“We See You” – The Essence of Nurturing Children
“Sawubona” (sah-woo-BONE-ah) is a South African Zulu tribe’s greeting. It’s their version of “Hello, how are you?”
Sawubona literally means, “We see you,” not only me but also my lineage – the people who came before me and shaped me. More than words of politeness, sawubona carries the importance of recognizing the worth and dignity of each person. It says, “I see the whole of you – your personality, your humanity, your experiences, your passions, your pain, your strengths and weaknesses, and your future. You are valuable to me.”
The common response is “Yebo, Sawubona,” which means “Yes, I see you too.” Another response is “Sikona,” which literally means “I am here to be seen. I show up as my authentic self with you.”
Doesn’t sawubona make “Hello, how are you,” and “Fine, thank you” seem superficial?
To me, sawubona exemplifies what it means to nurture the human beings we encounter and with whom we are in relationship. When we are referring to nurturing children, it represents the core foundation of a civilized society, where we vow to protect the vulnerable and the innocent. Imagine if we could deeply see children and help them feel seen by us – if we valued their complicated emotions along with their strengths and weaknesses.
Reflection: How Did You Experience Childhood Nurturing?
In thinking about the concept of nurturing children, it can be helpful to practice some self-reflection. Take a moment to think about the people in your life who really saw you and who made you feel valued and important, particularly when you were a child. Ask yourself what they did to help you feel that way.
Our Mental Health Crisis
Here in the US, we are experiencing what many are calling a Youth Mental Health Crisis. Consider these statistics from the CDC’s Youth Survey, which was released in February of 2023:
- 57% of US teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, up 60% from the past decade.
- 29% of boys also reported feeling sad or hopeless, though boys are socialized to deny their feelings.
- Nearly 1 in 3 (30%) of teen girls seriously considered attempting suicide—up nearly 60% from a decade ago.
- More than half (52%) of LGBQ+ students had recently experienced poor mental health and, concerningly, more than 1 in 5 (22%) attempted suicide in the past year.
This is in America – the richest country on Earth. So why do we have these problems? What has gotten in the way of young people feeling seen and feeling valued? And how are we nurturing – or not nurturing – our children? We’re not short on financial resources; yet a pile of cash or a big trip or latest toys…these things that go beyond a child’s basic needs and wants, don’t provide emotional, psychological nurture. An attentive relationship does that!
First of all, let’s define “nurture.” Nurturing is “the process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something.”
What does it mean to nurture a child? At the most fundamental level, the child’s physical needs have to be met, and they must be safe from physical abuse. In most situations, parents know how to identify and meet fundamental physical needs. It’s the emotional part of nurture where we struggle. To truly nurture a child, we must be emotionally attuned to the child and demonstrate understanding and acceptance of their feelings.
Nurturing Children: 4 Parenting Strategies
In the spirit of sawubona, here are four ways to communicate to a child that you see them…that you acknowledge their personality, their humanity, their experiences, their pain, their strengths and weaknesses, and that they’re valuable to you:
- Say what you see – Name the feeling you see on your child’s face, sense in their body language, or hear in their voice. For instance, “You seem upset.” This simple acknowledgment can help a child feel seen and can encourage them to express their feelings in words.
- Let your toes follow your nose – Get down to your child’s level, make gentle eye contact, and communicate with your body language that they have your attention. Eliminating the physical distance between parent and child establishes connection and helps the child feel seen.
- Be mindful of your screen time – How often are you distracted by a screen when your child wants or needs your attention? Our children are growing up accustomed to screens interfering with their connection to another person, particularly a caring adult charged with their care.
- Get curious rather than furious – Many of us learned to avoid acknowledging and accepting feelings. Bringing a curious attitude to a child’s or teen’s uncomfortable behavior can help you get closer to the feeling driving the behavior.
To me, this quote sums up emotional nurture quite well: “Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.” – Virginia Satir, considered the founder of family therapy.
I encourage you to reflect on the way you nurture your child(ren) and the other members of your family. Are there areas where you can use some improvement? Are there roadblocks from your own childhood that get in your way? If you find yourself or your child needing additional support, I would love to talk to you. Please don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss what is going on in your heart and your home.