What Does It Mean To Truly “See” Your Child?

Recently I read an article about Adam Phillips, the wonderful British child psychoanalyst. In it he was quoted as saying, “There’s nothing to you until someone sees something in you.” 

At first I wondered, is this really true?  Don’t we know ourselves and know what we are capable of even without someone else noticing?  And then I remembered my developmental training.  In studying child development, I learned that it was eye contact with the parent that helps the infant to settle down when agitated or frightened and it is through eye contact with the parent that infants learn social regulation. In fact, the greater the amount of parent-infant eye contact, the better the social regulation of the infant. 

So, quite literally, from the very beginning babies need to be looked at by the parents.

I also remembered that later in development, at ages two and three and four, the greater the ability of the parent to “see” and to admire their child, the more likely it is that the child will feel worthwhile and known. The child of this age who feels admired and valued by the parent will incorporate these feelings into their own sense of themselves as admirable and valuable. This is the basis for self-confidence.  

All two and three-year-olds will say, “Look at me!” and what they need is for the parent to see who they are and what they are doing – and then to express admiration.  Children of all ages want to know that they are noticed, that they are valued and that their particular abilities are appreciated.

Thinking about this raised the question of what exactly it means to “see” your child and to let your child know that they have been seen.

And I remembered a family I saw in my practice many years ago.  The father was a self-made man, the first boy in his extended family to go to college and the only one to ever go on for an advanced degree in medicine.  When he had his own four children, he wanted the same success for them that he had had.  He valued education and he wanted his children to do well academically.  Of his four children, it was clear that his two favorites were the two who were most academically inclined.  One of the others showed signs early on of being artistic.  She loved dance and painting from her earliest years. While her father was loving and well meaning, he did not understand her. He projected onto all of his children his own wishes and values.  What had made him successful is what he wanted for them.  As a result, his artistic daughter felt misunderstood and “unseen”.  She did not feel valued by her father and while talented, she eventually lost faith in her own artistic ability.  She became an angry and unhappy teenager.  She was furious with her father, although she did not exactly know why, and she had very little confidence in herself.

This father wanted his daughter to be like himself.  He was not able to love and appreciate her as a different sort of person.  Of course, his desires for his children came from a loving place; he wanted his children to be successful in life.  But unbeknownst to him, in not being able to value his daughter’s unique talents, he contributed to her lack of confidence in herself.

So one important element in “seeing” our children is to be able to see them for who they are, not for who we want them to be, to value their unique character traits and abilities, and to reflect our appreciation of them – just as they are – back to them.

But how do we do this?

It occurs to me that there is no one simple answer to this question – but there are some starting points.  

First of all, to be truly “seen” children need to feel that they are understood.  Every child needs to feel that their parents know what they like and what they don’t like, what is easy for them and what is hard, when they are making an effort and really trying and when they are not.  And every child needs their parents to be able to be with them for prolonged periods of time and accept their interests and their way of being.  This is related to something talked about all the time these days – being “present”.  

Being present with a young infant, a toddler or a young child means just being there with them as they do what they are doing. It means being able to hold back on our own projections and agendas and just to be.  Is your baby lifting up his head during tummy time?  Can you take joy in this moment with him in his effort? Is your two-year-old collecting rocks?  Can you be with her and collect some too rather than hurrying her along or telling her to drop them because they’re dirty? Is your four-year-old drawing a three-armed man?  And are you able to comment on how interesting this is rather than saying “but people have only two arms?”

To allow our children to “see” something in themselves, to feel confident at least some of the time, and to move forward in development, we must first be able to “see” them clearly and be able to love and admire what we see. Secondly, we need to be able to be present with them as they are and to put into affectionate gestures and words how much we admire them.

This is the beginning of what we need to do to truly see our children and to allow them to become people who see something valuable in themselves.

And while we’re at it, we all need to try to expend some effort on “seeing” our partners and our friends as well.  We need to acknowledge more often that we appreciate their unique selves and that we value their efforts. Just saying, “You are such a good cook and you made a great dinner tonight even though you were exhausted” or “Thanks for making the effort to call/text/email” will go a long way.  

After all, we ALL need to know that we have been seen.

An Interview with Sharla Feldscher

Image courtesy of Sharla Feldscher

Dr. Corinne Masur

Sharla Feldscher runs a Public Relations Firm – Feldscher Horwitz Public Relations – which includes a pro bono division called “Young People with Big Hearts”  which provides publicists for children who help the community. Two such children are16-year-old Alexa Rhodes who donates sturdy backpacks filled with valuable items to the homeless and Rocco Fiorentino who Sharla met when he was 10 years old. Rocco is totally blind, a jazz artist and humanitarian. He is now 24, but in those early years Sharla got him on Sesame Street, singing and dispelling myths about being blind. Sharla is also the author of KIDFUN which is available on her website – www.kidfunandmore.com, her publisher’s website – www.wordeee.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever books are sold. Follow her at facebook.com/kidfunandmore

For all of you parents who are at home with kids and flat out of ideas for what to do, today we have a really interesting interview for you with Sharla Feldscher, author of KIDFUN: 401 Easy Ideas for Play:

Tell me about yourself, Sharla

Well, sure, the one thing I always knew, even when I was very young, is that I loved kids. I went to Temple University and became a kindergarten teacher. The elementary school where I worked was built in 1898 and when we went to the “gym” it was really an old storage area, so we had to be creative. There were lots of benches and little wooden chairs stored there so I had to be very creative to make that gym work. One idea I had was to have the kids walk across a bench like it was a bridge.  In advance, we’d do language arts and I’d have the children make up stories about where they would go when crossing the bridge. If they crossed the bridge and went to a theme park, they could stand on a chair as if it were a rocket ship or there may be a lake there so we’d make a circle with a rope and they’d jump in and pretend to swim or be ducks in the lake.

