“No mommy, I want to wear this.”
Sally was wearing her sarong, a Christmas gift. It was light, colorful, and silky, a rectangular piece of cloth wrapped around her body and tied behind her neck. Outside, though, the snow was almost six inches deep and still coming down.
“I know you love your sarong, but we’re going out and it’s winter and it’s cold and there’s snow outside, so you really do need to wear warmer clothes. I’m going to get dressed first, and then I’ll call you to pick out an outfit.”
Sally ran off, clearly not happy with the situation. When I had finished dressing, she returned.
“Mommy, how about I wear warm clothes underneath my sarong!”
If there’s one thing to be said about Sally, it’s that she understands that she and I are on the same team. And, she’s a problem solver. She’s only in preschool, but she already knows how to find ways to balance her needs with others’needs and find a compromise acceptable to all. And in our house, rather than simply stressing obedience, we encourage her to think, empathize, and problem solve. And she does.
Here’s another exchange from earlier in the same day:
“Sally, you got that breakfast all over you! How about we go into the bathroom and…”
“No! I don’t want a bath! I don’t like that plan!”
“Honey, wait, let me finish telling you my plan and then you can tell yours.”
“Okay.” Sally stopped objecting and opted to listen.
“I need a shower anyway, so how about we both head to the bathroom and take a shower together? That’s my plan idea. What plan do you have to suggest?”
“How about go into the bathroom and you wipe off my hands and face,” Sally answered. “I don’t want to take a shower. If you wipe me off I will be clean.”
In the end, Sally ended up taking a bath with her brother Bobby after I showered.
While I do overtly teach Sally about comparing needs and desires and finding compromises, some of this is just stuff she has picked up from watching Sean and I. When we have an evening or a weekend ahead of us, Sean and I will take a moment to discuss “the plan.” We offer suggestions – a trip to the Y, a family supper, a game, a cleaning project, the latest episode of our favorite TV show – and then collaboratively hammer out a plan. We include Sally in this process, and she has taken it very much to heart.
Critical thinking, the art of compromise, and the understanding that everyone has needs to be considered – these are some of the most important things I want to teach Sally. And I don’t think I have to wait some nebulous amount of time for her to be “old enough” to understand these concepts. Kids are quite often smarter and more capable than we give them credit for. And so, even at this early age, Sally has learned that she is a valued member of our family, that her opinions and feelings matter, and that she’s not too little to do her own thinking.