Monday, February 8, 2010

How To Speak To A 4 Year Old

Or rather, how to speak to this 4 year old.

Approach the creature with indifference. If you are happy to see her, feign boredom. If you are irritated by something she's done, feign boredom. In all things, feign boredom. The time for emotional displays will come later*, and you want to have plenty in reserve.

Begin the conversation by not speaking directly to her. For instance, you could talk to a toy on the floor or a shoe on your foot or even the voices in your head. Do not give in to the temptation to speak directly to the child though, or you might just scare it away along with any chance of eliciting information about her day or of what she's thinking.

Once she's been made aware of your physical proximity due to the private conversation you are holding with, say, her favorite princess figurine, the child will most likely initiate some words with you. A good way to guarantee this is to mis-speak some vital bit of information to the figurine. For example, "Oh, Snow White, I see you have a lovely dress on today. You must be getting ready to go to the ball with The Beast!" The perceptive 4 year old will be mortally offended at your slip up in General Princess Activities 101, and may interject the corrected information at once. (Hint: Make sure your gaffe isn't so dorky as to forever cement you into the loser's corner of the child's mind. This will happen later, around the time of adolescence, no matter what evasive measures you take. But there's no need to rush it; form your mistakes carefully.)

As soon as the 4 year old is speaking openly, you may wish to keep conversing about the subject at hand (a valuable tool for gaining the child's trust) or gently change the topic to something you are actually interested in. Be careful! This is a tricky maneuver and should only be undertaken with great skill and dexterity of mind. Only attempt to steer the conversation on your best parenting days, or the child will sense your desperation and shut herself up post-haste.

However, in the miraculous event that the creature is willing to speak her mind about a topic of your choosing, you have only a few minutes to get in...and get out. For example, if you wish to understand how much of her preschool lessons she's retaining, but fumble the question to make it seem like she's under interrogation, you'll either be met with firm resistance or a lengthy discourse from her about something entirely different. At no point should you give the appearance of actually desiring the information you're seeking. Instead, use your creativity to beat around the bush, so to speak.

Let's say you wish to know how many sounds the letter 'G' can make, and are hopeful that she's mastered the concept. As above when you snuck into conversation with her by mistaking Snow White for Belle, you may choose to sneak into this question. A good way to do this is to mispronounce something simple so the 4 year old can correct you. (Hint: 4 year olds, if allowed, will take the correction of adults very seriously, to the point of extreme bossiness. At present time, there is no known workaround for this malady. May God protect you on your journey.)

Once the 4 year old has corrected your mistake, you will be allowed the opportunity to see how extensive her knowledge is in the area in which you've chosen. If you'll remember, you were warned above to get in...and get out. The 4 year old's mind is a frightening terrain filled with valleys and veering paths so uncharted that your own sanity may be tested unless you remain rooted firmly in your adult reality. If you've gained the information you came to find, you may now retreat either by well-timed enthusiasm or deeper questioning. Either approach will shut you out of the 4 year old's mind immediately.

If, for whatever reason, you find yourself being dragged into the 4 year old's headgames, don't despair! Remember: YOU ARE THE ADULT. You CAN escape unscathed, though doubtlessly frustrated and confused. For example, if you accidentally fall prey to the child's 'Why?' trap, wherein you are subjected to a hall-of-mirrors situation of never ending, always recurring whys, there is only one way to extract yourself from the pit before being lost forever: explain the thing in such great detail so as to short-circuit the 4 year old's thoughts. Once she is lost in pondering your scientific and wordy explanation, you may leave quietly and become busy with a comfortable adult activity. Such as tax preparation or snow shoveling.

When you've become proficient in navigating the mind of a 4 year old (in regards to acceptable conversation, anyway), your time will be free for more weighty matters such as (but not limited to) How To Feed A 4 Year Old, How To Discipline A 4 Year Old, or How To Make A 4 Year Old Wipe Her Own Backside. All of which are lofty endeavors, indeed.

* Please don't make the mistake of never showing enthusiasm or appreciation to the 4 year old. Only be sure to understand that in moments where your desire is to open a channel of communication, the child will not be receptive unless your attitude conveys the appropriate amount of carelessness. Some obvious exceptions to this are birthdays, reunions after long absences, and tear-inducing injuries. In those cases, showing love and adoration are the only ways to proceed. You may love freely without worrying about either being shut out of, or sucked into the 4 year old's mind.

Best wishes to you, my fellow parents. (Hint: Best wishes can be loosely translated to mean, 'We're all a bunch of suckers.')


  1. We've been without internet access for days and I've missed you and your tricky-minded four year old!

    And I gave you an award too, just in case you're interested.

  2. Very very educational! Thanks for the lesson!

  3. LOL that is too funny. My 4 year old son is actually EXACTLY like that when it comes to drives my inlaws They talk to him and he won't answer unless that is they were to go about it in a roundabout way like you say and somehow mindgame him into a convo...only THEN will he cooperate and interact appropriatly.

    But,He has 3 older siblings that were nothing like that at his age though. It may be a personality thing I don't know but is tiring!

  4. Very cute post and quite insightful! I think I'll need to keep this on file for when Millie turns 4, because she sounds a LOT like Mia. However, Addie (my current 4 year old) is one who will keep talking incessantly and give you 5 times more info than you asked. I have to make sure I have enough time allotted in my schedule when I venture into conversation with her. So, I guess kinda the opposite problem... if only you could shed some light on how to approach this type of creature! :)

  5. Can you please write a book? Please?

  6. I'm with Dandy! I'm trying to keep all this pertinent knowledge handy in case I should need it some day...

  7. This is so funny! And I agree, write a book! I'm going to have to remember to come back and read this post in three years.

  8. too funny! thanks for the pointers...i'll need them in a few years. I already feel like Molly is playing mind games with me-she smiles and smiles and then when the camera comes out she is all business Or when she rolls over 3 times in one day and then when her daddy returns from a long trip & wants to see her roll and she refuses despite all the cheering and encouragement. Could this begin at such a young age? :)


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