My four year old daughter recently asked if everyone had a dog. When I replied, “No, some people have a bird, a cat, a lizard, or even a bunny as a pet. And some people have no pets at all.” She seemed a bit puzzled by this. So I went on to explain that every family was different from hers; each family has different houses, different rules, different pets, and even different experiences. This statement seemed to intrigue her. The notion that other children have different experiences than her own was a pretty neat fact for her and I could tell she needed to know more. However, she moved on quickly to other questions about completely different topics and so was a normal day for us.
However, the next day she had a not so great experience at the kids club in our local gym. A little boy had pulled her hair, so she informed me. She then told me, rather emphatically, that since he was not nice, she was not going to be nice to him! My first thought of course, as a mother was to say, “Where is this boy?” (And to be truthful, I did ask that, but in a much nicer way than you may be imagining and much nicer than I originally thought I could say it.) She pointed in his direction and my eyes settled on a young boy not much older than my daughter and he was quite energetic. He did not seem to be acting aggressively towards any other child so I calmed myself and took a knee next to my daughter. I then took a breath and chose my words carefully. As I knew this moment and how I handled it would have an impact on how she will handle future conflicts. When I inquired why she thought he had pulled her hair, she said, “Because I was in his way, and he wanted me to move.” I then said, '“Remember honey, every family has different rules and different experiences. And while your experience just now was not a happy one, it does not need to ruin your whole day. And while what he did was unkind, it should not make you unkind. Should he choose to behave that way, you cannot control that, but you can control yourself and whether you continue to be around him. I would suggest that if he is unable or unwilling to be kind, just keep your distance from him and play in a different area.” And then I waited for a rebuttal from her or a response that showed she needed further explanation, but it never came. Instead she quickly said, “Ok, you’re right, I don’t need to be mean to him just because he was mean to me, I can just be me. I’ll just play over here,” she said, pointing to a separate area.
As she happily walked off to play, I realized I had achieved success, but that success truly came as easy as it did because of the previous conversation she and I had. From the simple, seemingly uncomplicated question, “Does everyone have a dog?”
I believe as parents we should be cognoscente, as best we can, to the fact that every moment in our child’s life is a chance to learn, even the simple, fleeting moments that seem so tiny at the time. These are the moments that make up who our child will become, how they will think, how they will love, and how they will handle conflict. And through this all, the most important thing to keep in mind it to just keep talking; keep them talking by listening, really listening to the questions they ask and the things they say. The best way to do this is to remind yourself that you were little once; be the support you wanted as a child, be the believer, the encourager, the one that listens without judgement. Be that person you needed when you were their age going through their experiences. No one knows them better, as you were them once upon a time!