In 1989 my parents made a VHS recording of Into the Woods when the B’way show aired on PBS. That tape must have been made of strong stuff since I probably watched it 100 times.  I knew all the words, made up secret handshakes with my best friend to the Sondheim lyrics and dressed as Little Red Riding Hood for Halloween for 3 consecutive years, totally inspired by that show.

But it wasn’t until I became a mom that I understood the “Children Will Listen” song that the Witch sings about her daughter, Rapunzel.  When I recently saw a revival I was awash with tears with the words:

Careful the things you say

Children will listen

Careful the things you do

Children will see and learn

Children may not obey, but children will listen

Children will look to you for which way to turn

To learn what to be

Careful before you say “Listen to me”

Sondheim is wise.  

“Listening” is one of those words that actors and acting teachers care a great deal about.  When we really listen instead of planning what we are going to do on stage or in front of the camera, we can have authentic reactions.  Why is it so hard to do this?  Possibly because we don’t actually listen enough in our real life?  

And now I find myself going about my day “half-listening” to my 4-year-old son since his jabberings are a seemingly endless stream-of-conscious about oceanic creatures and fantasy conversations or hiding places for his toys and I’m expected to weigh in from time to time, but I don’t sometimes get it….

So what if we take words out of the equation.  Can we listen to our kids, without language?  Can we create a meaningful and intimate conversation where we are giving and receiving information but no words are exchanged?  Where listening is with our body and our heart?  Where talking is through gesture and emotion?

I want Nathaniel to know that I hear him – to feel like I get what he is giving me.  And in turn I know that he will listen, like the lyrics say.   So what can I give him to listen to that is simple, truthful and filled with love?

Here’s the game for that: Magic Mirror

Mirrors are portals to the fantasy world – as in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.  They can also be portentous instruments of information as in Snow White or Beauty and the Beast.  It isn’t hard to convince your child to play a Magical Mirror game.

Explain to your child that they get to do whatever they like and the Mirror (you) will follow them.  The goal is not to leave the mirror behind so you have to go really slowly – slower than you normally would to do an activity.

Use this as a way to connect with your child when the incessant stream of language is overwhelming, when you hear yourself talking too much or when you just want a new way to bond.  Children will listen…

I’d love to hear about your experience playing Magic Mirror – so chime in below and tell us how you did it!

Thanks so much for watching and I’ll see you next time on Child’s Play in Action.