When I agree to be available to a child, I try to remember to present myself in such a way that the child knows I choose to be available specifically to him or her for this period of time.
For me, when one of my daughters comes to be with me, this may mean hanging up the telephone, turning off the television, putting down my pen, or closing the book or newspaper, I may be reading.
Or I may want to state a precise time when I will be able to be with her. “I want to finish this page,” I might say. “Please give me five minutes and I will be able to stop and be with you.”
My daughters usually find me sitting at my desk. I used to continue writing as I listened to their latest adventures. I do not know how often it was asked in different ways, but finally one day I think it was Miranda I heard saying, “Please stop writing mom, so I can talk to you.”
“It’s okay,” I replied casually. “I can keep writing while I listen to you.”
Obviously, she did not believe I could keep listening as deeply as she wanted me to. And the truth of the matter was I probably could not. What I usually did with my daughters was listen to their first few sentences. From this I could grasp the gist of their message and decide how important it was. I guess I usually decided what they had to say wasn’t all that important, since it was probably more of the usual schoolgirl chatter are gripes.
What I discovered that day was maybe the content of the conversation was not that important to her either. Primarily, she wanted me just to listen to her.
It’s supervising I had forgotten that, for I find it is just as important for me to be listened to by the people I approach.
Children appreciate not only your availability, but also your full attention. I realized once I stop being busy and become totally present to a child, whether it’s for five minutes or five hours, I am giving them prime-quality time. And that helps build self-esteem because my total attention to them clearly affirms their value to me.
Being available to children sometimes also involves going places and sharing things. For example, parents who take the time to attend events where their children perform, like Little League games, are saying something to their children about how important such sharing is.
One day my niece Laura told me she was going to be in the May Day Celebration at school. She was to be one of the May-pole Dancers.
“I’d love to come and see you,” I said.
“Oh, it’s not really anything very big and you are probably very busy. Besides, it is a long drive.”
“No, I’d like to come,” I told her. “I’ll make time to come.”
Since she was not sure how impressive she would be, what I needed to do was reassure her I wanted to see her dance, and it was not important how good the performance would be or how big a role she had in it. Rather, I stressed, it would give me an opportunity to come and share something with her. For her to perform and for me to appreciate it would be a very special shared experience. The sharing was more important to me, I assured her, than the quality of her performance.
What’s important to children can be important to me just because it is important to them. And I try to make myself available when opportunities for sharing something are present.
Self-Esteem Principle: Children’s self-esteem grows when they know you care enough to be with them.