Tuning in to the child
The Scene: A fast food restaurant
The Cast: A little girl and an old man
The Action Begins:
A little girl, 4 years old, sat patiently as grandpa cut up her pancake and eggs. He cut a small portion of his breakfast sandwich for her so she could “taste it” and then opened her small container of milk. The child talked constantly about many topics; grandpa stirring his coffee, the pieces of pancake slurping up the syrup and the birds outside the window. Grandpa responded each time to every utterance the child made and, when needed, gently re-directed her back to her breakfast. A simple breakfast scene it seems. Or, does it? Let’s take a moment to focus on what grandpa did right.
First, grandpa carefully structured the choice of what the child could have for breakfast. It was fast food, with a menu depicting bright pictures of French fries and ice cream treats, all breakfast choices. Grandpa offered eggs and pancakes with the choice of chocolate milk or regular milk. The child chose chocolate milk. He continued talking with her as they waited, discussing important “kid things”. When he addressed the clerk, he included the child in the conversation. What he did not do is: send a text, check the sports scores or take a call on his iphone. When the meal arrived, Grandpa gave the child the important job of carrying her own plastic bottle of milk to their seat. He let her choose the place to sit and she sat correctly in a chair on her bottom. (Not squatting or jumping in and out of the seat.) Grandpa made it clear what was acceptable public behavior without nagging.
Grandpa answered every question or comment with a response, no matter how “off the subject” it was. They discussed people in the restaurant, kinds of food the restaurant offered and why eggs would help the child grow. When the child asked to go out to play on the playground equipment grandpa responded, “another time” and re-focused the child’s attention. She accepted his answer as they discussed what they would do the rest of the day. It was obvious that the child trusted there would be another time and grandpa would be true to his word. When the child announced she was done eating, grandpa offered a quick drink of milk and then let the her be finished. He did not insist she clean her plate, or tell her she hadn’t eaten enough, but simply respected that she could decide when she was full.
Was this an exceptional little girl, so well-behaved, or was it the bonding relationship shared by the adult and child? It was the latter. Amidst the conversation of slurpy syrup and the merits of eggs for breakfast, the child heard some very clear messages from grandpa: “This is an adult I can trust. My grandpa is proud of the things I can do by myself. What I have to say is important. I am loved.”
A lot can happen while eating pancakes with grandpa.