My parents, and their parents before them, demonstrated how to be respectful to children. The skill’s not particular to interacting with the young and very young–listening that accepts is worth doing in any interaction.
In fact, I wonder whether my mom honed her skills with the oldest of her relatives.
Time has unmoored the reasons why, but in my teens and twenties my mom and I had more than one conversation (lecture? teaching moment) featuring the last days of her grandmother, or one of her elderly aunts. She spoke of how each would weave in and out of the present, ask her questions as if she were someone else, fret about problems long since resolved. She said she took whatever role was waiting: the person expected in the conversation, someone with answers to the problem, one interested in the chatter of the day–whether of that day or one ten years before. “It doesn’t help to try to push them into the present, you know. They get upset. And besides, what difference does it make? You prove your point and they are agitated? It’s better to stay where they are.”
Indeed. What a great measure of respect, to set aside the reality you’re attached to and step inside someone else’s. Whether it’s a preschooler’s created world or an elder’s deeply-remembered one, inside that world there can be wonderful sharing and connection as you discover where to step and what to say. Myself, I’ve learned that, even in very confusing moments, if I listen thoughtfully and wait, the keys to the confusion that I’d been wanting will show up in my hands, unrolling the interaction like a map.
So I suspend my answer-giving and my sense-making, and wait. Good things come to those who wait.