that it?" I asked.
"Yes!" he answered insistently, as his tears got bigger.
"Grammy's sorry, Carter, is there more you would like me to hear?" I asked gently.
His eyes widened slightly as he nodded and turned, pointing to the supplements, "I put back! No take away, Grammy!"
"You were putting the bottle away and didn't like Grammy taking it from you? You like to do it all by yourself, is that it?" expanding my reflection to acknowledge his needs for autonomy and choice.
"Yes! I put it back!" Carter nodded. His complexion cleared as his tears slowly disappeared.
"Yes, you like to put it back." I affirmed with a tender smile "Thank you, Carter, for helping Grammy understand now. I was worried about safety when you reached out to touch my bottles." I paused a moment, looking into his eyes "Those bottles are just for Grammy, and I like to keep you safe" naming the need that had bubbled up for me in the moment. "How do I like to keep you?" I asked playfully.
"Safe? Grammy's bottles?" He asked pointing to the bottles again.
"Yes, I like to keep you safe, and Grammy keeps her bottles up for safety." I gently held my hands out to him.
"I will ask you next time what you are doing, rather than just take something away. Will you forgive me? Can Grammy have a hug now?"
"Yes," he nodded again and then smiled at me. Coming closer, he paused to look me deep in the eyes, and then wrapped his arms around my neck, giving me a great big long hug.
"Ah, I see you, Carter, and I love you so much!"
"I love you so much!" Carter reciprocated with affection.
"Are you ready to sit with Uncle now?" I asked with a grin.
"Yes!" he answered happily as he marched off into the other room.
Wow! The dialogue between us couldn't have taken more than five minutes, yet what a powerful impact it had on our relationship.
By taking time to have reflective conversations with our children and grandchildren, we help to develop their mindsight capacity, which enables them to "see" the mind of another person. Understanding the mind of others gives children a way to understand behavior and the world they live in.
When we can see the mind of another person, we can understand what that person is feeling and needing and respond with empathy. This in turn helps our children to understand the intentions of others and to make flexible decisions in social situations, and it deepens their understanding