“Dancing With Your Kids”
I watched a young mom and dad dancing with their little children the other day. Oh, they were not literally moving their bodies in rhythm to music. Rather, they were interacting with their kids in a fun, mutually satisfying way. “Dancing with your kids” is the way child psychiatrist, Daniel Hughes, describes what goes on in families where parents and kids connect.
In this family I was visiting I heard lots of laughter, observed some teasing and hugging and wrestling. The four-year-old girl jumped on her dad. The older sister was proudly showing her mom a drawing she had made in school. It was obvious that the parents were paying attention to their kids and the girls were responding. I recall those same parents on a previous visit, when their kids were very small, playing peek-a-boo games and giving their kids “horsy-back” rides.
You didn’t need to be a child psychologist to recognize that parent-child bonding was happening big time in this home. Love was the music being played and both adults and kids were dancing to it.
I have to admit, I felt a little sad upon returning to the Village where so many kids had never had the experience of dancing with their parents in a happy home. What a loss, both for them and their moms and dads.
We have this tendency to equate the term “child abuse” in our society with its more dramatic manifestations. A little kid shows up at a hospital with bruises or cigarette burns on his body or signs of sexual abuse. It’s difficult for most people to get our minds around these forms of cruelty perpetrated on children.
But beneath the media radar, there is a quiet, but much more common type of child abuse. Dr. Hughes refers to this as “the trauma of absence.” How many times have you heard the expression “half of life is just showing up?” The opposite is equally true. NOT “being there” for their kids, especially in those early years of development, can hurt, more than most of us would like to admit.
Few, if any, parents make a conscious decision to harm their children. But when they are absent, be it physically or emotionally, they deprive their child of an indispensable element of growth. Kids literally cannot “grow-up” as full human beings unless they have experienced the kind of attention, the kind of care, the one-on-one presence of a loving adult in their childhood. We learn to love and care for others only when we have experienced it ourselves.
In the Children’s Village, we try our best to make up for the bed time stories that were never told, the cuddles never received, the “me-and-you” time that was always put off till tomorrow. We are very aware that unless we can help turn it around for the kids we serve; we will be passing on another generation of emotionally absent parents to our society.
Our dream is that we will somehow make a difference in the lives of the kids entrusted to our care, that someday we will see these ten and eleven year-olds growing into happy complete adults. We dare to hope that the kids who are learning to dance at the Village will someday be the kind of parents who dance with their kids.