[From the upcoming book, Your Child is Not Out to Get You, (working title)]
“How big is the moon?” four-year old Francis asks me. Resisting the impulse to give the “right” answer, I ask her, “What do you think?” “As big as the ocean, but rounder,” she replies. “Yes,” I concede. “You’re close. It’s very, very big.” My guess is that she is answering from her experience on a recent trip with her parents to the Pacific Ocean and has seen the vastness of that body of water. From her perspective, I want to support that “knowing” of interconnectedness, rather than offer her a linear response to that question. The Bauls of Bengal in India often express themselves in what they call “twilight language,” a speaking from the heart rather then the mind. I have experienced that young children, still innocent and connected to their heart/soul also talk that way when they trust the adults in their life won’t belittle them or correct their words.
Another autumn day Jacob and I are digging in the garden. He looks up to find a bird with a worm hopping along the flagstones and exclaims, “He’s [why are animals almost always referred to as “he”?] EATING that worm! I love worms!” And then he indignantly shouts to the bird, “Don’t eat him!” Laughing, I explain that, “Worms are bird food, just like seeds. In nature, everything is food for everything else,” even though he may not quite understand that principle yet.
A young child is profoundly attuned to magical thinking. When we burden our young one with ultra-logical, complicated and involved answers to their simple questions (even about death), we rob them of a feeling connection, a sense of compassion that is their innate mood; we force them into a mental consideration of cause and effect long before that’s necessary. Short and sweet. Simple, simple, simple is best.
We will not always have, nor should we try to give the “right” answer in order to supply “all” the pertinent information about the questions our two-year old, our five-year old, or our 13-year old will ask of us. You’ll sense when concrete information is required and when it behooves us to hold back the “real answer” for something more subtle and cosmic. Please don’t forget about MAGIC. If you’re lucky, your young child still believes in magic. They’ll make fairy castles in the garden; they’ll watch in wonder at their cousin’s magic show; they’ll make up answers to questions that only they understand. Cultivate with your child a sense of admiration in the breathtaking beauty of a rainbow, in the marvel of a hummingbird’s flight, in the movement of a snail across a leaf. Dance like that rainbow with ribbons tied to a stick. Twirl like that hummingbird. Crawl on your belly like that snail.
As parents, we create obstacles for ourselves when we try to be perfect parents, always wanting to do the right thing. My advice is to surrender that unrealistic demand you’ve placed upon yourself as soon as you can. Relinquish the notion that you will always do the right thing. In fact, to expect yourself to do the right thing would be crazy even if you could. Your child needs to see you make mistakes. She also needs to know that you sometimes change your mind because new information presents itself. In turn, give her the benefit of the doubt when she changes her mind.
I watched a young fellow at a bakery not long ago try to make a choice from all the delectable goodies in the glass display case. He finally chose a scone with bits of orange peel poking out from the top. As he took a bite and began to chew, he realized that it wasn’t sweet. Certainly not like the chocolate glazed doughnuts or buttery croissants on platters right next to the display of scones. As any sensitive person who has been disappointed would do, he began to cry. “I made the wrong choice,” he told his mother. “This doesn’t taste sweet like I thought it would.” Much to my chagrin (and his as well), his mother simply stated, “Next time make a different choice.” Although I understood from a “life-learning lesson perspective” how an answer like that would be useful, in that moment my heart went out to this child. I wanted to give him my chocolate croissant in the bag in my hand. But anyone who has tried to interfere with a Walmart parent/child interaction knew that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for him if I said anything to his mother.
That said, we cannot (and should not) save our children, teen, young adult from hardships, difficulties, adversities. We cannot protect them from never falling out of a tree, never being in a car accident, never slipping on the ice, never failing a test, never having their heart broken from a unsuccessful relationship. No matter how hard we try, we can’t. Sooner or later something takes place in our child’s, teen’s, young adult’s life that we cannot foresee. Allow them early on to experience the truth that mistakes happen, even tragedy happens. We fall down. We bang our heads. We get hurt. We close the closet door on our fingers. We break an heirloom dish or our favorite cup. We drop our phones in the toilet. We spill things, just like children do. We even say the wrong thing; we have the “not so appropriate” response, yet we can also be different in the next moment.
But what about the scone versus the doughnut incident? If that were my young son, I would have eaten his scone and bought him an alternative treat because it was obvious that THAT was the point of their outing together: sweet treats and perhaps a special time to “feed” the mother/son relationship on a Saturday morning.Last modified on