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How do you teach gratitude to the 4 year-old set?

standard August 4, 2009 8 responses

Maybe it’s because I’m reading Escape, the story of a polygamist wife, mother to 8 children, aunt to well over 30 others who lived under the same roof and shared almost nothing. Or maybe it’s because I’m constantly tripping over my daughter’s things. But recently I’ve been thinking about how good my girls have it.

They have two loving parents who are around a lot. They always have food and lots of it. They have snacks and healthy food whenever they want it. They have a comfy home and a large backyard to play in. They have more books and toys than they know what to do with. They have each other.

But to hear the whining in the car today you wouldn’t know it. It was all “Why don’t we ever…” “Why can’t we have…” “So and so has…”

My 4-year-old has everything she could possibly want, but it’s never enough. Which raises the question: how do you teach a preschooler gratitude? How do you make her stop coveting everything else and appreciate what she has?

She’s not a bratty child. In fact she’s pretty much the opposite. She’s always looking out for those around her. She shares everything with her friends and her sister. She takes all of us into consideration when she chooses or does something – our favorite colors, our favorite things… Compassion isn’t the issue here, it’s just plain ol’ want.

And I get that. I do. I really, really do. I mean, when I see someone using a fast new digital camera I want it too. When I see someone in a stunning outfit, I want it too. But I’m a big girl. I know how to separate that desire from how I feel about the things I own. Just because a dress is beautiful doesn’t make my clothes any less attractive. And I still appreciate my camera even if it is slower than the new models.

I just need to figure out how to teach my daughters that it’s OK to appreciate and even want new things, but it’s even more important to appreciate and love the things that we already have.

I started tonight. As we pulled into the garage I interrupted the barrage of rants and quietly asked C to tell me about four things that she had that she was really happy she had.

She thought for a long moment before answering.

“The thing that turns blue when we color with the water pen.” An odd choice considering they only sporadically play with their Aquadoodle, but a good one because she definitely gets a lot of pleasure from it when we do bring it out.
“Anything else? How about your new pony?” I prompted when she flailed.
“Oh. Yeah! My pony!” She beamed at me. “I love my pony!” She hugged it tight and she skipped off towards the house.

For that moment all thoughts of the things her friends had that she didn’t have were banished from her mind. She had her pony and she was home. Tomorrow I’ll have to start again, doing my best to remind her that she already has everything she needs, even if the other stuff is shiny and tempting.

From the Mouths of Babes: Undeniable logic

standard July 2, 2009 Leave a response

It’s a small play structure. Nothing exciting. Just a plastic yellow slide, a rickety ladder, and a crooked swing. But as we passed it C gasped.

I could hear her thoughts and her desire. They filled the car. But before she could voice them, reason kicked in.

“Oh. It’s a really nice slide. But we can’t go on it. I don’t know the name of the people who live there.”

The birds and the bees for the four year old set

standard June 5, 2009 5 responses

“If I go to school I won’t be able to be a mommy!” We we’re driving home and I was navigating heavy traffic. I heard what she said, but it didn’t instantly sound as odd as it sounded when I finally got settled in the right lane and really heard her words in my head.

“What? What do you mean?”
“If I go to school I’ll be too busy to be a mommy.”
“No, no. You can be a mommy and work. I’m a mommy and a writer. It’s possible.”
“Oh. How will I become a mommy and a writer?”
“Well, you’ll go to school for 12 years or so, go to college, maybe meet a nice boy, get married and have babies.” I squinted at her in the rear view mirror. I wasn’t sure if I’d said what she wanted to hear, but she nodded knowingly.
“I’m going to have four babies.” She held up four fingers. “There are going to be four in my tummy and four in the daddy’s tummy.”

I didn’t answer right away. First of all I didn’t hear very clearly, second of all I was once again navigating another gnarly lane change. Instead I made some encouraging noises, which might explain why she got annoyed when I corrected her assumption that, duh, the burden of pregnancy should be shared equally between the parents.

