I passed a young dad and his baby on the sidewalk tonight.  He was talking quietly to her in that soothing way that parents of young children (and others) often use.

When do we stop talking to them that way?  How old are they when we decide it’s time for them to graduate to a generally sharper more authoritative tone, one that tends to offer instruction, analysis, mandate before the comfort and curiosity that characterizes much of our interaction with infants?

I heard someone say recently, in response to a 2 year-old’s behavior, “Oh, she knows what she’s doing.  She knows she’s pushing my buttons.”  Maybe that’s it.  As soon as we think they know what they’re doing – that they’re capable of directing behavior at us – gone is the benefit of the doubt we grant them when they’re tiny.

What if we gave that benefit of the doubt to older kids?  What if we assumed that their expressions of displeasure or discomfort were just that, and not deliberate plots designed to bother us?  I’m oversimplifying on purpose in the interest of brevity – I know we don’t actively, consciously think that kids are plotting against us when we get frustrated with their resistance to what we want them to do.  But we do often respond as though it’s personal.  We err on the side of taking it as an attack or affront rather than a communication.  What if it were all communication?  All the testing and resistance. What if we listened and responded to it as though it were, just to see what could change if we did?