Children are like parrots

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The middle one had strep last week and missed two days of school.

The morning of her pediatrician appointment, we’d put her sisters on the bus and were patiently waiting for 8 a.m. so we could leave. As she climbed into my lap, I could feel the heat of her fever through her clothes. Even at nearly 9, she still fits solid and comfortable in the crook of my arm.

She looked up at me and then over the side table. In our house, pictures are everywhere – smiling faces, serious ones, formal school portraits and snapshots of the highlights of everyday life. It was one of those that caught her eye.

“Where was that taken?” she asked of the picture of Mr. Man and me.

“That was on the steps of the Parthenon in Tennessee,” I said.

Deadpanned she replied, “Momma, you’re the only 10 I see,” and with her next breath said, “I don’t know what that means. I heard it on TV.”

It was a compliment, so I took it at face value, but I think it proves an excellent point. Kids not only hear the things that are said around them, but they also have the ability to regurgitate them at will. At least this time, it was a compliment – whether she intended it to be or not.

I read somewhere that kids should come with this warning label: “Congratulations on your new parrot. Remember to feed it daily, and to be careful what you say around it.”

And it’s true, but think about this way. If they’re inclined to believe and retain what they hear from others and from TV, the same can be said about what you’re saying to them.

The Help author Kathryn Stockett had it right when her character, Aibileen Clark, told her young charge, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

When Aibi is asked why she does that, she replied that it was probably the only time in that child’s life she’d hear encouraging words. Based on the other book characters, I’d have to agree with that.

But the same can be said about the children in our lives. We should constantly remind them that they are beautiful – inside and out, smart and capable – and more importantly, that we believe in them.

I try to do that every chance I get. Truly, I do. But at this point, the only message that I’ve gotten to truly stick is this:

“There will be no fussing, no fighting, no whining, no crying, no pushing, no shoving and no buying – so don’t ask!”

Now, mine can repeat it verbatim – again proof they are paying attention. It serves as a reminder to me – and maybe to others – to use our time together and those opportunities wisely.