She waited a moment with a scowl on her face, pondering the unfairness of what I had just explained, and I was so wrapped up in my commute and the cuteness of her pout that I honestly didn’t anticipate what was coming next.

“Mommy? How does the baby get in the mommy’s tummy?”

My heart sank. I glanced back at her hopeful face and wondered how on earth I was going to answer her question. What does a 4 year-old need to know about sex? What would assuage her interest without revealing anything I wouldn’t be mortified to hear her repeat on the playground tomorrow? What wouldn’t warp her idea of sex and babies for years to come?

I waited as long as possible, took a deep breath, and jumped in.
“When a man and a woman love each other very much and they’ve thought carefully about wanting to have a baby, they have a special kind of cuddle. The man puts a seed inside the lady’s belly and a baby grows.”
I figured it wasn’t too graphic and covered the basics. I hesitated and stressed the fact that it only happened during very special cuddles, not every cuddle. Last thing I wanted was for her to start looking for a growing belly every time M and I hugged.

She didn’t reply and I risked a glance in the mirror again. Her face was contorted and when she caught my eye she giggled and looked away. She squirmed and laughed and squirmed some more. Her face was bright red and she had trouble meeting my eye. She looked exactly like a little kid who has heard a slightly naughty secret. A delighted little girl with a slightly naughty and embarrassing secret. I laughed and winked at her. She stopped looking embarrassed and just looked amused. We laughed the rest of the way home, giggling extra hard when our eyes met in the mirror.

From the mouths of babes: Inside a 3-year-old’s mind

standard February 5, 2009 3 responses

“Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s coming home later, he has to go see a client.”
“Oh no! Is he scared?”
“No. Why would he be scared?”
“Because a client is… a client is… a client is a big scary animal with stripes!”
“Uh, no. A client is not a big scary animal with stripes. A client is… uh… ah…”
“Mommy, what’s a client?”
“A client is someone daddy goes to help after they get hurt.”
“Does daddy help them get better?”
“Not exactly, daddy helps them get money so they can pay the doctor who helps them get better after they get hurt or broken.”
“Why does a doctor need a pig?”
“No, not pig, pay. They give money to the doctors.”
“Why do they give money to the doctors?”
“Doctors like to help people, but we have to give them money, it’s their job.”
“Why do the people need doctors to fix them?”
“Well, remember when I told you that our bodies fix themselves when we have booboos? Well, sometimes people get hurt too badly for their bodies to fix themselves and they need a doctor to help.”
“Little L went to the doctor. Was she broken?”
“No, she was just sick. We needed medicine to make her feel better.”
“I have a booboo…”
“You don’t have a very big booboo. Your booboo will get better all by itself.”
“But it’s soooo big! It’s a big brown spot all over my knee!”
“Yes, it’s big, but I promise your body can fix it all by itself.”
“How mommy? How does my body fix itself?”

And I’ll admit, that’s when I gave up. I mean, how do you explain to a 3-year-old how the human body can sometimes heal itself, and sometimes it can’t? Heck, how do you explain cell regeneration? Or Anything else that goes into a body recovering from a bruise or a scratch? So, I, ah, went for an explanation she could grasp.

“There are teeny tiny little people inside your body that fix your booboos. They’re so small you can’t see them. No one can.”
“Are they fairies?”
“Uh, yeah! Yeah, that’s right, fairies.”
“With wings?”
“Maybe, I don’t know. They’re too small, no one has ever seen them.”
“Do they talk?”
“I’m sure they do, but no one can hear them.”
“I bet they talk. I think they say ‘Oh! You have a booboo, let’s go fix it!’.”
“You know what? I bet you’re right. I’m sure that’s exactly what they say.”

So let’s recap: M is a lawyer who sees scary animals with stripes clients so he can help them get money so they can pig pay doctors who fix them when they’re too broken for the teeny tiny fairies with wings to fix them on their own. Got it? Yeah, me neither. I’m just glad we got home right then. I have no idea where the conversation would have gone next. Probably back to M helping people, or maybe to who helps the fairies when they get hurt. Who knows. And M wonders why I’m always exhausted when we get home.

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