Translating for Children

An interesting exercise to conduct is this: To small children, everything you say means either “I love you” or “I don’t love you.” Try translating everything you say to a child during the day to this language. It’s very eye-opening.

“Did you wash your hands? They look dirty.” – I don’t love you.

“Why do you always drop your backpack by the door so it’s in everybody’s way?” – I don’t love you. And you are in my way.

“Are you done?” – I don’t love you. And you are a drain on my time.

“You grew out of these shoes already?” – I don’t love you. And you are a drain on my money.

This is an evolutionary survival mechanism for children. They completely depend on an adult’s goodwill for survival, so they try to gauge the probability of you taking care of them and not abandoning them to wild animals. You know that you love them no matter what but they don’t.

Another thing to remember is this: you can never give a child enough love and attention. They are little bottomless pits. That’s because they are trying to extract enough love from you to last them for the rest of their lives. So don’t beat yourself up if your kid looks starved for attention. It’s not about you. It’s a long-term strategy.

2 thoughts on “Translating for Children

  1. I’m nearing the end of day-to-day parenting my four (youngest is 16). For me the challenge was to be cognizant enough to change those messages in my head before they exited my mouth so I wasn’t constantly sending negative messages.

    “Did you wash your hands? They look dirty.” -> “?” (this was one I always struggled with)

    “Why do you always drop your backpack by the door so it’s in everybody’s way?” -> “Your backpack deserves a special place so it doesn’t get damaged.”

    “Are you done?” -> “When you’re finished, we can…”

    “You grew out of these shoes already?” -> “Your feet are greeting so big and strong! We should go find some new shoes.”

    I grew up hearing the messages that I was a lot of work and trouble, and tried very hard to stop that cycle with my own kids. But today was the first time I really thought about having a conversation with my kids now that they’re older, to help them see that how they convey those messages to their own kids matters. My oldest is expecting his first in a month, so no time like the present!

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  2. “Hey, go ahead and wash your hands so we’re ready for X.”

    Solve interrogative situations by making them enabling situations and improving situations.

    I also do this with INTP hardware people who think lots of things are puzzles I enjoy solving as well.

    My reward is that I am so pleased that the puzzle part of the problem is over with, which of course I let them know after they’ve washed their hands. 🙂

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