Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Engaging Children and Teens

I've been pondering the different ways that people engage children & teens as they parent, educate, and supervise them.

So I've created a ladder of engaging children/teens that rises from

As a parent/grandparent/teacher/caretaker, it's easy to fall into the habit of simply tolerating kids. It doesn't look like an abusive relationship - you and your kids might even happily co-exist, sharing space together, but really living separate lives. Sometimes I go to sleep realizing that I served my children all day, I watched them play, and I even directed them in various activities. But I never sat down to just 'be' with them.

To really engage a child, you must get down on their level and interact with them. You might read a book together, work a puzzle together, cook together or play cars together. But the key is being together - capturing time and space in the same plane together. Engaging a child is the first stpe in building a meaningful relationship. It's building a bottom line level of support from which you can grow.

The next level of adult/child relationship is nurturing. It goes beyond 'playing with' a child to promoting character/skills development. It means taking time to teach life lessons through everyday experiences. It means disciplining a child in order to mold a heart - not just change immediate behavior. Nurturing requires a much greater investment of time and heart - and it requires adults to resist the call of laziness in order to be intentional (ouch!).

The highest level of relationship is shepherding - it's engaging a child in order to lovingly guide them towards spiritual, emotional, social, mental and physical maturity. It means looking into the skills/talents/passions/styles of a child and helping them to become the best they can be. As children grow, it means helping them establish and work toward life goals. It requires rebuking, instructing, discipling and loving in a long-term committed relationship.