For a long time, I thought my toddler would never sit still for more than 5 minutes at a time, which is why I can remember the exact movie that m eldest child, Isy, first sat down and watched start to finish. It was an animated movie about a Native American boy, who gets turned into a bear by the ancestral spirits, so that he can learn about the interconnected nature of all living beings. I know what you’re thinking… that’s pretty deep for a kid’s movie. Yeah, I thought so too. But children are often much smarter than we think, and I am continually amazed by the leaps and mental bounds that both my children make each day.
In any case, in the beginning of the movie, right after the boy has been turned into a bear, he tries to speak to one of the elders in his village, not realizing that he is no longer human. The elder turns to him and says, “I don’t speak bear.” To me, that was an amusing, but altogether insignificant part of the movie. Little did I know, my toddler felt otherwise. We went on and watched the rest of the movie. I sat in awe as my toddler sat completely entertained by this movie for some 80 minutes. It became her favorite and she would ask to watch it everyday. I would not let her watch it everyday, because good message or not, that’s a lot of T.V. for such a small person, but she did watch it enough over the next month that I began to hum the soundtrack during my daily activities.
Isy would talk about the movie, sing along with the songs and name her dolls after some of the main characters, but outside of that I didn’t know what else she had picked up from the movie until we were in the kitchen with her father one day. Isy was displaying some typical toddler attitude, and being oh-so-defiant, as toddlers love to be. After a long day of reigning her in, I decided to let her dad field this particular episode. He began to talk to Isy about her behavior and she kept looking away. He told her to look at him while he was talking, and she refused. Then he raised his voice and told her that she had ears for listening, and she had better use them. At this point, Isy turned to her father and said, “I don’t speak bear.” I had to walk out of the kitchen to keep myself from laughing and completely undermining his authority.
I couldn’t believe what she had just said. But it was more than just the fact that she had remembered it, she had understood it enough to apply it to another situation. So while it was highly inappropriate for her to say something like that to her father, I was completely stunned by her comprehension and analytical thinking. Children are more than just sponges; they are much smarter than parrots. If we really take the time to think about the progression of their development in the first couple of years of their lives, it’s nothing short of extraordinary. When Isy was born, she could only express herself through a variety of giggles and groans, and she could barely hold her own head up. In two years time, she can now run, dance and carry on a conversation. When else in our lives do we go through that profound a transformation in a period of time that compressed?
This is why it is so crucial that we are very selective with the elements that we allow our children to be exposed to, especially in their first few years if development. It’s about more than not wanting them to parrot back some naughty word or phrase that they may hear on TV, it’s about what they process that word or phrase to mean. And that can be applied to all the factors that make up their environment. Children take every little piece of information that life affords, process it, and manifest it in some way, whether large or small. It is our job as parents to make sure that all those little pieces that we can control, are the best possible pieces that we can provide.