Teaching Children Step by Step


With the way that we parents commonly treat kids, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start demanding book reports from newborns on their time in utero. We expect children to be magically imbued with knowledge, wisdom, and maturity from birth, rather than taking the time to love them and teach them these qualities. Here’s how I screwed up the other day:

Zoe’s best friend is a four-year-old girl (we’ll call her Suzie) who has many fun toys and treats, and from the perspective of a toddler, other people’s toys and food and infinitely more exciting than anything of your own. The first several times Zoe went to Suzie’s house, I was lenient with her and allowed her to engorge herself on as many treats as she could find. Well, we went over there this past weekend and I began to notice that Zoe was entirely focused on the treats, even before we got there. In the car she was already planning out all the candy she would eat.

When we arrived, Suzie wanted to play with Zoe, but Zoe only wanted to eat and play with her Suzie’s toys. Basically, Zoe wanted to use her. Completely normal behavior for a toddler, and yet because I was strung out with a lack of patience, I was aggravated with Zoe for not grasping this nuanced life lesson. I snapped at her and said things like, “We come here to play with Suzie, not her toys,” which went completely over Zoe’s head.

This is a lesson that I continue to struggle with as an adult. I have zero desire to use my friends, but I meet so many incredible, talented people who just so happen to be talented at things I could really use help with (like editing writing, taking pictures, or working social media). These friendships require increased awareness on my part to ensure that none of these collaboration bonuses interfere with the friendship. My motivation has to stay pure and if it doesn’t, I have to take a step back and stop asking for favors. So expecting my three-year-old to understand this? Pretty crazy.

If Zoe didn’t like Suzie, the solution would be simple; I wouldn’t arrange play dates with her. The trouble is that Zoe legtimately adores Suzie but becomes overwhelmed with other distractions at her house.

Enter Dream Husband. Oliver took both of the girls into Suzie’s playroom, sat down on the floor with them, and pretended to be Peppa Pig. In five minutes both girls were rolling on the floor with laughter. No teaching involved. Through his example, Oliver reminded Zoe how much fun it is to actually play with your friends, instead of just cleaning out their fridge. We also decided that from now on she will only be allowed one treat per day, no matter where she is. We don’t have any desire to restrict her diet, but this is the simplest solution we’ve found to help her break those food associations that interfere with her enjoyment of other people and things.

 I also bought Zoe the book Ladybug Girl and the Best Ever Play Date which describes an analogous situation: a young girl learning to appreciate her friend rather than just her friend’s toy. As she grows older, Zoe will need constant reminders as well as more detailed conversations about how we treat our friends, but I can relax and remember that there is no way for her to know this without me teaching it first.


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