Young children deserve to be treated with respect.

In a time when caring for young children is understood to be the basis for improvement in the future of society, it is important to evaluate the quality of the interactions with children today. After recently learning of a technique used in quality child care referred to as "Watch, Ask, Adapt", I had the opportunity to intentionally use this concept to learn its value and test its effect in an interaction with a young child.

The child in this story is a female, older toddler, and a member of my extended family. I had not seen her for approximately 1 year.

Although the child did not remember me, I had some credibility due to my relationship with other family members that she trusts. I was introduced to her with an attitude of “belonging” to her as a part of the extended family. When we were first introduced, I was excited to see her, and started to move toward her when I noticed an unsure look on her face and a reticent demeanor. I stopped and asked her if she remembered who I was. She shook her head “no”, so I just told her that I have known her since she was a tiny baby, but that I had not seen her for a very long time. The child was not afraid of me, but was a bit wary. Having some experience with young children in the past, I understood the importance to not “force” the relationship, but to give her time to warm up to me. I stepped into the other room with her grandmother to allow the child some space and time to process the information about my presence.

When she began playing on her own, I came back into the room and watched her for a few minutes. I sat on the floor to be on her eye level, and I allowed her to set the pace for our getting to know each other. When she came a bit closer, she was pretending to be a puppy, so I said that she is a nice puppy, and I patted her head like I would a puppy.

After a few minutes of this, she brought an inflatable die to me and we rolled it and counted the spots. I asked her if she could hop that many times, and after she did so, she wanted me to do it too. We continued this game for a few minutes, and I said that I was too tired to jump anymore, and pretended to go to sleep. She said “Wake up!” I asked her if it was morning already, and she said that it was. I said we should make some breakfast then and we pretended to cook and eat breakfast. Through our imaginative play, we washed dishes, went to the zoo, talked about what the different animals were doing, had a picnic lunch, went to the movies and then came back home. She tired of that game and decided to play her animal card game and we were making animal sounds for the cards and naming the animals. At every point along the way, I continued to watch what she was doing, ask myself what she was feeling and how I could continue the play, ask her what should happen next, and adapt the things that I said and the actions that I did to match the progress of our story.

We were able to play together for an extended period of time. In fact, at one point her grandmother came into the room to watch us playing, and the child basically ignored her and continued with our play.

I can truthfully say that this was the most fun that I have had in my work with young children by just letting her lead our play. I felt completely in tune, and was able to change with her at each transition that she made because I was watching closely and asking questions, then adapting to how she wanted the play to move along. I truly experienced how rewarding this method of child engagement is.

After enjoying this success, I will certainly fall back on the “Watch, Ask, Adapt” method with other relationships with young children in the future. This technique made it very easy to know not to rush up to the child but to respect her need for a slower introductory time. By watching her reaction to my presence, I was able to win her trust by reacting appropriately.

The second time that we met, she was not so wary, although she was a bit reserved at first. It only took a few minutes, however, for us to reconnect and seem to be in tune again.

I enjoyed our second meeting, and continued to use the same technique. By watching first before I made a move toward her, then asking myself questions about what I was seeing, asking her for permission to assist and to join in her play, then adapting with her as she tired of a particular activity and transitioned to another manner of play, I was able to keep in step with her the entire time we were together. Time passed quickly, and we were both rewarded with a pleasant time together. I can hardly wait to play with her again!

The actions on my part that made this relationship so successful were, in my opinion, based primarily on the “Watch, Ask, Adapt” principle that I had recently learned. I can see how this technique will help those people caring for young children to establish respectful relationships and encourage learning.

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