“You can’t catch me!” the blonde headed four-year-old shouted over her shoulder to her father and teenage brother as she ran toward the center of a large close-cropped field of green along the Geelong, Victoria, Australia waterfront.
Her four gleeful words said a lot:
- “Let’s play!”
- “Please chase me!”
- “I feel close to you when we play together.”
- “I’ve been still too long; my body needs to move.”
- “I know you probably can catch me, but maybe, just maybe, I’m faster than last time.”
The father and brother gave her a head start and then rushed after her. A game of tag had begun. She darted, dodged, and spun a bit to avoid him, but the brother quickly tagged her. She giggled joyfully and took off after her father.
This simple scene caught my attention because of how quickly the father and brother jumped at the invitation to connect. A lot of times adults push aside such requests:
- “Can we go to the park?”
“Maybe after dinner”
- “Will you help me build a tower?”
“You can do it. You don’t need my help.”
- “I’m making Grandma a birthday card. Can you show me how to make a heart?”
“You’ll have to wait. We need to leave for soccer in five minutes.”
- “Can you read Brown Bear?”
“It’s getting late. We’ll read tomorrow. Go to sleep.”
We’re tired. We’re rushed. We’re pulled in different directions. We honestly think we’ll make time later. We think something else—soccer, dinner, bedtime—is more important. We love the child but have little interest in building towers, drawing hearts, or reading Brown Bear again.
I’m not calling anyone out here, except maybe myself. I’ve brushed off requests to connect and engage from my kids, my grandkids, and kids I’ve worked with over the years for all the reasons above. That horrible ear worm of a song, Cat’s In The Cradle, is running through my head as I write this: “…I Don’t know when. But we’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then…”
I’m going to wrap this up before I start crying.
We humans are social creatures. Children need to feel close and connected to the adults who care for them, their growth and development depend on these relationships. To often we adults get caught up in the mechanics of life with children—the schedules, the to-do lists, the routines—and neglect the relationships.
We don’t have to drop everything each time a child want’s our attention. That’d be a bad idea. Hearing “No” or “Not Now” or “Maybe Later” now and again probably helps them learn to delay gratification, understand the world does not revolve around them, and prepare for bigger disappointments life will one day plop in their path.
And yet, it might not be a bad idea to pay closer attention to their requests to engage and connect. Skipping soccer practice, delaying bedtime 15 minutes, or giving a crash course in drawing hearts may be the best choice. The habits you’ve built for responding to such requests could need evaluation. Maybe you’ve fallen into a habit of passing up opportunities to connect. Next time someone yells, “You Can’t Catch me!” you should pause a moment and consider accepting the challenge.
I’ve lived long enough to know that in 20 years you will not remember that great day when dinner, soccer practice, and bedtime all took place exactly as scheduled, but you might remember the smiles, gleeful laughs, and emotional connection brought on by spontaneous games of tag.