When I stopped teaching after I had kids, I started writing books about creative things to do with young children.  I also had a column in the Philadelphia Daily News that eventually became a full page for kids called KIDFUN.  The kids who participated became reporters and reviewers and gave their opinions. I was also a Dear Abby for kids. Kids would write me their questions that I’d answer and it was really very touching.  I was a guest on television a lot and now I’m on WPHL TV with a monthly KIDFUN feature. I also started to work at Please Touch Museum and became their first PR Director.  Then I started my own PR business when Sesame Place asked me to be their PR consultant. That lasted 26 years. I like to say Big Bird was my first client!  I do PR for a variety of clients now but it started with children!

And tell me about your book.

What’s been so interesting – I’ve been writing KIDFUN for 40 years. This is my 8th book! – first I played with my kindergarteners then I played with my kids and now I play with my grandkids.

And right now creative ideas for play is even more important than ever with the pandemic!

Tell me how you got interested in play

Really I think I had great role models in my family.  My brother and I were always creating fun things at home.  And I had cousins with whom I’d play games – if we were in the car, if we were at the dining room table, we were always playing.  My cousins were more creative than we were and thought up games for every occasion!

What advice do you have for exhausted parents, Sharla?

You don’t have to be your children’s playmate.  Just set the stage for creative play!

Can you give us some suggestions – many parents are out of ideas after spending a year at home with their children! 

   – I believe there are fun things to play with all over the house – you know, “stuff” like paper plates, paper cups, rubber bands, old hats, scarves, wooden spoons, etc. etc. Use these for play. Here are some examples:

              – Make a KIDFUN carton and put some “stuff” in it for your kids to use for creative play.  One day make a box filled with scarves. Be casual – don’t tell them what’s in it, just say, check out the KIDFUN carton today. (Kids love new stuff!)  Another day put old clothes in the box.  Another day put all the hats and masks you have in the house in the box. You’ll be surprised what your kids come up with!

– Neat things for art.  Go to the sewing section of the dollar store – you’ll be surprised what you find – like pompoms, feathers, googly eyes and more. Keep these things in a bag for a day when the kids are really bored or have been on screens for too long.  Pour all the things in the bag onto the table and let your kids do art with some paper and glue and all that good new stuff.

– Another day give your children paper and an assignment: draw crazy animals – not normal animals.  They have to have more than 2 eyes, more than one nose and no mouth or many mouths. Then have your children give their animal a crazy name and a story to go with it.

– Another thing: see what your kids love.  My granddaughters love crepe paper – so one day I gave them crepe paper and told them they could decorate the house any way they wanted as long as they didn’t use tape.  They did all sorts of things with it. I loved when they told me they were “spies in training”.  The crepe paper was tied from door knobs to furniture and back again. It was their  “lasers”.  They jumped over them, crawled under them, etc. They didn’t ask me to do it with them, they just wanted to show it off to me at the end.

– Want your kids to go out for a walk but they’re complaining that they don’t want to?  Have them wear their old Halloween costumes or dress up like clowns on the walk and tell them it’s a parade.  Let them put on a few things to wear outside or put a little  “clown” makeup on them.  

                 – On another day, walk to the local park and tell them they can have a circus. Let them do some tricks – or whatever they want – for their performance. 

                 – Another day, play “I Spy” on the walk.

And do you have any ideas for grandparents who are out of ideas regarding what to do on Zoom calls?

Grandparents can do KIDFUN virtually.  There are lots of simple things that are really fun for kids.

   – For example, before the Zoom call, plan with the kids for Color Day. If it’s Red Day, everyone comes dressed in something red. They can all eat something on the call that’s … red! They can make up stories about things that are … red! The following week it could be Green Day or Yellow Day.  

   – Another thing a grandparent can do is ask the child/children to bring a favorite stuffed animal to the call.  Then they can say “let’s make up stories about your stuffed animal”. Each child can make up a story.  The grandparent can help out by asking questions about the toy’s favorite things like  “What’s his favorite ice cream?  What’s his favorite hiding place?  What’s his favorite thing to do when he wants to be naughty?” etc.

   – On another call it could be hat day and the kids can go get hats to wear. The grandparents can ask the kids to make up a story about where they would like to go in this hat.

There are so many fun things kids can do using their imaginations with just a little bit of help from parents or grandparents.  In my books I have LOTS of other ideas for anyone who needs some new ones!

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The Benefits of Recess

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released new findings that demonstrate the benefits of recess for children and their schools:

Unknown“When elementary schools create a safe and healthy recess for students, there can be a major impact on individual kids and school climate overall. In schools with safe and healthy recess students are more active, more cooperative, and more likely to use strong conflict resolution tools. Schools also see more drops in bullying and disciplinary referrals, and reductions in the number of conflicts that start in recess, spill back into class, and take up valuable class time to resolve.”

Check it out here:

A Team Effort: Thoughts on Children and Sports

Dr. Corinne Masur

I’ve just listened to an interview with Mike Matheny, former professional baseball player and manager of The St. Louis Cardinals. He recently wrote The Matheny Manifesto, a book on sports and life in which he makes some very, very good points.

Does your child play t-ball or little league? Are you considering when to start your child on a soccer or tennis team? If so, Mike has some great ideas. He examines how to talk about your child and sports – and if you don’t have time to read the book or listen to the podcast (Fresh Air, 5/4/15) look at these brief points (some his, some mine): Continue reading