My second grader had a class mate come to our house for a regular play date yesterday. It started in the car drive home. Our guest for the afternoon started to read aloud some letters, which had been written by classmates, as an assignment. The first one was from a boy in the class, whom the girls think is ‘cute’. “I love…,” the guest started to say. Suddenly, “Shh! Don’t say that!” screamed my kid. Her classmate jumped at the bait: “But, it has ‘love’ in it.” I looked in the rear view mirror and saw my little one scowling. “Yeah! I know. He wrote to me too: ‘I love your sense of humor’. Sheesh!” The guest was undetered. She teased the sentences out, slowly, looking for the words that she sensed would make her friend squirm awkwardly.
The problem the youngsters face is not so much that they have something to hide, but that they think that what they are hiding is not being her or cannot possibly be understood by anyone else, especially an adult who is right alongside. The adult, by contrast, tends to have a keener ear when it comes to listening out for certain tell-tale signs of activities or behaviour that may be flagging a problem.
In the pre-pubescent years, children are dealing with a lot of curiosity about their bodies, other people’s bodies, and how they are growing. They are also in that fragile stage where embarrassment or annoyance can be caused unwittingly by too keen an adult focus on their interest in such things. It can also be a time when hormonal lead to reactions and mood changes that make the simplest of responses (not just from an adult) spark the most furious reactions from the child. Damage done. Now, how to undo it? It is also a time for selective amnesia in a child. I think I get the code now, so when I ask and I get “I can’t remember…” I know not to press further at this stage.
I try to encourage my little kid to be open about what is going on, positive or negative, but I try to understand that my being curious is not going to make her secrete what she wants to keep secret, or just to herself.