Lessons from a granddaughter...

Playing with my three year old granddaughter is teaching me to be mindful of whose world I am in, and to behave accordingly. 


In her world, she is the native and I am a tourist. The rules and customs are hers. Things go well when I can relax and let the native guide me. My attempts to impose customs or rules from my world on her world fail spectacularly. As they should.

I recently got out a box of dominoes, split them between us, and started laying mine out with matching tiles, narrating aloud: “Two dots next to two dots, no dots next to no dots.” She watched me for a moment, and then began to set out her dominoes lengthwise on their edges, making lanes. She flatly rejected my offer to help her arrange the dominoes based on the dots: “No. I’m making paths.”  Resisting my tourist inclination to insist on my homeland customs, I asked her where to put my dominoes and we had a great time extending her paths. Her game was far more creative and absorbing than my rule-based version. (Note: Any question I might have had about whether she ‘wasn’t ready’ to use the dots was put to rest when we finished, and she insisted that the dominoes be returned to their box according to the number of dots on the tiles.)

Trouble lurks when our worlds overlap but are not synchronized. Nap time can be an example. She lives in her world where neither my adult schedule nor my logic apply. Telling her that it is 1:00 and nap time so she has to stop playing gets a brief stare at best. Explaining that skipping a nap will make her cranky and is bad for her health is worse than pointless: it leads to a long discussion that invariably devolves into an argument, whose sole result is delaying the nap. (Her goal.) Letting her remain comfortably in her own world is the only option: “Let’s finish this picture, so we can take it upstairs and tell your doll some stories about it for nap time.”

The child’s universe is a true force of nature. It evolves by its own laws, and while it can be modified and constrained, it contains unimaginable power and potential. It must never be underestimated or discounted, as it will become the anchor that sustains her through tough times and the engine that drives her successes. Envy it if you must. Share it if you can. Nurture it whenever possible. But never, ever make the mistake of thinking your universe runs hers.



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