When do children experience their first sense of triumph?
Just imagine a tall, lanky four-year-old looking around curiously at the school fair. A lot was going on with prizes and surprises. Most of the giddy children were older than he, already attending this grammar school. Shyly, our four-year-old was taking it in as a blur of activity but slowly he was getting his bearings bit by bit. The noise, the fast rhythm of the children and the adults who moved through the crowd felt exciting in a brand new way. Heart pounding, he kept his boundless thrill under wraps never having been at such a gala event.
He was from out of town visiting his grandparents. He knew no other children or parents except his own. And his prized uncle was there.
He'd been to some birthday parties, but nothing so grand and full of discovery and potential opportunity.
It was a perfect day to experience a new adventure -the sun poured over the vast grassy areas as parents corralled their kids who vigorously chased each other. All the children seemed so primed to try each activity while he felt alone, out of his comfort zone, yet so glad to be there.
Suddenly a running race was announced organized by age group. His grandmother urged him to find a place in the line of children at the starting point and he seemed a bit in awe of the prospect. He took a place. His uncle, a great outfielder who recalled trying first athletic experiences, seemed to grasp from within what his four-year-old loved one was going through. He dashed to the finish line and called his name, "David, run to me as fast as you can when the horn blows."
David heard his uncle's spirited, confident cry. They made solid eye contact. The horn sounded. He ran to his uncle as fast as he could under the influence of extraordinary emotion that mounted with each stride. When those long, four-year-old legs reached their destination--his uncle at the finish line--he heard his uncle yell, "You won! David, you won!"
When a strange adult came up to him to give him his prize, he hardly seemed to notice as he screamed in utter astonishment, "I won! I won!" That moment was his only reality.
This win wouldn't be forgotten. He was too young to articulate his feelings. But pure glee radiated from his wide, bright eyes. His outstretched arms reached to the sky with his fingers spread so wide the wind blew though them. An image of amazing joy.
This was his first triumph--a triumph of wondrous self-assurance that revealed the shape of the human spirit at its finest.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst who specializes in infant-parent, child, adolescent and adult psychotherapy. Her new book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, will be released Oct.13, 2015. Pre-order discounts available through Amazon.