Are we really aware of what children overhear during our conversations, what could they possibly be learning from us?
My baby, my son. There he is, sitting among what seems like hundreds of Hot Wheels cars. He's made a makeshift ramp out of stray magazines and is making sputtering, growling car noises with his mouth. He's oblivious to what is happening around him...or is he? Without realizing it, he may hear more than I know. Often he seems totally absorbed in an activity, not hearing what I may say on the phone or to someone at church, when, in actuality, he's absorbing every word into his unbelievably exact memory.
As a good parent, I want what all parents want. I wish all good be known to my son, all truths, all knowledge; but I often feel that maybe I'm falling short. I also try to shelter him from the terrible evils of the world, which has become increasingly difficult in these days of violence and chaos. I worry he will be overburdened, or not grasp the meaning intended at his fragile age of six. He increasingly amazes me, though, with his sense of understanding. He possesses a dual understanding of the real world while holding fast to his own internal thoughts and rules. While the simple things in life like forgetting leftovers at a restaurant or a misplaced toy can ruin his day, he seems to have a sort of grip on the serious world. He keeps about him a simple reasoning of how things should be outside of his realm. The things I think would be most upsetting to him are not, and things I don't see as a problem come back to haunt us as tremendous fears for him.
He also makes a point of asking questions. Lots of questions! Once, while taking a bath, he called to me to ask, "Does God have a head?" It seemed silly, but it was a serious question my then five-year-old was asking. As time passed, he inquired more and more. "Is God a man or a woman?" Another occasion, upon hearing that a talk radio host was on vacation (not one we even listen to), he said in a relieved tone, "Oh good! Now we won't have to listen about aliens or how people come back as bugs or something!" Though he was correct about that particular speaker who covers those subjects, I can only imagine that he heard an ad or something promoting the show. The point is our children hear and understand more then we know is clearly established.
At every turn I see that God's truths are getting through to him, not only from us, his parents; but also from those around him and from what he hears and learns at church. I sometimes overhear him during a service, commenting on what is being said, with a "That's right!" or a "huh?" as he looks towards me with a questioning look on his face.
He has been known to verbally attack family members who don't eat according to God's health laws. He has also corrected others when they speak of going to heaven when they die, (as he knows that the dead know nothing until resurrection.) While I'm not always pleased with his delivery of these messages, I do get the opportunity to see that he had been listening and learning all the while. The most difficult time of year for him has finally passed. Since we don't observe Christmas, the month of December through the first week of January are difficult. He experiences a constant barrage of well-meaning adults who ask if he is excited about Santa and/or Christmas. He always answers, "We don't keep Christmas." But as we know, others don't always easily accept that belief. I found it interesting during the week following Christmas, when asked if he had received many gifts, he responded with the usual, "We don't keep Christmas." but then added, "We don't really see the point of..." I was waiting to hear him finish this sentence, but he was abruptly cut off by the person asking the question, and couldn't remember later when asked. He is continually annoyed by these confrontations, and I see that it often weighs heavy on him emotionally. The world seems to be constantly tugging at him. He wondered aloud this year what harm there would be in just sharing presents at Christmas.
I think it is most important to watch for those moments when our children are overtaken with confusing or conflicting information. We must be there to listen and discuss the misinformation with them, to allow them to open up and not feel like they are doing or saying anything wrong, and then calmly go over things with them. I did this with my son on the issue of sharing gifts and he soon saw the harm and understood better the blessings he already has in his life.
God tells us in Proverbs 22:6 to lead our children in the way they should go. I don't necessarily believe that means pounding the law in to them, but more so in being the examples we are expected to be, and being there, to answer the easy and often very tough questions. One of the best insights I have into my son's way of thinking is hearing his nightly prayers. While I am sometimes in awe of his caring heart, he is also often a reminder to my husband and me of how we ourselves should be thinking. In recent prayers he has expressed worry for all who are without enough food, he's asked for God to heal the sick, that America be done with bombing Afghanistan and that Bin Laden be caught so terrorism would come to an end. He prays for peace, he prays for people to love one another, he prays for the major, but also the very minor things in life. Oh...and he prays for snow, even in August. He loves snow.
What have I learned? To trust that he sees, hears and understands more then I will ever know. I've also been reminded of the things I often overlook. Things I should be thinking or praying about myself. Sometimes it's the little things that make a difference. I understand God's plan a little clearer sometimes when I see it through my child's eyes. A child has an unblemished view of things and holds no real grudges. He continually amazes me with the knowledge he holds in subjects I had no idea he was even aware of. I have also learned that there is a lot of truth to the old saying, "little pictures have big ears." Children are listening when we are unaware of it. Children understand more then we give them credit for, but they also can be led astray, oh, so easily. Listening and watching my own words and deeds are the most important things I can do for both my child and other children around me.
So, I guess I will always worry for him, want for him and try to protect him. In the long run, though, he will come away with more than I can give him with my words. He will watch and listen to everyone and everything around him as all children do. All I can hope for is that what he sees and hears is mostly good, and that what isn't good, will show itself as such to him.
So remember, they are LISTENING. Are you?