July 21, 2019

What Can a 5 Year Old teach Us?

My grandson is 12. In another month he starts Junior High. He is turning into a remarkable young man, mature beyond his years and interested in virtually everything. Recently, he has attempted to become part of adult conversations, somewhat bored by the topics that might engage most kids his age.

Seven years ago I wrote a post about him, when he was just 5. Even then, he was teaching me life lessons worth paying attention to. With one or two modifications here is that article:

My grandson is an amazing 5 year old. He started reading almost 2 years ago and is now, even before starting kindergarten, at a second grade reading level. He is as comfortable figuring out computer games as he is solving math problems more appropriate for an 8 year old. Show him a book about woodworking and he wants to build something. Have him look at a cribbage board and he wants to know how to play. Leave a chess board lying around and he insists on knowing how the pieces move. If he sees a star map of the sky he wants to draw the entire thing...now.

I think I remember having a mind somewhat like that. Everything was a challenge to be solved or an experience to be lived.  My mind was an empty slate waiting to be filled with whatever I didn't understand. Now, 58 years later I need Josh to remind me of some of what is too easy to forget.

Finding Joy in Everything

He can find joy and excitement in the most common of daily activities. There is almost nothing that doesn't cause him to smile, gush enthusiasm, or run toward whatever it is that has captured his attention. He has yet to unlearn the precious belief that every moment of every day can bring a new adventure.

Sometime in the next few years he will probably lose some of this innate sense of joy. Disappointments, a bully at school, a friend who says unkind things, or a clearer understanding of the existence of bad things in the world will cause him to exercise caution. He will moderate his enthusiasm and be a little less free with hugs and smiles. He, his family, and our world will be a little less sunny when that happens.

Even so I doubt he will ever stop being the guy who asks why or how. That curiosity and eye of wonder we are all born with are easy to lose as we age, if we allow it. But joy and satisfaction are all around us. We simply have to shut off the negatives and allow the positives to find space in our life again.

Show Respect for Others

Something that used to be quite common in America but now is often restricted to the very young is respect for one's elders. He speaks with respect to his parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. He listens when one of us is talking. He acknowledges our presence. He says, "excuse me" (no kidding!) when he would like to insert himself in the conversation.

Respect for experience and for gaining some perspective are attributes that come with age. Respecting what someone older than you can teach you is a missing part of our society's character. As I move through the elder stages I must remember there will almost always be someone older or with more experience than me. In a such a situation I must listen and learn.

Politeness Matters

Being polite gets you farther than being nasty. Josh can overpower his little sisters (who are also absolute gems!) and take what he wants or return to being the center of attention. But, he is learning the consequences aren't worth it. By asking politely to share more often than not he gets what he wants. By allowing others to shine for a little bit, his star is not diminished. Honey does get  more than vinegar.

The public discourse in our country has become quite unpleasant. Polite exchanges of honest differences of opinion are out of favor. Yelling and name-calling are more our style. Those who don't agree with us are not simply misinformed, they are probably evil. Politeness has become a weakness and we are the worse for it. We need to listen and learn from the children.

Money is often overrated

Money is completely unnecessary for many of life's greatest pleasures. I have yet to see my grandson decide not to explore something or taste something or do something because he has no money. He loves watching trains. He adores family picnics. He goes crazy over dinosaurs. He knows every character in the Cars movies. He plays for hours by himself or with his sisters. He doesn't miss any of this just because he has no wallet.

I'd contend that many of the sweetest experiences in life are absolutely free. A glorious sunset, a conversation with a friend, a cup of coffee on the back porch, a hand-in-hand walk with someone you love are still untaxed, unregulated, and available to you. 5 year olds have no concept of limiting their joy because of finances. We would benefit from remembering that lesson.

Control your own schedule

Eat when you are hungry. Nap when you are tired. Stop doing something when it bores you. Don't worry. My grandson has these guidelines pretty much figured out. Sometime he'll lose the freedom to act on them whenever he wants. But, for now he has life by the tail. He does not have a to-do list, except to-do everything.

I wish I were a little less controlled by the clock, the to-do list, and my schedule. I use these to help me navigate my day. Too often they dictate my day.

I must add that his 3 year old sister is quickly growing into her own, too. She has the drive and temperament to be an artist. Give her a box of crayons, or some paint and a brush, and she is quite content to go to her work space and lose herself. She loves her brother dearly but is beginning to find her own self and is not afraid to carve out the space she needs. There is a lesson there, too. Know yourself and feed yourself that what completes you.

I wonder what lessons my 20 month old granddaughter will teach me when she is just a bit older! 


  1. I remember being like that, curious to know everything adults know. When I went into high school and could choose my courses, Latin was the biggest thrill. Guidance counselors wanted me to take Home Ec and shorthand. I refused, much to their chagrin. I knew how to cook and sew very well. I took Latin and sciences. People sell kids short.

    1. Too often parents project their desires or interests on their kids. Children are separate human beings that must be allowed to explore and grow into the person they are able to become.

      BTW, my wife wanted to take metal shop instead of Home Ec. That was quite a battle.

  2. Little kids remind of the important things in life.

    1. Like never turning off our curiosity or ability to learn, like loving without restrictions, and treating each day as a full throttle gift.

  3. We just spent a long weekend with our 5 yo grandson and his 2 yo brother. You are so right...they take such great joy in simple things. Collecting fireflies on the lawn at dusk, finding worms in the driveway after rain, running through the sprinklers. And their imaginations never stop...the games they can create with pillows, Legos, etc., never cease to amaze me.

    1. We just spent part of this afternoon and dinner time with the grandkids. Even 7 years older than when this post was written, they have maintained much of that curiosity, respect, and sense of fun. I pray they hold on to it as long as possible.

  4. Nice post . . . we always have new things to learn, esp. from our children.

  5. They teach us all the time, don't they, if we are willing to pay attention. My seven year old grandson told me the other day that he was growing up. Yes you are, I answered.

    You know, he added, it's not that hard.

    Well, I told him, you make it look easy. A lot of folks much older than you are still trying to figure out how to grow up. Do you have any advice for them?

    I just figure out what I need to do and I do it, he said.

    1. I like J's answer! If we could all live that simply and directly.