Lessons from children

A lot of what we do as parents is teaching. And I see a real focus on that in society – you need to teach, they need to learn. But I see very little about how much our children teach us, how much we can learn from them.

I have learned so much from my children. It seems like every day my son is teaching me some new lesson, he’s teaching me how to see the world a different way. Quite frankly, a better way.

I get kind of bummed at how people treat children. I’ve written about it before. One of the things that annoys me is the constant “teaching” that children have to deal with. And how adults often don’t ever consider that they could learn just as much (if not more) from children as children can from them.

To explain that with just one micro-aggression: I really hate it when people spend all their time correcting children. I loathe adults who correct adults. You know, those people who pompously say “It’s to whom, not to who”Ā  or “you mean fewer not less” like the world will implode because someone used the wrong term in an every day conversation. As if language doesn’t ever evolve. As if the mistakes we make are more important than the fact that we are trying to communicate with each other as people. It’s just about making sure everyone knows your status. You’re a clever person. And being clever is important apparently. It puts you ahead of me. Ahead of others. You get to be at the top of the pile, to whoming and fewering everyone you come into contact with so that they remember you’re just so clever.

When people do it to children – it irritates me so much. And they do it all the time. Eddie used to confuse words like “hot” and “cold” and “up” and “down”. He would say ‘Can put me up?’ instead of ‘can you put me down’. It was clear what he was saying, but people always said NO YOU MEAN PICK ME UP. PICK ME UP NOT PUT ME DOWN. Never mind that he meant put me down. It was condescending and patronising and they weren’t even listening to him. And here’s the thing – people think you can’t be condescending or patronising to kids. They think that’s just not possible. As if children are some subset of humanity immune to being talked down to, unworthy of basic respect.

This isn’t about talking to children like they’re adults. It’s about giving them some credit because they’re learning a damn language and they’re learning to communicate (all at the same time!) It’s like when some people who only speak English speak to someone whose first language isn’t English – THEY SPEAK LOUDER. As if yelling will somehow work. Because if you can’t understand what someone is saying, surely yelling in their face will help? Right?

Children are learning how to function in a new world. There’s all this random stuff going on that they have no idea about. Every day I will say something and then catch myself and think – oh wow, he doesn’t know what that is! He saw an emu at the zoo and I could *see* his internal monologue like OH OH NO NO NO NO WHAT IS THAT THING?!?!? IS IT A BIRD?!?! IS IT A GIRAFFE?!?! THE NECK IS LONG BUT IT HAS FEATHERS?!? IT LOOKS LIKE A DINOSAUR?!?! IS IT GOING TO EAT ME?!?! WHAT THE HELL IS IT?!?! IS IT DANGEROUS?!?! IT LOOKS TERRIFYING!?! Can you imagine that? Cruising along and seeing a creature you’ve never seen before and it’s just right there and you don’t know what it’s called or what it is? And you’re tiny? That’s the shit kids are grappling with daily. Except it’s not just an emu it’s tin foil or sand or earrings.

When Eddie bursts into tears when he hears a hand dryer it takes him a full minute to truly believe me when I say hand dryers can’t hurt him. Can you even comprehend what it must be like to be afraid of hand dryers? To not have the cognitive ability to wrap your head around their actual use? To you they’re just boxed death attached to a wall that will go off at any time?

And yet – some people feel they just have to say to toddlers all the time “No it’s 1 2 3 4 5. Not 1 3 4 5” as if they’re never going to ever be able to count unless they’re corrected when they’re two years old. Or “It’s a clothes LINE not a close lion” because so many adults can’t say clothes line. Or “You said princess but you meant prince” – leaving aside the fact that you’re clearly trying to say boys can’t be princesses, what if he really just means princess? When have you ever said princess and meant prince? Never? So maybe consider that he knows exactly what he’s saying and what he’s saying is what he means?

