Friday, December 16, 2022

Would I Say This To An Adult?

"The grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and, for children, it's tiresome always giving them explanations." This is perhaps the most famous line from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's novella The Little Prince.

It's memorable and funny, to adults at least, because in this case the child is exasperated with adult ignorance instead of the other way around. It's also instructive because it shows us ourselves in a kind of mirror.

Over the years, I've found it useful to regularly look in that mirror. Before saying something about or to a child, I try to listen to how it would sound if I were speaking about or to an adult who I care for.

Few of us would say, for instance, "Get your butt over here!" to an adult. Of course, most of us wouldn't say that to a child either, but if you do hear someone shouting this, it will almost assuredly be an adult shouting at a child. What would I say to an adult in this case? Probably nothing because I'm in no position to boss anyone around, especially so rudely. 

And speaking of commands, how about something more benign, like, "Get in the car." Would I say this to an adult? Even with a gentle, lilting tone? Only if I were angry and I wanted them to know it. Saying, "Get in the car, please" might even be worse. If it's an adult whose goodwill I want to maintain, I'd likely to say something less directive like, "It's time to go." Or perhaps I'd simply announce, "I'm heading to the car" or "I'll meet you at the car" or "I hate being late" or I'd look at my watch and ask, "Where did we park?" 

But it's not just commands. Imagine saying any of these things to or about an adult.

"If you stop crying, I'll buy you a cupcake." 

"What are you going to be when you grow up?"

"She's just shy."

"They're always trying to kill themselves."

"No dessert until you've finished dinner."

"Because I said so!"

When I imagine saying any of these things with regard to an adult, I hear myself being controlling or dismissive or manipulative. I hear myself talking to or about someone as if they are ignorant or incapable. When I imagine myself being at the receiving end of these words, I understand why young children might react badly. These are not things I'd say to or about an adult whose good opinion I value, so it's worth wondering about why I might say them to or about a child whose good opinion I value.


"Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler
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