Reasoning with a 3-year-old

2009 October 22
by Evan Lenz

Little boy thinkingTo some, this blog post title might sound like an oxymoron. On many days, it seems that way to me. On the other hand, when I’ve taken the time to truly try and connect with my 3-year-old son, it’s amazing what kind of mutual understanding we can have.

He has been going through a phase of wanting things to be a particular way and then getting upset when it doesn’t turn out that way. (Actually, that sounds like most adults when I put it that way.) But they’re ridiculous things like, “I want to go with you to get my glass of water! Put it back, leave it there, come back upstairs, and then we’ll go down together!!!” Over and over again.

But yesterday, during one of these moments, I took some time to speak calmly with him, go into the other room, and get through to him (distracting him from his current pain and frustration). I explained how he doesn’t have to be a slave to his every desire. Of course, “slave” and “desire” are still big words for most 3-year-olds. So I demonstrated what I meant. I pretended to be the slave, while he was my master. He told me to do different things and I reluctantly but obediently did everything he told me to do. Pick up this, move that, go over there. That way he could get the concept of “slave”. Then I told him how he was acting like a slave to the things that he said he wanted. I told him he has a choice and he could choose not to be a slave. He could also choose to want something different. Right then, our eyes met and I could see he understood at a real, significant level. He instantly let out a big sigh, and said, “Okay”.

It was a nice moment of connection. I cherish moments of connection like this. But I think there’s a prerequisite to having these moments: you have to respect your child’s ability to reason and understand. And to respect that ability, you have to acknowledge they have this capacity in the first place.

This may seem obvious, but I challenge you to evaluate your own behavior. Are you acting as if you believe your child has the ability to reason and understand? And are you respecting their feelings? I challenge you, regardless of your child’s age. In our culture, it’s acceptable to treat kids of all ages with disrespect and disregard. To respect your kids as human beings, you have to resist some things that are culturally acceptable.

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