Three years ago the family across the street had a medical emergency and needed someone to watch their children. I was happy to bring them into my house, where I promptly gave them my Play-Doh, my little cars, and my tiny dinosaurs to play with. Later, after they went home, I went along to help put the 3-year-old girl to bed. I tried to remember what my kids enjoyed at that age, and told her to think of words that rhymed with the ones I spoke. “Mouse,” I said.  She thought for a minute. “House.”  On we went—bake and cake, grain and rain, look and book. Soon she was asleep.

I went downstairs and said, “I think I just bored someone to sleep.” But then I dropped in to visit again. We read books together. Sometimes she came to my house, where she’d peek into the fairy village house to see if they’d left anything new in there. One time she found a teensy little book, and wondered why the writing was so sloppy (!)

Many times I’d go to her house, and soon we had a standing playdate every week. I even grew close to her four brothers. Today she is six, and with COVID restrictions, we Facetime each week for an hour, and she shows me all the cool things she has drawn, the cartwheels she has learned to do, the hip-hop dancing, and the teeth she has lost.

I adore every syllable she speaks, I have a collection of darling cards she has made for me, and I yammer on about her to my friends as if she’s my own granddaughter. Everything she does seems brilliant and funny and sweet and amazing, She never wants me to hang up, and sometimes pesters her mom to get me on the phone again. It warms my heart that my affection is returned, and I find myself looking forward to “seeing” her again, missing her in between our visits.

I now see why, years ago, a heart surgeon friend of ours came to dinner and spent the bulk of the evening talking with our very young boys. He knew this was where the conversation would truly sparkle. He’d laugh with them and marvel at their answers to his questions. It was as if he were “friending” on a higher level. And I’ve watched other adults, who know the same fabulous secret, do this as well. Whenever you’re in a group, look for the tiny people there and talk to them. Kids are where it’s at!

But how does this impact us spiritually?  Well, of course we all know that Jesus told us to “become as a little child,” right? When he appeared to the Nephites after his resurrection, he repeated this twice! And he said it before teaching them the Beatitudes, the commandments, or even how to pray.

For years I assumed this meant we should be humble and teachable, innocent and obedient. King Benjamin described this as being “submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)

But there’s more, much more. Children are also curious, inquisitive, inventive, optimistic, vulnerable, and filled with joy. Their happy-go-lucky attitudes are the healthiest I’ve seen. They don’t hesitate to squeal with delight, laugh until they collapse, or clap their hands and jump, while we stand stiffly by trying to look “mature.” They’re actually everything we adults wish we could be.

Yes, we need to be as faithful and trusting as children, but we’re also supposed to be as happy as they are! If “man is that he might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25), then learning from children is virtually essential. They’re the joy masters! I like what author Christopher Moore said, “Children see magic because they look for it.”

This is why kids play with the box for a while, not just with the toy that came in it. To a child, even an empty box is filled with possibilities. When was the last time you remade a box into something else– something totally cool that took imagination?  A light saber, a castle, a secret tunnel, a racecar?

Children have a pure faith, too. When they pray to find a lost item, it is with absolute confidence that Heavenly Father will help them. They generously share their lunch with a classmate whose family can’t afford one. They give all their saved allowance to their brother who needs a bicycle. Their altruism is completely unvarnished, unmotivated by appearances. It just springs from a good heart. Children are swift to forgive, genuine in their regret, earnest in their efforts to learn and grow. They have no interest in social climbing or accumulating wealth. They embody all the things we struggle with!

Since I have four grown children I’m often asked if I have any grandkids. I usually say, “No, but I’ve hijacked the family across the street.” And, to be completely honest, I’m so childlike it’s ridiculous (notice I already had Play-Doh, cars, and dinosaurs).  I’ve even worried that my darling friend will grow up, turn 12, and then 15, and beyond—while I’m still five. But I’m hoping it works that we can stay friends forever because I just love her to pieces. The brothers, too.

Adoring our children helps us as a society, as well. Where children are cherished, wise decisions are made. As South Africa President, Nelson Mandela said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” 

So, as this New Year unfolds, and we find we’re still dealing with the same pandemic and politics we dealt with in 2020, people will continue to sigh and wonder when they’ll finally have a break from all the negativity. People will long for a breath of fresh air. They’ll search for a moment of joy and peace.  And guess what?  It’s right in front of you. It just isn’t at eye level.

Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.