Dear Dr Cliché,
My six year old talks to fairies, has tea parties with them, and leaves them notes. To her, “they are real.” But if told they are only stories, she would say “they are half real.” How do I reconcile what’s real or not for her? Should I?
Dear Mrs. Bell,
Humans have two brains, a left one and a right one. The right governs emotions and the left governs intellect.
What’s true for one side of the brain is not true for the other. They offer completely different and contradictory realities simultaneously.
Children have the capacity to live in completely different and contradictory realities simultaneously. Adults find this much more difficult and often impossible; they need some form of integration or denial. Adults need answers and explanations; children do not. Children ask questions to learn but still believe what they want to despite the answers. They have a natural sense of this balance. Adults do not.
Our emotional brain holds the realty of fairies, love, spirit, religion. Our intellectual brain holds the reality of facts, rules, tangibles, common sense. That is why faith might seem contrary to common sense but common sense yet applies. The two sides of the brain need to balance or we get into trouble and diverge from a working reality, losing a sense of relationship with our surroundings.
Whatever we believe, reality happens anyway.
Kids experience many things differently than adults do.
Time: To a child every moment is forever but at the same time these moments do not connect in a linear way as they do for adults.
Subjective/Objective: A child can be in the midst of a terrible tantrum yet at the same time make third person comments on it or be aware of how silly it is. They can chant, “I need it now, I want it now!” … yet the next moment they have forgotten about it.
I/You: A child can be completely self centered yet at the same time feel as if they ARE you. They can be total egomaniacs yet still have great empathy for you.
These experiences of Time and I/You are very similar to what a dog experiences. To achieve the same perception, an adult would require training and a lot of work.
You needn’t reconcile for your daughter. Much of what adults believe is based on emotion and is not REAL from an intellectual stance. Your daughter has already done quite well on her own: “half real!” I like that.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny adds: Adults often seem to assume that children are less intelligent beings and must be carefully supervised to avoid early trappings of mental illness. Children may be less experienced beings, but they may very well be more intelligent than you in certain ways and have a perception of reality that is remarkably well grounded. My 4 year old grandson is learning three languages simultaneously without breaking a sweat. Can you do that? Can you figure out that an abstract jumble of geometric shapes is supposed to represent an airplane… without reading the title card? My seven year old nephew could when we took him to the Museum of Modern Art. None of the adults could figure it out.
Adults can have a vivid imagination too but unfortunately it largely seems to run to thoughts of sexual fantasy, belated comeback quips, or plans to get ahead. What’s real for us is bills and getting old. Do you really want to step in and start messing with your six year old’s fantasy life? Probably not- unless she is fantasizing about violent or disturbing things.
In truth, I think we are all just about “half real”. The six year olds are smarter than you think.