Do you struggle to explain the meaning of certain words to your young children? Is it hard to find the right words to accurately, but age-appropriately explain the true definition of what they are asking? Well, at times, it is for my husband and I.
Tonight, as we read books to the kids, we read one of my daughter’s new books that she received for her 6th birthday. Thanks to one of her uncles, we were reading a book called “I am Abraham Lincoln” by Brad Meltzer, which is part of the “Ordinary People Change the World Series” put forth by Dial Books for Young Readers, (a division of Penguin Young Readers Group). I highly recommend these books as they are easy to read and understand (for the most part), have great illustrations, are informative, but are not too lengthy. I say that these books are mostly easy to understand because they contain some words that are not typically used in an everyday conversation with young children, or discussions that they would be having with friends their own age. Because of this, your child may be curious about some of the verbiage in the books.
As my husband was reading a page in the book, he read a sentence which included the word “character”. My daughter stopped him to ask what it meant. He went on to explain it to her, in somewhat simple, age-appropriate terms, that basically character is who you are and how you behave. He shared with her that people who have good character always (or usually) do the right thing and those with bad character typically (but not always) do not.
In my mind, my daughter had asked a follow-up question…“so you and Daddy have bad character?!” Crush, dagger to the heart. Thankfully, she didn’t really ask that, but I did think that.
I did and do think she could have had every right to have that thought and share it with us. Why? Because she would be right.
If people with good character usually do the right thing, like we told her, and Mommy and Daddy make a lot of mistakes, then we must have bad character. That is kid logic and understandably, they have it partially right. But — we try to do the right thing — most of the time, and then creeps in exhaustion, anxiety, and stress; and sometimes this, or other things, can lead to us doing the wrong thing or make the wrong decision in a given situation.
See, the true definition of character is “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”. Defining character as that for my daughter would not really make sense to her. “What’s mental?” “What’s moral?” “What is a quality?” ‘What does distinctive mean?” These would be all of her questions. So, to avoid an interrogation around the word character, my husband attempted to give a simpler, more concise explanation of it.
I do what he did all of the time — throughout the whole day. When the kiddies ask Mommy about words they don’t understand or tough topics to explain, I attempt to describe it for them in an elementary and uncomplicated way. Yes, it is true that I probably do this more for me sometimes than for them, but that is the honest reality of life with children and their constant “whys”.
But, guess what? My husband and I are doing this wrong — all wrong. Yep, even in our attempt to do it right, we are often misleading our children by trying to simplify complicated words, topics, and ideas. Sometimes a complicated word/topic/idea deserves the complicated explanation. Our children deserve accurate explanations of topics that are harder to understand. See, life is just not as cut and dry as some definitions are. Most situations and moments are not black and white and coated in sprinkles like we tend to portray to our kids.
Character is not just one thing either. There is good character and bad character, and I would venture to say that there is some whose character fall somewhere in the middle. Good character is something that most of us want our children to have. But, how can we expect them to have it if we can’t even explain it to them correctly?
Life is complicated. Values are complicated. People are complicated. We must approach complicated words and other complicated ideas with honest and complicated answers. Even more than providing verbal answers, we should be answering them by exemplifying the meaning of the words through our modeling.
A lot of time people change their behavior when they think no one will notice or is paying attention. But guess what? Our children, well, they notice everything. Those little people in our lives have their eyes and ears on us constantly, whether we think they do or not. Kids are smart. They know when we are just talking out of our rear and when we are living our talk.
Here is a short list of some of the words with complicated meanings that might be challenging to explain to young children:
One of our ultimate goals as parents is to empower our children, and inspire them with important traits that make them better people. To do this, we must take the time and make the effort to define and explain sophisticated and somewhat perplexing words and topics to them. And you know what, we need to do it with an open ear, an encouraging attitude, and with no time clock on the conversation.