2013
04.21

Yesterday I wrote a bit about how adults constantly lie to children while at the same time telling children that lying is a bad thing.  Today I thought I should take up a few ways one can attempt to become more consistent.

First off, I want to tell you that children are awesome and a lot more clever than we give them credit for.  They are great at adapting to new circumstances and they are quick learners.  They can deal with pretty heavy stuff, but should be kept from the more gruesome details of stuff.

For example, I have seen no problem in telling children about death.  If a pet is dying, it is better to explain that pets do get old and then they die.  Of course a child will get sad about this; children are people too and people do get sad when animals they love die.  It may be a good thing to bring up with a child before it happens, to not have it come as a complete shock, but children can understand that things may die and get buried and go away forever.

Children deal with death all of the time.  Most children stumble upon already dead animals when out walking.  They see on TV that a bird may kill and eat another bird and that lions eat zebras.  They may learn how to fish and by extension learn how to kill and that by death a living animal is turned into dead meat that they can eat.  Children can handle death if we explain it to them in calm and neutral terms to them, as any other fact of life.

One can explain for a child that the beloved pet will become beautiful flowers and that the grass will be a lot healthier growing on the grave.  That the flowers in turn will feed butterflies and other lovely creatures.  That life goes on and that even if the pet is dead, it’s not really all gone.  It will still be a part of life and it will be all around us.  Not as when it was the Pet, but it will still be.

When I was a child I used to bring back dead animals I found in the woods and bury them around  our apple tree.  I would sit in the tree and sing for them.  I would go fishing with my father.  I knew that living things could die.  I also noticed how living creatures would feed on dead things.  It wasn’t very traumatic, it was just life.  It just was.

When talking about death with children, especially younger children, there is no need to talk about decomposition and other things like that in detail.  Try to keep things as simple and possible.  Dead pets become flowers.  The details of atoms and how atoms are freed to become flowers aren’t as important.

I still take great comfort in this up to this day.  I don’t believe dead people go to heaven or live on like that, but I know their atoms do.  I know that by now the rabbit I had when I was fourteen years old may have been in a beautiful cherry blossom on Japanese television, bearing news of spring.  He may have been in the grass a doe ate to produce milk to her fawn.  He may even be in a small piece of pollen that I breathe in and which makes me sneeze.  When I die, I too will scatter and continue to live forever, a million, a billion different lives.  Not as me, not with any memory of me or this life, but I will still be a part of life.

That nothing is really truly gone but is made to make other things forever, isn’t that a really hopeful image?

* * *

When children ask me about my ears and tail and if they are real, I tell them that sometimes people are born with parts missing, and we create pieces to make them feel whole.  That sometimes there is an accident and one needs to fix it, and that I have made my ears and tail to feel whole, because otherwise it feels as if they are missing.

Children I have told this seem to have understood what I have meant, and not thought it to be traumatic or odd in any way.  When they ask me if I’m a real cat I tell them that no, I’m not a real cat, but I have some parts of me which I feel are cat-like and that they are also a part of me.

In a similar way I have explained about transsexual people to children.  A bit simplified, as in the case of death, but in a way that they could understand.  That sometimes a girl is born which looks like a boy, and nowadays doctors can make the girl look like a girl.  That sometimes a boy is born which looks like a girl and that doctors can fix that too.  That it’s really hard for those girls and boys to be treated like something they are not and that looking the right way makes everything less confusing.

Children can understand that it would be a bad thing not to be allowed to be what they are, and that if there is a way to fix this, it’s a good thing.

Just don’t forget to tell them that if a girl want to dress up as a knight, that is fine too, and if a boy want to dress up as a princess, let him do that as well.  There is nothing wrong with this.  Just as women can play football and be astronauts and men can be nurses and love cooking.  Just let them be themselves without judging them (unless what they are is something along the lines of a cruel sadist who loves stomping on worms after a rain in which case one should explain that such things are not all right) and most things will be well.

* * *

Children are really clever.  One can actually talk to them and discuss things with them.  Children are people, like us, who are still learning a lot of things.  They are very good at learning things and figuring things out.  They do this all of the time, by looking at adults and trying to figure out what we are doing.  They want to be like us, so it is our duty to be good role models for them.  To be the best we can be around them (and hopefully around other adults as well).

Children may not always do what we want them to do, just as other adult people may not always do what we want them to do.  Children do have their own likes and dislikes and interests and ideas and it is terribly important to respect children and treat them as real people.  Like we want them to learn to treat others.

Of course this doesn’t mean that children should be allowed to do whatever they want and refuse to do whatever they don’t want.  We must give children medicine when they are sick even if it tastes awful, but it is a really good idea to sit down with the child and explain what is going on.  A sick child will not feel very well, and this is unpleasant.  One can explain that the awful-tasting stuff will make the child feel better, and the child will notice that things are actually feeling a lot better after a while.

* * *

When I was younger (perhaps sixteen) our neighbour’s daughter (who was around nine) came around a lot.  She really liked me, probably because I treated her like a real person and didn’t laugh at or ignore her questions, but happily told her what I knew.  I told her about rats and animals, how to make fires, how to defend oneself, how to be a good person.  I told her stories and I told her about the world.  I asked her questions in return, to make her figure out her own answers.

One day, her mother came up with her when I was sitting at my computer, and told me in very simple English that she was going away and her daughter wanted to stay with me and I had to tell her daughter that I was going away as well and that she had to stay with her father.  She then left her daughter with me, putting the responsibility on me instead.

I could have done that.  I could have lied to her daughter and said that I would be away and that we would meet again after the weekend.  It would have been really simple.  I already knew which words I was supposed to use.

But I didn’t do that.  I sat down on the floor with her and told her that her mother wanted me to say something untrue to her, because her mother was afraid that if I didn’t, she would not understand.  I told her that I knew that she was a reasonable person, and that she really should go and visit her father, who she rarely visited, because otherwise she may regret it later.  That she could meet me almost any other day, but that visiting him was an opportunity which happened very rarely, and that I would still be there after the weekend.

She agreed that of course the best thing was to go and visit her father and that she would see me again when she came home.  I really wish her mother would have sat down with her and had that discussion with her instead, because it was a great one and it feels a bit sad that her mother missed out on it.

* * *

In short, children are people and they deserve to be treated with the same respect as other people.  Sometimes, they deserve even more consideration and respect than adults do, because children are still trying to make sense of what is happening around them.  They are rarely asking all those “stupid questions” to be annoying, they just really don’t know very much yet.  They are trying to learn, and if you want children to learn things, you will have to teach them.  You will have to explain to them, perhaps several times, but it’s really worth it in the end.

Children deserve so much better than being lied to or being ignored.  They are trying really hard to learn and make sense of this complex world we live in.  The least they should be able to expect from us adults is to do an effort to explain things to them and answer their questions even if they seem silly and stupid to us who already have the answers.

Failing all else, the least they should be able to trust us with is not making things worse and even more complicated by wilfully deceiving them.

 

/pao – 21 apr 2013 – 18.47

 

  1. It is so true the things you write. I wish that more people would reed your Blogg. Looking forward to reading more. Hugs