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Let's Talk Kids
Thu August 22, 2013
A recent summer storm provided an object lesson for a family I know. Making their way along an interstate highway on a weekend outing, the family drove into a violent storm moving erratically across the state.
Within minutes, hailstones pelted the car along with heavy rains. Visibility was seriously compromised. The parents prayed for safety and watched for an exit where they could get off the road to wait out the storm.
Meanwhile, the four-year-old in the back seat was alarmed by the noise of the pounding rain and hail. She asked her parents if they were safe.
Putting on her game face, the mom answered brightly, "We'll be ok, honey. I promise."
And with that, the little girl snuggled into her car seat and went peacefully to sleep. Despite the parents’ own very real worry and fear, their child’s complete confidence in them was enough to eradicate her fright.
Learning about trust is something children do well, and they do it early in their lives.
Child developmentalist Erik Erikson described stages of social-emotional learning in young children. He observed that during the first eighteen months, a child learns basic “trust versus mistrust.” In other words, by the age of only a year and a half, he knows who he can and cannot trust.
Once he’s learned to make this determination, he blindly trusts those who he deems worthy of his confidence. Of course it is the work of adolescence to question everything kids had earlier accepted as true. But during early childhood, trust is complete. Parents can tell their children the moon is made of cheese and kids will fiercely defend that fact on the preschool playground.
And so when a parent of a preschooler assures her daughter that she is safe, the child is free to sleep an untroubled slumber. This is a fleeting gift to moms and dads in the years when children recognize the power of their parents more than they fear the ferocity of the storm.
This responsibility invests tremendous power in parents who—in their young children’s eyes—can calm any storm.