All kids need the same thing.
Kids who are black, white, Asian, Hispanic. Kids who are fostered or adopted. Only children, middle children, and youngest children. High risk, special needs, gifted, introverts, extroverts, strong-willed, or mild-tempered . . .
All kids need the same thing.
Actually, it may seem like kids need a lot of things. In fact, if you listen to the voices in our culture advocating for kids, you can very quickly become overwhelmed by all the things kids need.
They need a healthy diet.
They need exercise.
They need play time.
They need study time.
They need down time.
They need to have a practical skill.
They need to take more rigorous classes.
They need better grades.
They need better friends.
They need medication.
They need entertainment.
They need technology.
They need to get a job.
I’m not saying they don’t need all these other things, too. But without the one thing, none of those things actually matters. In fact, without the one thing, you can’t even begin to give them the other things they need.
So what is this one thing?
It’s pretty simple. Every kid needs for you to show up.
Growing up is hard.
Kids at every phase need adults who will show up predictably and consistently, over time. In fact, it’s the one thing they need more than anything else. But the reason kids need consistent adults changes with each passing phase.
In preschool, kids need you to show up so they know you.
There are more changes in the first years of life than in any others. That means the world of a toddler is unstable. It’s no wonder they need adults to step in and create some stability. The best thing you can give a preschooler is a familiar face. If they don’t know who you are, you won’t have a lot of success giving them anything else that matters—just think about how many preschoolers cry when they visit Santa.
In elementary years, kids need you to show up so they know you know them.
In elementary school kids are fascinated with life. They are discovering new ideas and experiences every day, and they want someone to discover it all along with them. The best thing you can give an elementary-age kid is your fascination with who they are. When you show up for an elementary-age kid, they need to know you know their name, their pet’s name, their interests, and their favorite snack food.
In middle school, kids need you to show up so they know you know them now.
In middle school life turns upside down. Similar to the toddler years, life change is happening at an expedited rate and emotions are pushed to their extremes. The best thing you can give a middle schooler is your predictable presence in the middle of their changing reality. You show up to rediscover them again (and again, and again) in order to prove to them that they are worth knowing and worth showing up for.
In high school, kids need you to show up so they know you will be there when they need you.
One of the greatest myths we could ever buy into is that high schoolers don’t need or want adults. The truth is, they don’t think they need adults when things seem to be going well. But inevitably there will be days when they do need someone. And the only way to be there when they need you is to prove that you care about them even when they think they don’t need you. So keep proving you care. Keep showing up when they push you away so they know you will be there when they need to talk.
It’s easy to get lost in the long—sometimes confusing, conflicting and controversial—list of needs. But while grapes are being carefully quartered, little leagues signed up for, and AP tests taken all around us, maybe we can all find a little solace (and sanity) in knowing we are doing our best work when we simply show up.