You can actually almost see people closing themselves off to children in this way. My son stutters a bit when he’s excited or when he’s trying to get a word out and he doesn’t know what the word is. I see people not even bother to wait to hear what he’s trying to say. As if they’re so rushed and busy they can’t wait a second to hear him, to let him finish his sentence. It’s because they’ve decided what he has to say is unimportant.

Because children can’t teach us anything.

Well with that attitude these smart and clever and important people are losing out. Because kids are giving out gems for free! Kids are way smart. It’s just not necessarily the kind of smart that people value. That ‘I’m clever, you’re not, which means you’re at the bottom, and I’m on top’ kind of smart that has so much social currency.

Children are smart about life. About what matters. About treating people as they should be treated. To children, there is no Us and Them.

To my son there are about three or four jobs that are the greatest jobs there are available. Garbage man, digger man, petrol man, Bunnings man. As a grumpy old feminist it does my head in a bit to hear everything as man. But I’m not going to correct him. I’m just going to make sure that when I talk about these roles it’s “people who collect garbage” not garbage men. Every time he talks to anyone who has any of these jobs (a trip to Bunnings takes a really long time because he has to talk to every worker there) he simply cannot believe that they have the mind-blowing good fortune to be able to wake up every morning and do what they do. If he finds out we went to the petrol station without him we hear about it for weeks.

When he found out his dad worked at a petrol station he could hardly speak. His dad was already his hero and now he finds out he worked in a petrol station? Dear god, is there nothing this man can’t do??

And yet – my husband has had numerous people (many, many, many people) make comments to his face about how petrol station workers are morons. Society pumps out (yes pumps out) classist shit about petrol stations 24-7: Go to school or you’ll end up working at a petrol station. Forget about the bullies, they’ll be pumping your gas some day. Better work hard or one day you’ll end up working at a BP.

All of my husband’s jobs have been blue collar. He has heard people talking about their gardener and saying that they’re thick as two bricks and another person will chime in with “well what do you expect he’s a gardener?” or how road workers are lazy “they were there all day and didn’t even move” (umm it’s their job dickwad). Often with a bit of fun racism thrown in as well. People don’t think about how quick they are to (incorrectly I might add) separate people into smart and dumb. As if you can’t be intelligent if you have a particular job that doesn’t involve academic skills. Or you can’t find joy in a job like collecting garbage. Or you’re not doing a job correctly, as decided by someone who has never done that job! The point they’re making is that these jobs are low value and the people aren’t of value either. When nothing could be further from the truth.

Really, the sad people are those who have to put down people who work in services they can’t live without in order to feel just a little bit OK with themselves.

Eddie once got so excited that a man in a digger showed him how to use the controls that he burst into tears. He was so overcome at how wonderful a digger was that he lost it.

I can’t figure out what age people get to when they stop thinking “diggers are awesome and the people driving them are amazing and I’m so happy to see one I can’t control my emotions” and start thinking “what a dumbass that person is they drive a digger”.

Now, I’m not suggesting we all start tearing up over those mini-cranes at Bunnings. But maybe we could do better than to consider the world through our kids eyes and think about why they see life the way they do. And wonder, maybe that’s the way we should be operating. Not always rushing to insist we’re smarter. We know more. There’s them and us and we’re better.

Maybe we could try learning instead of always insisting we’re the teachers.


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13 Comments on “Lessons from children

  1. I remember my sister telling me that being a young kid in our world must be so amazing and stimulating that it’d be like being on a permanent acid trip.

    Also, I’m now splitting people into two based on how they respond to my daughter’s earnest: “Hello, my name’s Jemima.”

    1. Jemima is a nice name.
    2. Hi Jemima, my name’s Rebecca.

    You can probably guess which one I like better…

    • Wow, that’s so onto it about your daughter. It made me think about how often people don’t answer when Eddie says “how are you?” He used to always say “Hi I’m Eddie” wherever he went. He has now added “How are you?” and so few people answer him. It’s his way of starting conversations and practicing, and working out his place in the world – but he doesn’t often have people willingly to talk to him. Actually, I often wonder if he likes the Zoo and creche so much because he gets so many people talking to him. The Zoo is great because the keepers kneel and talk to kids on their level and answer questions and really engage.

