Sometimes my 2 year old (Abbey) will come out with the strangest, weirdest statements, or do the oddest things (often categorised by parents as ‘sweet’, rather than down right freaky). For example, one day my wife was picking Abbey up from nursery. Abbey bounded out the nursery school door and, as she was toddling along home, started proclaiming loudly: "I’m not scared of daddy……I’m not scared of daddy.” Hoping no other parents were in ear shot, my wife picked up the pace and made a quick exit. Now, it is important to understand here that neither myself or my wife had knowingly done anything that was ‘scary’ or traumatising to her in any way. And oddly she didn’t seem particularly upset when she was saying this statement. Even when she got home, she ran straight up to me as normal to say hello and have a cuddle – yet she still kept announcing she was ‘not scared’ of me.
So the question I have gotten into habit of asking myself in these bizarre circumstances is ‘What must be true in order for her to think or do that?’ I began the slightly painful process of trying to find out by eliciting information as to what was going on in her little head (bear in mind trying to get straight answers out of a 2 year old is quite hard work as they are such lateral thinkers). Anyway the long and short of it was that on a TV show called ‘Dora the Explorer’ the main character had been involved in some narrative with a fox. At the end of the show, Dora sings a song saying ‘I’m not scared.’ As the fox portrayed in this story was a nice fox – if a bit naughty and noisy – it meant that ‘scared’ seemed an okay word and state for Abbey. So what she really meant when she was shouting ‘I am not scared of Daddy,’ was that Daddy is quite naughty, a bit fun and noisy (similar to many psychology assessments I have received).
As we develop, we seek patterns for our understanding and use words to represent those patterns. While to most of us ‘scared’ means something ‘bad’ or something to worry about, for Abbey it doesn’t (yet).
The learning from this story is that while you might give a 2 year old the benefit of a wide interpretation of meaning on words, we don’t do that with adults. With adult, we assume that when they say a word, they roughly mean what we do…which can lead to all sorts of assumptions, misunderstandings and court cases.
So the key question is ‘what must be true in order for them to think or do that?’ So next time you are confused (or even worse...) about what someone else is saying or doing, ask yourself that question - it might help your insight about what you need to do to enable them to change, or even better, you to change.