It’s Not All Mary Poppins

The child is a genius

We are preparing to go out. (To the park! Because it’s SPRING!!! FINALLY!!!!!) Three tots, their shoes and sweaters on, sit side-by-side on the bottom step of the inside stairs. The fourth is getting his shoes on, and the fifth is descending the stairs, having had her precautionary pre-park pee.

Hearing the child approaching from behind, Emily, who is one of the three on the bottom step, stands up to allow descending child to pass.

Now, anyone who has not worked with toddlers would think that I was still setting the stage for my story. They would not realize they had just read the punch line. Let’s revisit that sentence, shall we?

Hearing the child approaching from behind, Emily, who is one of the three on the bottom step, stands up to allow descending child to pass.

Let me remind you all: Emily is two and a half. She has a) heard the child coming at her from behind, b) realized she is blocking their path c) decided to move out of the way — all spontaneously, without any adult direction whatsoever.

This is phenomenal. What is really, truly phenomenal about this is that she has never been told to do this. She just has the feel for common courtesy.

This is not to say the other children are wilfully rude. Well, yes, sometimes they are, of course. They are toddlers. (So, for that matter, is Emily. She does occasionally indulge in selfishness or willful rudness. When I say “occasional”, though, I do mean occasional. It’s really quite striking.) But mostly, they are typical toddlers, which is to say, largely oblivious of their impact on others, with occasional sparks of awareness.

This is not to say the other children don’t evidence positive behaviours, either. They do.

The thing is, with Emily, it’s innate. She just gets it. In a dozen little ways every single day, she evidences awareness, concern, consideration and empathy far and away above the capabilities of the average toddler.

The other children need to be taught this behaviour on a case-by-case basis. So I could explain to the other two on the step: “When someone is coming down the stairs, you need to stand up so they can get by. Otherwise, they will be stuck on the stairs.” It would have to be explained, and then it would have to be practiced.

Emily has never needed this explanation. Ever. She just does this stuff. In the couple of decades I’ve been working with children, I have never seen such a young child so naturally aware of others and considerate. (Heck, a lot of 9-year-olds wouldn’t think to shift themselves without their buddy saying “Hey! Yer in my way!”)

She was taught to say “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, and “sorry”, of course, just as were all the toddlers, both at my home and with their families. But Emily is the only one who can generalize: she gets the principle behind the behaviour and applies it wherever it’s required, virtually flawlessly. With the other children, if there’s a new nuance to the situation, if it’s not identical, or at least very, very similar to another situation they’ve enountered, they will need to have it explained anew, “This is a time to say ‘excuse me’, or ‘thank you’.” Not Emily.

She bumps into someone, “Excuse me!” I move to one side so she can get a toy from behind me. “Thank you.” Someone finishes a painting. “Oh, that is a very nice painting!” She tells others when they’ve done a good job, she encourages and excuses, she takes turns, she shares first, she offers to trade when she has something another child wants. She hugs a sad child, she claps for a happy child. All things that toddlers do do, of course — but not like this.

She also instructs the other children. “You hitted him and now he’s sad and you need to say ‘sorry’ and give him a hug.” “He has the book now. You want to read it with him, or read another book?” At two years, five months old! This child is a social genius.

And when someone she can’t even see approaches, she anticipates their need and meets it. No fuss, no delay. She understands.


And when she had stood up to let Malli pass? Malli stole her seat.

Now that’s typical toddler behaviour.

April 24, 2008 Posted by | Emily, individuality, manners | 12 Comments