Engaging Babies and Kids

Is there a time for youth engagement? Recently I was leading a workshop when a parent asked me that question. I answered by explaining that engagement happens from the youngest years and onward. Here’s a section from my youth engagement writings about the topic of engaging infants and children.


All people should be engaged on purpose, no matter
how old they are.
Youth engagement happens during for infancy. Parents
who deliberately respond to their infants’ needs in holistic ways lay the
foundation for lifelong engagement. Respecting young babies can mean
encouraging their “personhood” – that is, being as attentive, courteous, and
deliberate about them as you are with older people. Experts suggest close
physical time between parents and children creates the strong personal
attachment that can lead to strong community bonds. A father who nurtures his
baby, rather than avoiding or “handing off” responsibilities, supports strong
engagement. Developing a strong sense of community is important at this phase
as well. When small children are surrounded by caring adults they learn that
their responsibility is to care.

When an infant “goo-goos” at
you, listen to them. They will learn that when they speak, their voice has
impact. Listening to a child’s voice is the first step of the Cycle of Youth
Engagement. It is also important to give young infants your undivided attention
for at least short periods of your day. This shows young children that their
presence and activity is important enough for you to stop your day and be with
them.
Youth engagement happens during childhood. Investing
in children can mean building their skills and giving the time, resources, and
space needed in order to share responsibility with them. However, it also means
developing the skills and investments adults need to succeed, as well.
Communicating with toddlers and children means talking with them, not at them.
That’s a skill that adults usually have to learn, starting with unlearning their previous behaviors.
Acknowledging children’s voices can be important for self-worth. It can also
help form a community expectation. As adults, engaging children requires us to
change our behavior while we strive
to mold the behavior of children. However, this is an essential developmental
phase where children inform their sense of identity, purpose, and belonging
within their larger village. Part of this expectation is to turn a popular
idiom on its head: Instead of, “It takes a village to raise a child,” think
about what it means to say, “It takes a child to raise a village.” That’s what Youth
engagement is about.
When children go through hard
times, they usually figure out how to “deal with it.” This ability, called resilience, is a powerful skill.
However, children need to learn how to use it positively. Design Youth
engagement activities to teach children how to rely on community as a collective benefit that can help them. That
will build up the positive power of young people to change not just their own
lives, but the communities around them.
What do you think about engaging babies and children?

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