Listening to Jenn, my 5-year-old, I hear her uninhibited enthusiasm each afternoon. She always gives a play-by-play and I am taken on a roller coaster of emotions as she tells the story of her day. Her soft blue eyes grow wide as she talks about big emotions, obstacles overcome, and the shocking scandals only kindergarteners can appreciate.
She talks of traipsing up huge flights of stairs, the giant play area they have for recess, and how high up things are hung on the walls.
I’ve seen those stairs, the play yard, and the walls filled with artwork. And it’s pretty small.
But I have these distant, yet vivid memories of going to my school carnival when I was 6. And life was huge.
With my hair fashioned into two lopsided pigtails secured with oversized scrunchies, I wore colorful wire-rimmed glasses that were far too big for my face. Hand in hand with my best friend, Sara, I walked the laughter-filled halls playing games and exploring what felt like an enormous school.
Sara and I returned my senior year for a graduation send-off from our elementary teachers. Reality came crashing in. My perception, my memories, my world-view were drastically different.
Doors were no longer heavy. The unsurmountable see-saw of death was a rickety old piece of metal. The gyma-caf-atorium (gym, cafeteria, auditorium) felt barely larger than a tennis court. And the stalls of the bathrooms felt like walking into a miniature world because the toilets weren’t ginormous anymore.
Ok, but why does this matter?
We have all experienced the warped and skewed reality of revisiting the places of our childhood. We know that not only was our human stature smaller, but the places held so much importance to us that they felt bigger.
And we can use that to improve how we teach and raise our kids.
How to get on a child’s level and why
First and foremost, physically moving our own bodies down to our kids is one of the best ways to communicate with them, no matter how young or old.
Doing this creates eye contact, trust, and understanding.
Maybe from their point of view, we can start to see just how scary a situation really is. Or maybe we’ve demanded that they find something for us only to realize, from that level they really couldn’t see it.
Other times with young kids, we can bring them up to us. We can let them see our view and how nothing has changed except perception. It’s a powerful lesson both for ourselves and for our kids.
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Can we shift expectations and look at our kids proportionately?
What if we shifted and started looking at our children not from our view, but from a proportionate view? One where we take into account their stature, their understanding, and their reality.
How they perceive the world is still valid, but it is different from that of adults. But different doesn’t mean wrong. So instead of forcing them to comply to our standards, working to come to a common ground typically empowers both the parent and the child.
It’s what I like to call the law of parenting proportions — the moment we see how what our kids see and do relate to what we would see and do at the same level.
Life for little kids is more cumbersome and overwhelming
Could you imagine just how exhausted you would be if you carried a 30-50 pound bag of rice on your back for a mile trek? Could we equate what 150 pound person might experience in this scenario to how a 40 pound kiddo carries a backpack to and from school?
What about if you had to climb up and down steps that came almost up to your knees? Does that sound completely daunting?
It’s the world our kids face everyday. The world you once knew.
When you felt small, the world felt big, and when everything around you was overwhelming, what did you need and how can you make that happen for your children? How can you shift your expectations to be more proportional in size so that it still challenges them, but stifles the feeling of overwhelm?
Understanding how kids perceive time and why it matters
Similarly, our kids experience time very differently than we do. Phrases like tomorrow, a week, a month, soon, etc. have no meaning. They feel like forever.
Jenn asked me once why it was taking so long to drive to her doctor’s appointment. It had been 15 minutes. But to her it was a long time.
Waiting for holidays to come or birthdays to finally take place is a torturous wait for a child while time just flashes by for adults.
Emma, who is three, keeps asking when her grandma is coming to visit. Every morning she wakes up thinking “today is the day”. But the reality is it’s 2 weeks away.
2 weeks is 1.28% of her life.
2 weeks for my husband is not even a tenth of a percent.
2 weeks for grandma who is coming is barely more than half of that tenth.
So yes, two weeks is a really, really long time for a toddler.
In the end, when we tap into the way our children think by seeing the world through their lenses, we can realign our own expectations and empower them.
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Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!