Two four-year-olds announced at circle time that their parents are “superheroes.” It’s interesting that they were both boys describing their mothers. “My mother saves animals,” a boy exclaimed. “She goes into burning houses to get the animals out.” The other student didn’t try to compete with that heroic image. He said that his mom helps people by working on computers. When I asked the mom purported to rush into fires, she said that she hadn’t gone that far. But their family had helped at least one dog that was lost by keeping it in their back yard.
This embellishment reflects the imagination of four-year-olds but also the powerful images children have of their parents (before they start seeing us as human). Do you remember thinking that your dad could “beat anybody up”? This specific belief actually comes up on some social occasions: “My dad is stronger than you or your dad.” This usually means that my dad could back me up on making you see things my way.
It’s nicer for children to have an image of parents helping rather than harming, and the idea of helping brings up an important research finding. Many, perhaps most, of Meher School parents take joy in helping others or making positive contributions to the world. However, if you want your children to value their abilities to offer aid to others, it’s important for you to talk about your good deeds and higher aspirations. Children don’t always do what we do because it’s positive. They need to hear our explanations of why we do it and how it makes us feel. “It makes me happy when I make soup for our neighbor who is sick. Then I know he can stay in bed and rest.” “I feel good when I give money to charity because that money will buy clothes for someone who can’t keep warm.”
Talking about how your job helps others also paints a fulfilling picture of the world. In past times, people might simply say, “I work so we have food to put on the table.” However, humanity is evolving, and children benefit from hearing about the connectedness of people. “When I fix someone’s computer, they can send messages to people they love in faraway places.” “I love being a speech pathologist because I can help children learn to talk better.”
The idea of helping is contagious right now, providing us with superhero role models of giving, like Bill Gates or ordinary adults and children all over the country who hear of a need and try to fill it. Our children need to hear about these people who exert their inner powers of determination and creativity to change the world. Ultimately, it’s so much more impressive than super-heroes like Batman scaling a wall or jumping on top of moving cars.
Susan Isaacs Kohl, is director of the White Pony preschool in Lafayette. She is the author of The Best Things Parents Do (Conari 2004) and four other books and numerous articles for parents.