Harry Harlow's research into child attachment shows that when young monkeys are given a choice between a wire 'mother' with a full bottle of milk and a wire 'mother' covered in soft fabric and padding, they choose to go hungry and cuddle up to the padded 'mother.' Every time I think about this experiment it makes me want to cry, imagining those poor babies snuggling up to a padded form, their bellies twisted with hunger.So what are the implications of this research? What do kids want from you?
1. Your approval.
Your encouragement, when they are striving to do or learn something, this week's spelling words for instance, can mean the difference between success and failure. Their confidence is directly affected by how you handle the situation. Kids need to know that you see how much they are trying and that you proud of their efforts. Even if they fail. They also need to know that whatever they are feeling is ok. If they are angry about something - that's perfectly valid. If they are sad - that it's perfectly normal to feel sad sometimes. The worst thing we can do as adults is tell a child, 'you're not allowed to show anger because it's disrespectful.' or that being sad is somehow weak or silly. Being self aware about their own feelings and being honest in sharing them with someone is the basis of every relationship they will ever have. Knowing they have your approval can drive kids to push through their fear barriers and sets down a solid foundation for their self-esteem.
2. Your time.
You don't need to rush out and buy another toy or gadget. You don't need to enrol them in yet another activity. What kids want is YOUR time and attention. Have you ever noticed how they love doing things with you, watching and learning from you? It's an opportunity to share your knowledge and skills, and to help develop their language vocabulary and general understanding of the world. And that's just from washing the dog, clearing out the garage and having a garage sale, making a swing in the backyard, putting together a photo album, choosing and making a special meal from a recipe book, going for a walk in nature and chatting about what you see, singing along to a music CD together, digging and planting in the garden. The ideas are endless! Discussing the day's events at the dinner table, breakfast in the sun, reading together; these are activities which help children to feel loved, valued and happy.
So don't worry that what you have to offer isn't enough. Believe me, it is. You are your child's role model. They look up to you. Don't squander this precious childhood era doing your own thing and ignoring them, or chasing around trying to give them 'everything you never had as a child'. They just want you. Live your lives together.