What Do You Think Matters to Children Under 4?

Not so long ago, someone I am close to commented that everything we do for children up through age three is actually for the parents.  I know she did not mean “everything” literally.  She couldn’t have.  I have seen her play with my children, and she certainly understands that this is valuable to all 3 of them – not just the one over the age of 4.  What I believe she meant (in context) was that birthday parties….and trips to Sea World… are really for the parents – unless the child is over the age of 4.

It's my party!

And you know, if I had never been a Mommy to M, I might have agreed.  His brothers like attention as much as any other kid, but they also seem as content with a party of 5 as one of 20, as long as there’s ice cream and cake.  M, however, is different.  He loves to party – and always has – very nearly since the day he was born.  And here’s the thing – for M, the more people there are, the better he likes it.

Mr. Coffee and I took him to parties, restaurants, festivals, and art openings when he was still small enough to attend wearing a basic black Baby Bjorn.  We went to far more of these activities than we would have left to our own devices.  And we did it because it made M very happy. 

So, while M may not be able to remember all of these events, I do think it mattered to him.  It mattered that we were responsive to his personality, his desires, and his inherent temperament.  I believe it built trust for us and confidence in himself. 

Rocking the Art Opening

I could be totally off-base, of course, but I like to believe that our ability to put ourselves out of our comfort zone so that he could be in his own had a huge impact on him.  In fact, up until age 4, he was deliriously happy.  After that age, life threw him various curves – his nightly shot, his angry introduction to his brother, the death of pets and loved ones, and I believe that those 4 deliriously happy years gave him a well of self to draw from.  Those years may always be the base of who he is.  Honestly, I hope so.

So what about you?  What do you think matters to children under the age of 4?  How has it varied for the children in your life?


9 thoughts on “What Do You Think Matters to Children Under 4?

  1. I’ve only got one child, but I can tell you that one child loves the adventures we take him on. This is especially true where animals are involved. He lights up and tries to interact with them however possible.

    We haven’t done much in the way of parties, but you can bet he’ll have a birthday party every year. He seemed to relish the audience at his first party–especially the kids!–and will, if he’s anything like his mama, relish it even more when he looks at the pictures twenty years down the line.

    1. Hello Deborah – Yes!

      I DO believe that the lighting up means we ARE doing the right things for THEM.

      We have spent a LOT of time at museums because M was wildly passionate about dinosaurs for a long time. We all had fun and learned a lot.

      C is all about trains. But he also love (wait for it) the mall! So…I have been to the mall a lot more lately than I would have EVER gone on my own! K (son 3) well, it’s hard to tell yet, but more learning and more playing are certainly in our future. I can hardly wait.

      Thank you for your comment!

  2. I suspect that there is truth on both sides. I’m sure that some of the activities parents plan for very young children have less to do with the enjoyment or edification of the child than the parents might hope. Parents might organize some activities because they hope they will be edifying for the child or because they think parents and children should do such things or because it enhances their public image as good parents, etc. On the other hand, it is absolutely clear that very young children learn and grow from their experiences, even if the impact of any one experience is hard to discern in some cases.

    What I get from your post is the need to mindfully create a rich learning environment based on the individual needs of the child, rather than based on some idea of what the child ought to like. You chose to create an experiential environment that seemed to be the best fit for each child. There is such a complex, dynamic interaction between the child and the environment that it is hard to imagine that this wouldn’t have some kind of effect, but determining the exact nature of the benefit would be difficult.

    The example from my own childhood that comes to mind is the time my parents rented a pony for a birthday party for my brother and me. I’m not sure which birthday it was — maybe I was 3 or 4 — but wouldn’t you think that a pony would be a glorious addition to any child’s birthday party? Well, maybe it was for the guests, but I ran away in fear and hid (at least according to family legend). Clearly, it wasn’t a positive experience for me, but it might well have been for another child. The need is to calibrate such choices to create a good fit between child and environment and to learn from your child what works best. There were no ponies (or livestock of any kind) at any of my future parties, I can tell you that. 😉

    1. Hi Deb! Thoughtful – as always.

      Thank you for sharing your pony story! As with many other things, parenting IS a learning experience. (And as with many other things, we can learn or willfully hang onto our preconceived notions).

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