I hang out in schools every day. I hang out in public schools, private schools, child care centers and preschools every…single….day. One of my biggest concerns is the lack of genuine encounter between adults and children. I hear robotic language. I hear slow, labored speech as if to say you just don’t get it. I hear fake, soupy language. I hear humor, but it is sarcastic humor which is hard for children to understand so it looks mean. Then sometimes I hear genuine, joyful language among adults because trust is at the forefront of the thought. They have put other’s thoughts and feeling before their own.
I wrestle with how to teach genuine encounter because I am not sure adults know they are doing it. I hold workshops about genuine encounter and the people who come already know how important it is. The people who need to come scoff at the information. Here are 3 ways to build a trusting relationship through genuine encounter.
1. Just because it rhymes, doesn’t mean it works: “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” “Suck it up buttercup.” “Easy peazy lemon squeezy.” If you were to say these statements to adults, they would, for sure, let you know what they thought. It wouldn’t be well received and there may be some hitting involved. We try to make it cutesy for children. Move from cutesy to genuine, enter real conversation. Answer questions with an explanation. Tell them the reason for your decision. Invite them to share the power and find a solution together. I bet Dr. Seuss would say stop rhyming and genuinely build trusting relationships.
2. Children are genuine detectives: Children are great detectives and can totally spot disingenuous conversation quickly. The hardest part is that they can’t bring it to anyone’s attention because they may look rude, aggressive, fresh or sassy. I always wonder what they are thinking. “Why do adults talk like that? Do they think I can’t see it? I’m not stupid!” I could read disingenuous behavior from quite a young age. It made me great at talking back, not necessarily a skill we want to teach young children.
3. Be real: I entered a child care center one time and the director spoke to me like I was 2 years old. I turned around and looked behind me to see if anyone else had just come in because I thought she couldn’t possibly be talking to me in that voice. She spoke to everyone in that voice. I heard her on the phone with her husband and she never broke character. I wonder to this day why she couldn’t just be herself. It is ok to show disappointed, joy, sadness, anger, and elation. Break the robot trance. Show emotion, be genuine, talk to children as humans. Weird, right? They may be small, but they totally get it.
Genuine encounter is my greatest strategy and strength when working with children. When they see me, they know that is exactly who I am. There are no barriers to break down, fog to wipe away, or rocks to move. I stand solid in my genuine personhood and they know it!