Studying at UNC-Charlotte has afforded me the opportunity to study child development: how they understand the world and how they interact with parents. It has been enlightening and a little revealing to me of gaps in my own life due to the fact that we never really grow up: we just learn to behave in public.
When I was nine, my family lived in a brick home in town in a small neighborhood off the main highway. Ironically, the streets in the neighborhood were named after famous authors and poets over the past two hundred years; I had no idea. These were times when stringing blankets around the deck would become a shelter for a severe Siberian winter, and the floor was completely made of lava. My brother and I would have elaborate funerals for G.I. Joes who were killed in action and I saw my first comet. A little girl lived across the street who believed that if she shouted loud enough that people in airplanes would be able to hear her.
As children, imagination is everything, and almost anything is imagination. Anything can be anything. This is how we start, and most of us lose this ability as we grow older. Well, we don’t lose it, we just start to call our imaginations plans and dreams, and the behaviors that govern them convictions. The rules that govern “the floor is lava” are basically the rules that govern a flight through college, or finding a job: stay on the safe spaces as much as possible and plan your moves. The convictions are honed by family expectations, our beliefs, and past experiences.
Also, children find forms of attachment in their caregivers, which are generally their parents. Children are confident when they are confident in their parents. When situations change or something unknown comes into their vision, they re-establish connection with the parent to be sure that everything is on the up and up. These connections are crucial for young children and they will test them as a means of finding stability in their own identity. “Mom gets mad when I slam the cabinet, so let’s just see if she’ll get mad again.” In fact, consistent behavior in parents is the development of love that a child understands.
I was in Starbucks today and a little boy was getting into everything. He had bright blue eyes and a hat on backwards so nobody cared. He stopped and looked up at me… smiled and gave me a thumbs up. For some reason children like me and gravitate to me. In that moment, I looked at him through the eyes of an adult and saw complexity of eye contact and human interaction, but he looked at me through the eyes of a child with the simple question: can I trust you? I smiled to reassure him and he went about his business.
What we need to take away is the understanding of perspective. Children are closer to innocence then we are. They do not see the world through a lens of broken complexities. They can do anything they imagine and the world is pure, in many cases. This is a form of innocence we must nourish and protect, but also shape. While at the same time understand how it plays into our lives and why we do things. How I behave in a relationship is not all that different from how I would behave as a child, because romance is essentially moving attachments to a new type of family. This can give us great potential for influence and patience in other’s lives; great affect for the greater effect.
We need to learn to step away from how we understand the world. Yes, we grow wise with age, but we cannot lose the spark of innocence that gives us stability so that we are not taken captive by a world of cynicism. Step back and see the world through smaller eyes.