Kids only hear half of what their parents say. It’s, like, science.
It doesn’t matter how many times you repeat yourself or how clear you think you have made yourself, on a daily basis your children will reveal that they’ve comprehended about a third of your message.
To keep things really amusing, they have an enormous capacity to fill in the blanks of what they didn’t hear.
The following is a list of scenarios all parents are familiar with that demonstrate the difficulty of attempting to communicate with children. Budding, perceptive, brilliant minds, my a—.
You are upstairs, outside or just generally out of earshot but your kid needs to ask you/tell you something urgently. When you hear them*, you say/holler:
“If you need me come upstairs/outside/within earshot because I can’t hear you. I’m in the shower/killing a cockroach/burying something the cat killed!”
“Stay exactly where you are and yell really loudly so I can be of assistance. Please make sure the panic in your voice is disproportionate to the matter at hand. For example, if you can’t find your favorite cup, scream like someone has broken into the house and we need to call the Special Victims Unit. However, if your sister has fractured her arm and the bone is protruding at a sickening angle through her skin — and, oh yeah, she has passed out — sit lazily at the bottom of the stairs and call out, ‘Mooooommmm.’”
Your child wants to know how to spell a word. Unfortunately, it is not a word you’ve ever heard and you’re not sure it exists. For example:
“Mom, how do you spell ipsbefluffle?”
You: “What word?”
Child repeats unintelligible word.
You: “Use it in a sentence.”
Child: “I sure love ipsbefluffle!”
You say: “I don’t think I’m familiar with that word. I can’t help you.”
They hear: “Repeat it ad nauseam until we both get so frustrated we hate each other.”
Your child asks for your help, usually with some impossible and detailed task, while you are very obviously in the middle of doing something else that requires your full concentration.
Child: “Mom, can you untie this knot for me/translate this article into Pashto/assist me in hacking into the city government’s database?”
You say: “Just a minute, I’m cooking dinner for 20 people/on the phone with a customer service representative after being on hold for 40 minutes/defusing a bomb!”
They hear: “OMG, I’m totally kidding! Ask me again immediately.”
Child wants to wear an article of clothing that is in the laundry because she wore it yesterday.
Child: “Where’s my rainbow skirt?”
You: “In the laundry.”
You: “It’s dirty.”
You say: “Because you wore it yesterday when you face planted in the mud on the playground. Find something else to wear.”
They hear: “If you ask me again in five minutes I’ll pretend we never had this conversation and suddenly make the desired outfit appear out of thin air.”
Your child wants something they absolutely cannot have: a cell phone, a Nintendo DXL, a taser.
You say: “No.”
(Or, if you are me: “Hell no.”)
They hear: “Talk to me some more about this cell phone, Nintendo device, taser. What are its various features? How will your life be improved upon obtaining this object? List the kids in your class with awesome parents who let them have one. Don’t forget to ask me if we are poor.”
Your child is reading the signs along the side of the road as you drive. She comes to a word or a series of words she doesn’t know and asks for your help. As much as you would love to help her, you have no idea which sign she is looking at and can’t investigate further because you are driving. A f—king car.
You say: “I can’t really help you right now because I’m driving.”
They hear: “Point rigorously at the sign in question and I will figure out which word you are talking about even though I am operating a large death machine and then we will all laugh and be merry.”
One of your children is doing something to annoy the other. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly a punishable offense. For example:
Child 1: “Child 2 is bothering me!”
You: “What is she doing?”
Child 1: “Looking at me!”
You say: “Ignore her.”
They hear: “Go into more detail about this injustice. How does it make you feel? Is it making it difficult to exist with any sense of security? Please list any and all things in living memory your sister has done to irritate you. Use complete and long sentences. Don’t forget the pointless details!”
Your child has been at school all day, learning exciting new things and interacting with friends and you would love to hear all about it.
You say: “What did you do at school today?”
They hear: “If you answer with more than one word, something terrible will happen to someone you love.”
Your child has an impossible wish, to be instantly four inches taller, or three years older, or — in the case of my son — a brunette.
You say: “I’m sorry. I wish I could help you but I can’t.”
Or even: “Your hair is lovely. But if you want to change it when you are older you can.”
They hear: “Tell me again and I’ll think up some way to stretch out your bones, speed up time, remake your genetic code. The whinier you get, the happier I will be to assist you.”
Your child is unable to locate a random and pointless object, so they try to recruit you for help even though there is no reason why you would know where it is.
Child: “Mom, where’s that gas station receipt?”
You say: “Where did you leave it?”
This is probably one of the most utilized answers in our household. The children (and my spouse) are constantly asking me where their things are, as if I run around snatching up objects and hiding them in random places like some sort of demented elf from a Bavarian fairy tale.
In reality, I have no idea where they put their stuff unless I happen to trip over it. By asking, “Where did you leave it?” I am both giving them a good starting point for their search and making the passive-aggressive point that they need to keep track of their things.
Unfortunately, they hear:
“Ha ha! I totally know where it is and once you are in bed I will take it out and enjoy its use. However, if you ask me 5,000 more times and berate me for losing something that belongs to you, I will divulge its location.”
You are conversing with one or more other people when your child desperately needs to speak with you. (If your children are like mine, they never actually need to speak with you until you are speaking with someone else. Then it’s a verbal pile on.)
You say: “I am speaking with someone right now but if you hold on a few minutes I will be able to assist you.”
They hear: “Exclaim ‘Mom! Mom! Mom!’ repeatedly. Be persistent! I really do not want to be talking to this person. Don’t forget to keep your voice at that irritating monotone you never use otherwise.”
You child asks you a question that would stump Confucius. For example, “Why is rain wet?”
Now, you can either start out at “That’s a good question. I don’t know.” Or you could go into a long and detailed explanation about accumulation and precipitation, only for them to reply that’s not what they were asking, and eventually end up at “I don’t know.”
Either way, your child won’t be satisfied. Because when you say “I don’t know,” they hear “I do know. I know exactly what you mean and what you’re asking and I understand all the complex philosophical thoughts going through your sweet head but I will withhold any answers because it gives me a supreme sense of satisfaction to keep you ignorant. However, if you ask me 5,000 more times I will eventually give in and let you partake of the wisdom.”
*I’m using “them” instead of “him” or “her” just to keep this simple, even though it’s technically incorrect. Sue me.