Spend enough time around little children and you will see them misperceive something they have heard or been taught. Sometimes it is pretty funny. A few examples …
A nativity play performed by seven-year-olds. The young actors are positioned for the iconic gathering around the manger.
The first Wise Man steps forward with a small ornate box and says, “This is a gift of gold.”
The second Wise Man steps forward and says, “This is a gift of merrrr.” He then loudly whispers that it is really good-smelling, expensive oil. The audience snickers.
The third Wise Man steps forward and says, “Frank sent this.” Louder snickers, this time with a smattering of applause.
The child was a typical four-year-old girl – cute, inquisitive, bright as a new penny. When she expressed difficulty in grasping the concept of marriage, her father decided to pull out his wedding photo album, thinking visual images would help. One page after another, he pointed out the bride arriving at the church, the entrance, the wedding ceremony, the recessional, the reception, etc.
“Now do you understand?” he asked.
“I think so,” she said. “Is that when mommy came to work for us?”
One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Alex was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church. The plaque was covered with names, and small American flags were mounted on either side of it.
The seven-year old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up, stood beside the boy, and said quietly, “Good morning Alex.”
“Good morning pastor,” replied the young man, still focused on the plaque.
“Pastor, what is this?” Alex asked.
“Well, son, it’s a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service.”
Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Finally, little Alex asked, “Which service, the 8:30 or the 11:00?”
Children are generally fearless when it comes to being mistaken. One of the great benefits we enjoyed when we were very young was that life experience had not yet instructed us to be embarrassed or ashamed of being wrong. We saw no risk in making mistakes. Therefore, there wasn’t any.
So, what are we thinking and feeling when we see (or read) scenarios like those described above? In addition to enjoying the cuteness and hilarity of such misunderstandings, I believe that in those moments we adults are also marveling and sometimes even secretly envious of little kids. I think that we sometimes wish we could be every bit as free of care about silly slip-ups as children are; that we could be corrected and just roll with it; and that we could laugh at ourselves as easily as they do.
Well, take this as your reminder that you can. It is a choice, after all.
Creativity surges when mistakes are made to be an acceptable part of the process. Stress is reduced when we can laugh at ourselves and learn rather than being consumed with the impossible task of managing others’ perceptions. And happiness and a general satisfaction with life increases as we choose a childlike curiosity over the cautiousness that comes with perfectionism.
So, it’s okay when children get it wrong. It needn’t be any big deal for you or me either. May we celebrate our mistakes as some of the necessary stepping stones down the path of progress and growth and ultimate success.
That said, when kids get something right, like eight-year-old Rebecca who was asked what love is, it can be quite inspiring:
“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.”
Instead of conveying to children that the fearless way in which they observe and live and approach life is wrong, we ought to more carefully observe them and then emulate their example, especially their delightful habit of smiling and shrugging when they learn they have made a mistake. It is one of the most powerful and predictably consistent secrets of success.