People love babies. Just watch a group of women talking around one baby. Everyone chatters away until the baby utters a single monosyllabic sound while waving his arm. Suddenly, all chatter stops and everyone’s eyes turn to the baby. Curious gazes watch to see what the baby will do next. Then, as the baby makes eye contact with the women, a collective “Awwww” will be released. Guys, we love babies too. Admit it. Research has already outed us by revealing many men get “baby fever” and go all “goo-goo” in response to babies (Read “Baby Fever is a Real Emotion”). Men and women delight in babies. They arouse our curiosity. We want to know what they are thinking and feeling, so we pay special attention to their every move. We follow their gaze to see what attracts their attention. We engage them in a variety of playful ways to see what draws them to us and makes them smile. We present various toys to see which ones they like the best, to discover what interests them the most. We make faces and look silly in an effort to make them laugh and repeat that silly behavior until they tire of laughing. Every day our curiosity leads us to learn something new about our baby. We listen closely to every sound, learning to discern which cry sounds the alarm for a diaper change and which cry signals hunger. We observe their face with curiosity, learning which face calls for comfort and which means they have gas. We love babies. They arouse our curiosity and we become their students to learn as much about them as we can.
Unfortunately, those acts of curious delight change as our baby grows through toddlerhood, childhood, and into adolescence. Rather than following their gaze to discover what attracts them, we begin to tell them to “quit staring.” We direct their gaze in directions we believe will limit their risk and decrease our fears. Instead of exploring what attracts their interest and holds their attention, we tell them to pay attention to whatever we deem important (our directions, church, school, crossing the street). We don’t explore what it is that does attract their attention and so lose the knowledge and opportunity needed to present them with alternative attractions that we deem safe and interesting to them. When their play becomes silly we judge their maturity or lack thereof. Rather than playing to discover what draws them to us, we judge their pulling away from us as a lack of appreciation for all our efforts. Instead of creating opportunities for them to laugh at and with us, we tell them to grow up and get serious. We listen half-heartedly while labeling or minimizing their emotions rather than discerning the need that lies beneath the emotion. We scold and assume negative intentions instead of trying to figure out what is causing their outburst. I understand it. We want our children to learn. We want them to mature. We want to keep them safe. So, as they grow, we replace our curiosity with discipline. As a result, our relationship, and our influence, suffers.
In reality, we do a better job of keeping our children safe, helping them mature, and teaching them important life lessons when we maintain our curiosity. Sure, we have to discipline; but when discipline replaces curiosity our children suffer. When we maintain playful curiosity, our children will more likely reveal their emotions, intents, fears, and desires to us. As we maintain a curious observation of what bothers them and excites them, we will also learn what comforts them and motivates them. When we find ways to continue laughing with our children, they will feel free to cry with us as well, providing us the opportunity to comfort them. Maintaining a playful curiosity in our children (even when we need to discipline) will enhance our relationship with them. It will increase our opportunity to influence and guide them. It will allow us to watch with great curiosity how they mature into confident adults. So have some fun. Be curious about your child and your teen. Be silly. Play. The world will be a better place for it!