Remember that old phrase “little pitchers have big ears” ? That’s a phrase that my wife and I have really gained a better appreciation for in our house. And, no, it’s not that we’re worried about them picking up bad language (since we simply don’t use it). But we’ve really be quite surprised by what our oldest will pick up, even when we think she’s not really paying attention.
Of course, it’s a bit of fine line to walk, with what she listens to or not. For example, many times I’ll be talking directly to her, and think that’s she’s listening, only to have her response be “What did you say?” Now, depending on what else is going on, I might repeat myself. Or, as I’ve been doing more frequently, I’ll ask her what she thought I said. Nine times out of ten, she picked up most (if not all) of what I was saying. I use this not so much as an example of daily life communicating with a child (as most parents likely go through this repeatedly), but as an illustration of what she’s picking up on, even when she doesn’t think she was listening.
The next example pops up from when my wife and I are talking about something that we just need to cover (upcoming plans, what needs to get done, that sort of thing), while our daughter is occupied playing with some toys or doing some coloring. She’s pretty good about diving into some of those sorts of things, so it can be easier for us to forget that she’s nearby as our conversation continues. That is, until we hear a little voice pipe up asking for some clarification on something that was just said.
On one hand, this is a good thing. She’s there, somewhat listening, as mom and dad talk about things relevant and important to the functioning of our family. This lets her know that things are moving along as they should be, in harmony. In some measure, this should also stick with her as a point of reference that we work together as a family to accomplish things, rather than everyone doing what they think needs to be done, then recapping after all is said and done to see what was missed (I think that’s just the nature of our household, though – my wife and I are both planners, and like to know things in advance going into them).
The flip side of that coin is that perhaps it isn’t a conversation those little ears need to be picking up on, or it’s just plain something she’s not quite ready (developmentally) to understand. And, on a basic level, we already self-censor some things. There are topics that are ok to talk about in front of the kids, and then there’s the other category of stuff (good, bad, or otherwise) that you simply wait until the kids are asleep to dive into. Then there’s a third category, that gives you some (generally funny) unintended consequences.
That third category recently came to light on a recent trip to a toy store. Now, as some background to this, we’ve been talking about (and making steps towards) simplifying things in our house and lives. This mostly entails going over what things we truly need to have in a particular room (or in the house, to begin with), or what things we can get rid of (sell, donate, etc). In short, we think it’s the right path for our family to take – get rid of unnecessary clutter, and focus on quality and enjoyment of the things we do hold on to.clutt
Now, back to the toy store. My daughter loves going in to toy stores, primarily to go and play with their train table (for a long time, she would bring along her own Thomas and Percy). At some point while my wife, father-in-law, and kids were in the store, my oldest told her grandfather that it was ok to look around, but he couldn’t buy her anything, as she had too many things. Needless to say, this sounds pretty funny coming from a little kid! But it also demonstrates that she’s listening and processing in everything that goes on around her at home.
Yes, the clutter and chaos in some parts of the house comes from the kids’ stuff, but it’s not like my wife and I were living some spartan existence prior to their arrival. And while I appreciate that she’s picking up on the concept of what we’re trying to do, things like this can be tricky for her to put into the proper words (though, with her, vocabulary is certainly not an issue!) And while this is a fairly benign sort of thing going on in our house, it’s underscoring the fact that she’s picking up (intentionally or not) the conversations and activities going on around her, no matter how involved it may seem she is in something else.
While this hasn’t forced any drastic changes in when (or what) we talk about at the dinner table, it does give us another thing to be aware of – this little child of ours is growing up, and very aware of what’s going on around her. Rather than see this as something working against us, I choose to see it as a strength, albeit one we have to carefully nurture. For you parents out there, I’m curious to hear what your experiences are around this subject, be it a funny story, or some practical tips you’d like to share.