5 life lessons from my 4-year-old

Simple, life-changing lessons, courtesy of my littlest.

Mud, mess, chaos, noise… This is what I expected when I went from one son to two. Little did I realize that my little boy would also turn out to be my very own pint-sized life guru.

Lesson One: Stand up for yourself

“We have to talk about Samuel,” the kindergarten teacher began. Uh-oh. “He got into a fight today with Hamad… and punched him.”

My sweet Samuel may only be 4, but has already had his first visit to the principal’s office. I wasn’t even surprised to be honest. If you knew my husband in high school, you wouldn’t be surprised either. Apple, meet tree.

But then came the full story.

The kids had all been taking turns on the trikes, and when it was his turn, Samuel politely approached Hamad: “It’s my turn now Hamad, please get off,” he said.

“No,” was the response.

“Hamad,” said little Sam, “It’s my turn.”

Hamad shrugged. “Too bad”, he said… before Sam gave him an almighty push off the trike. Hamad came up with his fists swinging; Sam put his fists up, and the playground came to standstill, mouths agape at the sight of two kids swinging wildly at each other.

“Your child is not afraid of anyone,” said his teacher to me later. “Hamad is a full head-and-a-half taller than him as well. I have to be honest, it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”

Pint-Sized Guru Lesson # 1: We’re obviously not advocating a fistfight between pre-schoolers, but any one of us is likely to come up against a bully at some point. And even if the bully is bigger or more powerful than you, do what Samuel did: stand up for what you feel is fair. Set your boundaries, and be prepared to defend them.


Lesson Two: Hug like you mean it

I should have known Sam was going to be a serious hugger. When he was a baby, he’d grip both my shoulders tightly and tighten his hands into fists, giving me an almighty hug the best way he knew how.

Fast forward a few years, and he now has the ability to pretty much squeeze the life out of you. A Samuel hug should be patented. He doesn’t dish them out frequently, they usually happen when you least expect it, and he takes it very, very seriously.

Pint-Sized Guru Lesson # 2: When you love someone, a half-hearted bro-style hug will not do. Get in there man, hug it out, put your heart into it, and let them know how you feel.


Lesson Three: Say “no” when you want to

“Sam, wanna go swim?”

“No thanks.”

“Sam, let’s play pirates.”

“No thanks.”

“Sam, eat your peas.”

“No thanks.”

When you’re a lifelong people-pleaser, learning to say no is one of the most uncomfortable, unnatural things you could do. Ask me, I know. I’ve been the sucker who worked until the moment my waters broke to meet a deadline on a colleague’s project; I’ve gone to parties I knew I would hate (and did); and went on second dates I didn’t want. All because I hate saying that magic word and disappointing anyone.

Samuel has no such qualms. It’s liberating to watch.

Pint-Sized Guru Lesson # 3: You can say “no” in a nice way or a crappy way, but ultimately, the world keeps turning. Don’t be afraid of not living up to others’ expectations of you. The only person you need to keep happy is yourself (and your mother, of course).


Lesson Four: Follow your curiosity

A week ago, Samuel was into caterpillars and butterflies, only wanting to read ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, and talking incessantly about the butterfly’s life cycle.

The week before that, he was all about jungles.

This week he’s learning to write numbers and is gleefully reading them out everywhere. Seriously, a drive to the supermarket is like that scene in ‘Rainman’, where Dustin Hoffman reads out the store signs. “Six, five, ten… Four! I saw a four, Mommy!”

A child’s curiosity takes him on paths where he’s asking a million questions, picking things up, turning them this way and that, exploring, discovering, reading… When do we lose that?

Pint-Sized Guru Lesson # 4: Take pleasure in the world around you, the good things, the small things, and even the weird things. Ask questions, listen, and be willing to learn and grow.


Lesson Five: Create!

Here in the desert, there are very few months of the year that we can go play in the garden. One Saturday morning in January though, it was an absolute peach of a day. I dragged out some huge cardboard boxes, paints and crayons, and left the boys outside to run riot.

Twenty minutes later, the boxes were brightly painted and turned into time machines, which they pushed each other around in, yelling “Through the wormhole!” as they passed through a gap in the hedge.

Truth is, when I switch off anything with a screen, it astounds me how kids occupy themselves. And memories are made of “wormholes” in the garden, after all, aren’t they?

Pint-Sized Guru Lesson # 5: Pack away the to-do list; switch off the phone and the TV… and see what happens.