62. What’s Important?

Children can get quite upset about things that may not seem very important to us. Having the right pencil, sharpened just right. Being called on in class. Getting to show the class the thing you found outside yesterday. All of a sudden, there is a distraught look, a gush of tears, or a fight. And all for some detail that looks trivial to us. Our first reaction may be to try to get the child to see the triviality we see. But such attempts are usually doomed to failure. They will only serve to prove that you just don’t understand.
For they are in a different world – a world where it really doesn’t matter whether a certain expense is deductible, whether a certain procedure involves a co-payment or is completely covered. What matters is whether a certain pencil, purchased after a long stretch of agonizing, and perhaps some persistent and skillful nagging, is now sharpened and available for use, or has been expropriated by some evil character.
Of course, parents and teachers can’t spend all day mediating pencil custody disputes. There really are issues that, from an adult perspective, are much more important. But I believe something important is going on beneath the trivial-looking trauma. The child is finding out whether he/she is important. That pencil is more than a pencil; it is the child’s right to own something – to be seen as a person with inalienable rights. If that pencil (or rock, toy, or whatever) is important to the child, then we do damage when we say it’s not important.
So what do we do? Spend each day obsessing with the children on every issue that comes up? I don’t think so. As adults, we know that some issues important to us have to wait. I don’t think we ought to give children the impression that all of their issues are top priority items. At least some of our teaching and parenting should help children prepare for the cold, cruel world that doesn’t care a fig about whose pencil is whose.
But I do think we ought to recognize that they perceive things differently. That pencil that is just a writing implement to us may be an important part of the world of the child. We don’t have to live in that world, but when we deny or belittle it, we are not just throwing out bath water.

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