In November, Prevent Child Abuse America celebrated its 50-year anniversary in Chicago. The celebration included a discussion with Dr. Bruce Perry, who is a member of the board, and Oprah Winfrey, who is, well, Oprah.
As is quite typical of her, in her address to the crowd, Oprah said something deeply meaningful. She talked about one thing that all children need. And that one thing blew my mind. It’s simple. It’s free. It takes only a second. And it’s the best gift that we can give to kids in our lives, all year round. It’s also the best gift we can give to each other. And the presence of this gift is ultimately what our work is working to achieve.
What is this gift?
This gift answers ‘yes’ to the following question:
Do your eyes light up when I enter the room?
Lighting up when you see someone. That’s it.
Think about what it feels like when someone lights up when they see you. Imagine you’re coming home from work, and a family member beams when they see you coming through the door. Or imagine if you’re at a conference, and you walk in knowing no one, and a colleague spots you, lights up, and calls your name. Or imagine simply making eye contact with a stranger at a grocery store and they give you a hello and a warm smile.
How does that feel? It feels like you’re welcome to be there. It feels like you’re connected. It feels like you’re safe. It feels like you’re loved. Kids need that. Everyone needs that. That feeling is the common thread that runs among all Positive Childhood Experiences, which have been shown to powerfully combat negative effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences. When someone lights up when they see you, you feel like you belong. And belongingness is a fundamental human need. It’s foundational to our well-being, and to our success, however we choose to define that.
So I invite you to practice. This holiday season, be conscious of what you do when you first see someone. You probably already light up when you see people you love, but perhaps not all the time. Maybe something is on your mind and distracting you. Maybe it’s a to do list, or a problem you’re working through in your head. Try to put that aside for a moment. When you first see someone, especially a child in your life, take a second to consciously, presently light up. Because in that one second is the most powerful human gift: the gift of feeling safe, loved, and belonging.
We all need that. And we all can give it.