  2. There’s a road crew resurfacing near our park, we have gone to see the steam roller, grader and huge truck every day for the last week. In her eyes it’s the best job ever (the road workers are great chatting to her, waving and waiting till we are far enough away to toot the trucks horn) her other favourite place is the pantry cause there’s awesome stuff in there.
    Haze already has the public humiliation thing sorted at 17 months when people don’t reply to her hellos in the supermarket its “Hello man (with a bit smile)… hey man, HEY MAN, no no no NO manners (complete with finger wagging and glares).” God help me when she’s a teenager.

  3. We’ve been talking about some things like this a bit. Like the two small foster kids who visit us, apparently they always say fireman even though the only one they’ve met is a woman and their parents and my flatmate use firefighter. Bizarre. But yeah when Te Papa had the dinosaur out they saw it and were TERRIFIED, and me and my flatmate talk a lot about what kind of things the baby (not so much a baby anymore, just a half-sized 15 month old) is talking to us about because she is constantly babbling something that sounds so much like an actual language and we really wanna know what her stories are like. She (flatmate) complains about people not acknowledging baby as well. I will try to acknowledge and respond to wee kids even if I’m in one of those moods where I just don’t want the world to exist at all.

  4. We took two detours to pause by cranes today – two enormous ones at Victoria Uni, with good spots for stopping in a car, if anyone’s interested šŸ™‚ – and then a U-turn to see them again. I have never in my life looked up at a crane like I did today, and noticed things like the six flights of ladders the operator has to climb up to get to the cab.

    It is such a privilege to have a little alien to give you a new perspective on pretty much everything.

    I know more about the solar system, diggers and the animal kingdom (thank you, Countdown šŸ˜‰ ) now than I ever have before, because there’s a curious little person here who asks questions, and thanks to his parents’ internet addictions, knows that ‘shall we look it up?’ is a request that can be instantly satisfied.

    On the subject of talking to kids, this is a conversation I have on pretty much every trip to the supermarket:

    ‘Oh, how cute! How old is he?’
    ‘You can ask him.’

    Except that it is more often
    ‘Oh, how cute! How old is she?’ and then I never know which assumption to address first.

  5. I never correct my kids if they say something unusual because those unusual things are generally gold! (They have little CD players in their rooms and when we first got them the eldest decided his was a “robot machine” and that is what they’ll be to us, forever after, because Robot Machine is a way better name than CD Player.)

  6. Great post. (I’m really behind on reading your blog atm, I know. Have moved and apparently Macca’s free Wifi is the only thing I can use atm.) I never really thought much about what kids think until I had one. Her enthusiasm in the world delights me. Even the fact that she has a hundred toys but will find opening and closing a Tupperware container the most absorbing thing. Or she saw me using a pump to put air on one of her balls the other day and sat there for ages, fascinated, playing with the pump. Why? And when did we lose fascination in the little things? It also reminds me that none of us are born racist or snobs – this gets taught to us as we age. My little one will smile at anybody and everybody. She don’t care who’s blue-collar, white-collar, or tattooed and pierced with multicoloured hair. She just responds to their “aura” rather than a looks- or job-based judgement.

  7. Love the website! My 2.5 year old loves the garbage truck and runs to the window excitedly yelling every time she hears one passing on the street. One of her friends at daycare is the same. My husband wondered the other day if the garbage truck workers know how big heros they are to kids. It would be nice to let them know!

  8. You are so awesome, I’m going to draft a response to your mum friends page.

  9. Our daughter used to sing “we’re going on a fridge” every time we drove over a bridge, until she went to kindy and they taught her the “b” sound. My husband and I still resent them for it, important life lesson or not!