As someone who works with children, it irritates me when I hear adults say things like, “A child couldn’t understand this.” Especially when it comes to books. I have always been an avid reader. I read comedies, tragedies, histories, whatever there was to be read I would read it. Happy or sad, it didn’t matter as long as it was well written. The words resonated me, and even if there were some words that I didn’t fully understand, the feelings stayed with me. Children are very empathetic. They are capable of understanding emotions, and are able to place themselves into other people’s positions quite easily.
I think the reason for this is because children play pretend. When we play pretend we enter into a life that is not our own. It’s a lot like reading a book, honestly. Only adults think that books are more sophisticated and, grown up. I’ve always felt it was the same thing. Writing, and playing. What do actors do? They play at being someone else. Writers imagine many lives, and feel many emotions, think many thoughts. Is this not what children do when they play pretend?
I have played games with my five-year old niece. In one of her games the king died. I was surprised while watching this little girl play as the queen, who was saddened by her husbands passing. The queen was too upset to leave her bed. She was lonely. If a five year old, can understand this without having any idea of what death really means, then why do adults think children are incapable of understand the notion of death?
My niece knows that when someone dies we don’t see them anymore. This is all she knows, and yet, this little girl can take the scenario of not seeing a person you love anymore, and associate it with loneliness. How does one feel when they are lonely? Sad? Depressed?
Even in some of my classrooms I have read aloud to my students and listened to them rant about how rude the characters are in the story. I’ve had children say, “They need a spank on the butt!” My niece will say it as well, when I read her Cat in the Hat.
Children are not given enough credit. They are observant and their world is complex, much like our own. A child’s world is much like a puzzle. They slowly put the pieces together as they grow. The figure out where things belong over time. They are not incompetent. Children are extremely capable of grasping tough subjects such as war, and death, and loneliness. Do not underestimate a child’s abilities. Play is just as important as reading a good book.