A couple of years ago we were walking in the airport and I announced I needed to go get gum for my ears. A few minutes later, Wyatt, 3 years old, said to me, “I need to get some gum for my mouth.”
We often forget how literal kids are. Half of what we say must be Greek to them.
As adults we understand the nuances of our language, the idioms and everyday expressions we use without thinking.
I began to wonder what kind of reality must be shaping up in our children’s minds each day.
For example, they hear us on the phone say “I am going to try to kill two birds with one stone” and five minutes later we say to them, “Careful, not to step on that snail.”
Imagine a child, still thinking concretely, listening to the following conversation between parents just before dinnertime:
Dad: “Sam blew up at the office today because he is sick of taking c-r-a-p from Ron.”
Mom: “Did Betty step in?”
Dad: “Yes, but she just poured gasoline on the fire and made it worse for Sam.”
Mom: “Well, eventually Ron will get a taste of his own medicine.”
Dad: “Yeah. Not that it makes it any better, but at least everyone’s in the same boat in the office.”
Here is what Junior heard:
Some poor guy named Sam exploded – pieces of him were probably splattering the walls – because he was sick of something he got from Ron (it must be bad, but he cannot be sure of what it was because he cannot spell). Now Junior feels guilty for breaking the no sharing food at preschool rule and wonders if Jimmy’s purple Batman fruit snack will cause him to blow up.
Then a woman named Betty came in and apparently a fire had broken out in the office and she poured gasoline on it and Sam, who was already blown up, was now on fire, too, because of Betty.
Ron will taste his own medicine – which is confusing because isn’t Sam the guy needing medicine at this point?
And finally junior’s concluding thought is, “I never saw the boat in Daddy’s office!”
At the dinner table a half-hour later everyone is sharing how their day was. Junior says, “Dad, can I go on the boat in your office?”
Eeveryone looks at the kid like he’s insane, someone says pass the salt, and older sister shares she only got one wrong on her spelling test.
I made up this particular scenario. However, it is based on true stories in the lives of kids everywhere. They say something meaningful and we ignore it, or write it off with a generic “uh-huh” or “that’s nice” and move on because what they are saying sounds so random.
Perhaps kids’ non sequiturs are actually well thought-out points of view stemming from a deep reflection of what they are hearing from us.
We ought to slow down, look our kids in the eye and listen. I am going to make a concerted effort to take time to really hear our kids’ thoughts and opinions.
Maybe it’s time I take all that gum out of my ears.