Last week was a mentally tricky week for me. I was stressing out – to the point that I felt physically ill – and it was all because of a new parenting hurdle. One that I didn’t think was going to hit yet, or bother me this much. And it kept me from thinking clearly enough to be able to get a regular post out to you.
And the worst part is that it’s really out of my control.
Matthew is a great kid. He’s a sweet and thoughtful boy. But he’s also only 4 years old, and he has a long way to go to reach maturity. As much as I try to shield him from all the negativity in this world, realistically he’s going to get some real-world exposure. There are news stories, advertisements, an image or audio clip from a scrolled through TV channel or radio station, seemingly innocent comments by adults and peers…… you name it. Things that don’t even register on our radar as being anything of importance. But at his age it’s hard to tell how he’s going to interpret these various experiences. And unfortunately you can’t control how your child thinks, or what they choose to say, based on these bits of exposure.
And I discovered that can be very unsettling.
Twice last week when I picked up Matthew from school, his teachers pulled me aside to alert me to a couple of comments Matthew made to some other children. Comments which, for Matthew’s privacy, I won’t list here. But they had a violent undertone and were unusual for him to say. Comments which made the staff wonder where someone his age could have gotten an idea for a statement like that.
Comments that made me wonder where he could have come up with something like that.
So I spent the next few hours racking my brain, trying to think about what he could have recently been exposed to that would trigger such a comment. And I think I came upon the answer – 2 innocuous events (watching an old cartoon and a comment on some recent local news by an idolized adult). Things that again, don’t even trigger on our adult radars, but were vastly misinterpreted by a child who doesn’t have all the experiences and maturity that we as parents do.
After a long conversation with Matthew, it turns out my hunches were right. The poor kid had no idea that his comments carried so many ramifications. You can tell that he didn’t intend anything the way it was said. He didn’t realize that what he heard wasn’t a good thing, and not behavior that we want to emulate. His 4-year old mind wasn’t able to process that information the same way we are. He was simply following the example of a beloved cartoon character and beloved adult.
And I think he’s learned an important lesson.
I’ve also learned a lesson. And as much as this makes me want to protect him even more, I know that I can’t keep him in a bubble. I can’t restrict his world and keep him safe forever. But I can do my best to try and be extra vigilant about what he’s exposed to. I’m learning that he picks up on everything…. more than I pay attention to each and every day. And I can do my best to talk to him about these things ahead of time and in the moment – before he has time to come to an incorrect conclusion on them by himself. I can also do my best to keep the lines of communication open so that he knows that if he is questioning the ethics of something, he can come to me, and we can talk about it without the fear of ramifications.
I think parenting what I can’t control, learning to accept what I can’t control for my children, allowing them to gain freedoms as they mature, and allowing them to make their own decisions (and fail at them), are going to be some of the trickiest parenting moments to come.
I just didn’t think they would be coming so soon!
Have you had an incident like this happen with you and your child? I would love for you to share it with me, and I’d love to learn from how you dealt with the situation. Simply click here to send me a message.
All the best,