Nothing gives me more pleasure than watching my grandkids play and hearing their sweet laughter. The camping season began this past weekend and they are part of it. It was sunny and a bit chilly, but that’s what sweatshirts are for. After opening and dewinterizing the camper, reactivating DirecTV (camping does not mean we have to rough it), unloading bedding and supplies, and the kids riding around the campground to see if their friends were up, it was time for the traditional ice cream cone at Log Cabin. With 32 flavors to choose from, this is a favorite tradition.
After ice cream, the kids wanted to go to the playground in town. There were other kids there and the two older (9 and 11) kids went straight to the zip line and the soon-to-be 3 year old headed to a jungle gym/slide where other kids were playing. He was the youngest but had no qualms about jumping in and playing with the kids. Of course, to make sure he didn’t get hurt, I was busy chasing after him so there was no sitting on any park bench for me. There were no hello’s exchanged between the kids in this group (2-7 age range) – they just instinctively played together. I noticed the older kids at the playground kept in their respective groups though.
On Sunday, we had lunch and ice cream at the Log Cabin and stopped again at the playground before heading home. There was only one other family there with young children. My two oldest grandkids headed straight to the zip line again and my youngest instinctively gravitated towards the other two kids playing. He was again the youngest, but one of the kids was only slightly older by about 6 months to a year, and his sister was 4 or 5. They started playing together while their parents watched from a bench. At one point, their mom came over and asked her kids if they had introduced themselves saying that’s the way to make friends and get to know others. She was right of course, but the kids didn’t follow her lead. Instead, they just kept playing together on the jungle gym, sliding, chasing each other around, and playing musical chimes. Then my grandson suggested hide ‘n seek and just started doing it so the other kids followed his lead. At one point, they were standing together, and he said, let’s go this way. I beamed with pride at the little leader he’s becoming.
We can all take a cue from their playbook and just do things without constantly over analyzing. A few lessons I’ve learned from watching kids play:
- There is no right or wrong way to connect with others. Introducing yourself first is great, but sometimes adults get hung up on “rules” we’re not sure who invented in the first place, and what others will think. For example, on LinkedIn, posts crop up daily about the “proper” way to ask someone to connect, some more chastising than others. Adults can make their own choices and if someone doesn’t want to connect, they won’t. It’s really that simple.
- Let people figure things out on their own first. I hovered over every move my young grandson made on the playground. Yes, safety is important, but some things didn’t require my constant presence. He watched the other kids on the kiddie rock climbing wall and attempted it himself. He faltered a bit, and I wanted to give him a little boost, but decided to let it play out. He figured it out himself, smiled and said “I did it” and proceeded to do it several more times. At work, do you give your team the space they need to figure things out before you jump in with the answer or direction? Most people want to think for themselves so please give them that courtesy.
- Don’t just hang out with those you know. The older kids on the playground stayed in their little groups. I’m sure they probably wanted to play together after seeing the younger kids having fun, but something held them back. Maybe it’s worry about being rejected or ignored. Maybe it’s fear to ask to be included in the first place. Whatever it is, it’s a shame because we carry that into adulthood. Look around at conferences, professional and work events and you’ll see people tend to stay in groups of people they know. Please consider branching out and watching out for those who don’t have people to hang with. It can be hard to just interject yourself into a group, so the more open we are to seeing others around us and being welcoming will go a long way in making human connections.
- Anyone can lead. When my young grandson stepped up to lead in a game of hide ‘n seek, the other kids happily followed. There was no rivalry going on because they had a common goal – to simply have fun. And that meant being open to suggestions and leads from other kids. The same thing happens in our professional lives. Each of us has an opportunity to take the lead on something if we choose to. And we also have the opportunity to follow someone’s lead, especially when it’s towards a common goal. Both are rewarding in their own ways.
- Relax and have fun. Being an adult does not mean we have to stop having fun. Work can and should be fun at times and taking the time to just enjoy people and activities without overthinking things can be so freeing.
So let’s take our cue from the playground and enjoy more and judge less in life. We’ll be the better for it.