A Bright Orange Crayola
I’ve always thought children were wonderfully intelligent but what I like most about them is their honesty, that they are genuine. They haven’t learned the dangers of showing your real feelings or real thoughts.
And they’re bright. Children are learning at incredible rate. Did you know that that by the time a baby is five months old, it has learned to match the facial expressions of an adult? By the time a child is five, its ability to understand facial expressions is almost as good as an adult. And they are clever. How clever?
Let me tell you a story.
On the wall of my office is a picture from a coloring book marked with a bright orange crayon.
There was a five year old and I gave her a piece of candy, something to color and some Crayolas to color with. I expected her to be gone for a while but she came back very quickly and asked for more candy. I from the very heights of adult wisdom told her she could have one as soon as she finished coloring her picture. She said, “That’ll take forever!” and left apparently depressed. She then returned very quickly with the entire picture colored with broad strokes from the aforementioned orange Crayola. She wasn’t very much in the lines but she did color the whole picture.
She out foxed me. I told her to color the picture. I didn’t specify how or in what manner or even that she should use more than one color. She had held to the strict terms of the agreement and defeated my intent that she spend at least ten minutes coloring. It was a triumph of lawyerly reasoning and I the actual lawyer was on the short end of the stick being out reasoned and out thought by a little girl.
Of course, the stakes were very small. I keep a good amount of candy in my office. Being a diabetic I can’t eat it myself so it all goes to the occasional visiting child and sometimes a co-worker comes by and gets one. Since I can no longer eat candy, I buy the expensive dark chocolate and caramels and live vicariously through other people’s happiness while eating them.
But even thought the stakes were small, a loss is a loss, and being clobbered in a David vs. Goliath style struggle is pretty unsettling when you play the Goliath role. Nevertheless, I admire her for it. She was clever and knew how to think and that’s at five years of age.
Of course, the sporadic visits of children to the office are not my only experience with the learning power or reasoning of the very young.
I have one son who is now twenty-four. When he was just a small boy, instead of telling him no all the time, we made a deal. If he could give me a good reason to have something. I’d buy it for him. At first he was clumsy and made poor arguments but very rapidly began to develop real negotiating skill. And I kept the bargain. If he argued well, he got toys, and as time went by, the toys became video games and then movies and books. A few years ago, I watched him negotiate with his buddies while playing a D&D style game. It was like watching a shark in a pool full of minnows.
With children, it’s important to listen to them and cultivate their abilities. I know it is hard. They often repeat arguments, have outlandish ideas and no experience. But if you stay with it, pay attention and talk to them like adults, it pays off.