This morning I decided to start the day by taking my toddler to the neighbourhood playground. It has been a very long time since I have taken one of my children to the park. I had forgotten how much fun it can be.
When we arrived, a little boy was going down the slide, watched by his father. Ez pointed and said “baby”; this is his usual greeting. The boy came over and offered a sand toy. Ez took it, having no idea what to do with it. The other boy showed him. Ez spent the better part of the next hour shovelling and smoothing and, yes, spraying sand. He also followed the boy around a bit, climbed the stairs, went down the slide, tried to go up the slide, rode in the swing and on the fish, and made music by banging pipes set up for this purpose and drumming on a step with his feet. He loved it all but he loved the shovel best.
After a while, a little girl and her mother joined the fray. Ez followed her around some too. At one point, Ez dropped the shovel to go and ride the fish. The little girl picked it up. When Ez was done on the fish, he went up to the little girl who had lost interest in the shovel, and took the shovel back. “Now it is your turn with the shovel?” After a minute or so, the little girl reached for the shovel. “Ok, Ez, now it is her turn. You will have turn again soon.” I prodded. Ez wasn’t so interested in giving up the shovel. “She doesn’t really want it,” the girl’s mother added. And the little girl went to play on the slide. Just like that.
Later still, the girls’ mother and I got to talking as we watched the kids play. It turns out that this little girl, who is 2 years old, has a 5 year old brother. I mentioned that her daughter was playing so nicely. She said “sharing and respect. It is the first thing I teach them.” And the truth is, once you have that, what more do you need?
I am also quite vigilant in trying to teach my kids to respect themselves and others. I remember when they were little, I used to count to ten for each child’s turn with the coveted item. This way, they knew they would get their turn, and they knew it wouldn’t be too long a wait. They quickly learned to share this way. But respect? That is a tough one. How do you teach respect? It is a difficult concept for kids to get.
We teach our little ones not to hit or throw, but to be gentle and “soft” in their touch. That is part of it. A larger part, though, I think, is our example. They watch our every move, listen to our every word. How are we behaving, how are we treating others? How do we treat them, our spouses? Children learn acceptable bevhaviour by the role modelling we provide.
We read in Pirkei Avos last week, “Who really deserves honour? A person who honours other people”. In many ways, we are mirrors for ourselves. What we project, will come back to us. When we send out respect, it will return to us. By treating our children with respect, we are showing them how to treat others with respect.
Who knew you could learn so much at the park? My son saw these two little role models showing him how to play nicely and I was reminded of the big picture. It all comes down to respect. We left the park with a “bye” and a wave, and a lesson in our hearts.