Recently a client mentioned being able to see herself taking baby steps towards her goals, the implication being that these would be small actions. Hearing her words I saw my newly walking baby in my mind’s eye. Her “baby steps” were bold, trusting, joyful, and graceful (for someone completely new to bipedal locomotion) — gigantic from a spiritual perspective if relatively small when viewed on a physical scale. It was the first time I’d ever considered that the way we use the term “baby steps” was completely wrong — baby steps are HUGE and BOLD and we most of us could use more of this baby step energy in our lives.

How babies make bold steps (and how we can emulate them)

  • They trust themselves and the universe. Sure they are new to walking (or feeding themselves, or tying their shoes) but they don’t fear failure because they don’t know what failure is. They fall and use that experience to refine their walking (they don’t judge themselves as clumsy or curse the floor).
  • They are guided by passion, curiosity, and interest. They don’t do something with baby steps because they “have to,” they do it because they can’t not do it. Their excitement to explore the world around them compels them to act.
  • They pay attention. Our little ones don’t sleep walk though life like we often do. They notice details about the world around them — “Birdie singing, mama.” Or “See this, daddy?” (as she places a piece of gravel in your hand) — and thus are sparked to investigate or examine further what they’ve discovered.
  • They crave experience not just outcomes. As adults we are often doing A as a means of achieving B (We’re walking to get from the car into the grocery store.). Children do A simply because they want to do A (Hence why, like squirrels, they sometimes wander instead of walk.). The outcome they seek is the experience itself so they don’t get tangled up in lots of thinking or planning, they just go for it.

“Pausing to listen to an airplane in the sky, stooping to watch a ladybug on a plant, sitting on a rock to watch the waves crash over the quayside – children have their own agendas and timescales. As they find out more about their world and their place in it; they work hard not to let adults hurry them. We need to hear their voices.”

~Cathy Nutbrown

How to encourage continued baby steps

  • Help them continue to trust in spite of mishaps. In part because we want to protect our children from pain, we might inadvertently discourage their exploration with our input. Whether it’s advice we offer — “Hold your cup with both hands next time so it won’t fall and break.” — or a value judgment — “You ran too fast and tripped and fell down.” — our words influence our children’s experience. Be mindful of offering thoughts that support and encourage more than they critique or caution.
  • Create space for limitless exploration. At early ages, “failure” rarely dampens children’s excitement in trying new things. What can extinguish their enthusiasm, however, are lots of “no”s or other limits that we parents sometimes set. While we want our children to play safely, it’s important to give them space in which they can do this without hearing frequent cautions or without excess risk.
  • Savor their experience with them. Get excited about what’s captivating them or show your appreciation for their passion. You don’t need to narrate the experience (in fact this can sometimes take your child out of their own presence in the moment), yet you do want to take hold of the joy they feel with your energy so they can sense your presence and attention too.
  • Bore them without boring them. Many children these days suffer more from overstimulation and may consequently be too worked up to truly delve into deep play. Simplifying your child’s environment and choosing playthings into which they can pour their own creativity allows their imagination to flourish and gives them power to choose their own path of discovery.

Whatever your child’s age, help them make big, bold baby steps of discovery. Give them space and encouragement and share in their delight (dusting them off or consoling them when they falter). Baby steps are the ways that these big spirits in little bodies remind us that being a “baby” is a big game that  isn’t limited by age or experience.  In fact, I think Neil Armstrong was inadvertently making this same point upon stepping from the Eagle’s lunar module onto the moon’s surface when he noted, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Here’s to a lifetime of giant leap baby steps for your little explorers (and that forever young explorer in you).