I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently – how much do children really understand? Things haven’t been the easiest over the past few months for various reasons but trying to gauge just how much Jack really understands or comprehends can be quite difficult.
We’ve had a lot go on in the past year or so – family bereavements plus the deaths of close family friends, my missed miscarriage. In recent weeks we’ve had about five deaths of close family and friends plus my Dad hospitalised with an infection – it has been a very stressful time. This culminated on Saturday morning when I received a panicked call from my Mum telling me she needed to get to the hospital NOW – they wouldn’t tell her why. I got Jack up and dressed and my in laws came and picked him up before I joined my Mum at the hospital. I wasn’t sure on how much Jack had really and truly understood of the situation until that evening when he was home.
He asked what had happened with Grandad (he knew Grandad was in the hospital poorly with an infection) and why I had to rush there. I explained that his heart had become a little poorly (my Dad had suffered a minor cardiac arrest) and we had to go see him at hospital but he was doing much better. The clarity with which he replied shocked me – he seemed to understand just what had happened and how serious the situation was – something I totally didn’t expect.
He’s been talking about life and death a lot recently and he seems to have finally understood about the baby from our missed miscarriage, his Nan and Grandad’s pet dog who was his best friend and my friend’s two cats. He understands they aren’t here anymore and that they’ve passed away but takes comfort in the fact that they’re looking after each other.
We’ve always been keen to shield him from bad news. We don’t mean lie to him – we do tell him what has happened but at a reasonable point in time and not when it could really affect him – his Nan and Grandad’s dog actually passed away at the beginning of the week that he started Reception but we waited until the weekend to tell him as we didn’t want his first memories of school tarnished with sadness. We’ve also had a family bereavement in recent weeks which we’ve waited to tell him about due to Christmas – we are adults and can deal with our emotion accordingly, it wasn’t fair to put that on him just before Christmas and make that a horrible memory for years to come.
But how much do children really understand? I don’t claim to think for Jack or think I know what he’s thinking – or in fact, any child – but we do like to believe in the innocence of youth, don’t we? In fact, they often have much more clarity on certain topics we don’t expect them to and gauge and take in a lot more than we perhaps think they do – just yesterday I had various phone calls with family members about my Dad being steadfastly adamant that he wants to get out of hospital – I didn’t realise Jack had been listening in to these calls but he told me yesterday that when he sees Grandad, he’s going to tell him off and that he needs to stay in the hospital until he’s properly better – I’d never even mentioned anything to him about his Grandad’s behaviour so it showed me just how much he is taking in – how much of the world around him he is beginning to understand.
Whilst it is of course important to preserve our children’s innocence as long as possible, it is clear to see we are not living in an innocent world and our children are clocking onto things a lot more – and a lot earlier – than we would possibly have expected them to. How to deal with this, I don’t know – I guess it is just another path our parenting journey will take us down with lots of twists and turns that we need to figure out for ourselves.
What are your thoughts?