Children enjoy sharing with you their big talents and accomplishments, like being excited about being able to catch a ball or read a book themselves, but they also benefit when they know you care about their little talents — when they want to share with you a song they’ve just learned or a delight in a simple pleasure.
“Little” and “big” are such emotionally-charged words for young children. As children become more and more aware of themselves and their world, they become aware of how small they are, compared to the people who look after them. It may also seem to them that grownups get to do all the big and exciting things and make all the decisions, too.
Wanting to be Powerful
Our society today, and particularly the media, places great importance on the big, fast, and loud. Not long ago, a race car driver was being interviewed on television because he had just won some important race. As he began to talk, it was obvious that he wanted to show and tell the world that he was a human being with a family and friends and a love for all kinds of things. He wanted people to know that he was not just the driver of a fast-moving car. But the interviewer had only two questions: “How fast did you go?” and “How much money did you win?” With all those messages coming at them, from inside and outside, it’s no wonder children long to be big and powerful. But what a challenge it is for all of us to find healthy ways to satisfy that longing, while helping children value the little.
Playing about Being Grown-Up
One healthy way we can respond to children’s longing to be big is by encouraging their play. When we offer them simple “props” from the adult world, like a discarded briefcase or a worn purse, an old hat or oversize shoes, children usually gravitate to those symbols of the adult world and pretend they’re “grown-up.”
That kind of dress up play can help children feel big and powerful and in charge of things. Even little children need to feel in control of their world from time to time without the scary responsibility of actually being in control.
Besides providing “grownup” props and encouraging that kind of pretend play, we can also help children feel bigger and more powerful by offering them choices when it’s appropriate or by asking them to make suggestions for solutions to conflicts over toys or friends.
Cherishing the Little Things
At the same time, we also need to remember there are unique things about childhood and about being a small child which are to be cherished. One of the earliest Neighborhood songs was called “Children Can” with examples of what children can do (that we bigger folks cannot!) — “…crawl under a table…sit under a chair…and sleep most anywhere…notice all the tiny things that other people say…make the things they play with something different every single day.”
We adults can help young children feel good about who they are when we put value on the many things children can do. It’s a way for us to let them know that we don’t want or expect them to be more grownup than they’re ready to be — that we really do like them just the way they are.