My two and a half year old Jacob is very friendly. It could be because he’s my second child, and so he has benefited from my more relaxed parenting this time around as well as being doted on by his adoring older sister. It could be because he’s a Leo, the sign of nobility. It could be because I’ve never discouraged him from greeting friends and strangers alike. Or it could just be who he naturally is. But whatever the reason, Jacob takes it upon himself to personally greet every person he meets in his day-to-day life.
On the playground, for example, he often walks up to other children and introduces himself. It sounds something like, “Hi! I named Jacob!” His words are clear to me, but not everyone may understand what he’s saying or who he’s addressing. And so, often, other people ignore his efforts to strike up a conversation. I find it more than a little disheartening, quiet honestly, especially when the person ignoring him is another parent of a toddler. I can’t imagine that I would meet with the same reaction, if I walked up and introduced myself.
Luckily, Jacob is totally unfazed when people ignore him. He just introduces himself a few more times, until finally some notice is given. Or if that doesn’t happen, he moves on to the next person, and often meets with better results. It doesn’t occur to him, at his age, to wonder why someone isn’t paying attention to him. It doesn’t appear to lead him to doubt himself or question his place in the world.
But as I watch my son go out and try to make friends with limited success, I reflect on what it’s showing me about the way we view children in our society. The truth is that children are not accorded the same kind of respect as adults. We don’t feel that it’s necessary to give them our attention in the same way. We don’t offer them the same kind of space to express themselves, and we don’t value what they have to say. Sometimes, even if we’re parents ourselves. Sometimes, even if they’re our own children.
One of Attachment Parenting International’s guiding principles is responding to our children with sensitivity. For older children, this includes showing an interest in what they’re doing. I have to confess that I don’t always do this as well as I could. I’m not always the best at getting down and engaging my children on their level. And sometimes I don’t hear them myself, when they’re talking to me and my attention is elsewhere.
I’m constantly striving to improve, though. I’m working hard to respond sensitively, and to provide my children with a safe and supportive environment to explore. And so I stand back and watch as they strike up conversations with children and adults at the park. I let them navigate social interactions on their own as long as they’re safe and happy. And I hope that other people will respond to them with the same sensitivity that I strive to display for all children. Because, really, every child deserves that.
Have you ever had the experience of watching other adults ignore your child? What was that like for you? And how do you respond when it happens?