Children are not very short adults.
If this was a hypothesis and a researcher visited my home, it would take her about 30 minutes to gather enough evidence. I can see her entering data into the computer… irrational requests per minute, length of time spent arguing about who will be the baby tiger and who will be the baby lion, and magnitude of screaming related to nonavailability of the pink cup. Conclusion: Children are not very short adults. End of experiment.
If this is the case, why do I continually, incessantly, repeatedly assume and often insist that they SHOULD be acting like adults?
“Subject A” is three years old and had breakfast at 7 a.m. It is now 10 a.m. and her mother is attempting to squeeze in one more errand before heading home for a snack. In line at the library, where the mother is attempting to pay her monthly set of fines, the three year old is twirling around the line-marking poles and pushes one over. The librarians all glare at the mother who glares at the child and whispers loudly, “stop it, get over here, if you want a snack when we get home, stop it right now.” At the mention of “snack” (big mistake), the child begins wailing (not in a whisper) about how hungry she is. Now the mother, who is finally next in line, picks up the child and attempts to reason with her. “Honey, I just need to do one more thing and then we’ll go home, I promise. Just be quiet, please, we’re almost done.” The child wails louder and louder until the mother, with librarian-eyes boring holes in her skull, finally gives up and drags the child home, berating her all the live long way.
Now, if children are not very short adults, what might we actual adults need to keep in mind about them? Here are four things that I probably need to post on a wall in my house.
One. In the internal struggle between basic needs and logical thought, a child’s “primal beast” self is going to win every time. Tired? Hungry? Thirsty? Wait ten more minutes because of these logically compelling reasons? Not likely. Not impossible, and I’m starting to suspect that this gets more balanced as they get older, but with a three and a four year old, my money is on the beast.
Two. Adults are motivated by timeliness (okay, most adults); children, not so much. Wouldn’t it be fun for a parent to count how many times we say something like “Hurry up” or “We’re going to be late” in one day? Not that we ever would–it would take too much time.
Three. Children are consistently inconsistent. Have you ever had your social butterfly hide behind your legs when their dear great-grandmother (who they only see once every few months) asks them about their favorite animal at the zoo? Why was it okay for me to pick out your clothes yesterday, but today (when we are late to school) it leads to a major screaming fit? Why do you turn up your cute little nose at the same dinner that you loved last week? Why can’t you JUST MAKE SENSE?
Four. Empathy is not a natural quality of the world-revolves-around-me stage of development. For example, when a child who is also (ugh) a morning person bounces into your room at 6 a.m. and wants to play kangaroo family, it’s hard to explain that Mama needs a little more time to wake up because Mama has a really bad cold and Mama was up coughing in the middle of the night and Mama is not a morning person anyway and could you please stop jumping on Mama?????
Not that such a thing ever happens.
So. What am I NOT saying here? I am not saying that we shouldn’t teach our children things like empathy, self-control, responsibility, logic etc. What else are we doing as parents as we guide our kids through their younger years?
As we guide them and try to teach them that the library is a Quiet Place, do we ever get a little impatient? Do we ever forget that these lessons are going to take years, that three steps forward and two steps back is still forward progress, and that you can’t have the beautiful parts of childhood without some annoyances along the way? Do we ever expect them to behave like very short adults?
I do. This I confess. And this is what I want to turn from, degree by degree, day by day. Why? Because maybe as I turn I’ll catch another glimpse of my children being children, and it will make me smile instead of groan. Maybe I’ll stop long enough to appreciate them, to love them, and maybe I’ll even have the time to tell them so.
Maybe. We’ll just have to wait and find out. Good thing that adults are SO good at waiting.