You Can’t Do That Yet

I was back in Michael’s picking up glitter stickers for a money activity I’m doing this weekend. As I was deciding between the funky flower stickers and something a little more “masculine”, a little boy, about the age of 4, appeared at the end of the aisle. He was looking at a wooden train that was packaged and hanging on display.

He stood in front of the train just staring at it. I love 4-year olds and how they “do” life. He was obviously taken by the train even if he couldn’t use words to explain it. Then he reached up to touch it.

“You have to paint that. You can’t do that yet,” came grandma. She said it so matter-of-factly that I was a little taken aback.

I felt a little for the boy who kept staring at the train. It looked like a cute little painting project that the kid would have fun doing that afternoon.

Grandma took his hand and walked down the aisle I was standing next to. I went back to contemplating stickers when the boy showed up again next to the train. I looked for grandma. She was still at the end of the aisle. When she discovered he was back with the train she said, “You have to paint that. You can’t do that yet.”

That’s when I surreptitiously grabbed a piece of paper from the bottom of my purse and wrote down her quote. She had said the exact same thing twice. And that’s when I started thinking about it.

The kid was four years old. Unless the grandma expected him to come out of the gate painting like Picasso, he was going to need practice. And the train project was perfect practice, one…because the boy really, really liked the train, and, two, because that train would be the cutest thing ever when he finished with it. It would make the perfect gift for…a grandma.

I was getting a little annoyed with grandma.

So the kid leaves again with grandma and…a few minutes later (I’m really glad I was having such difficulty deciding on the stickers), he comes back again. This was the third time this kid stood in front of that train. I was SO TEMPTED to buy it for him myself.

Then back tromps grandma ready to rain on his parade once more. Which is precisely what she did. Just like a broken record I heard the familiar refrain, “You can’t do that yet.”

It’s not my place to interfere with grandma’s “raising” of her grandchild. After all, she wasn’t being abusive in any way. Grandma loved him and simply didn’t think he was “ready” to paint a wooden train.

But as I was standing there, all my child development training came flooding in…as well as my natural instincts. How in the world is this kid ever going to learn how to paint if he’s not given the opportunity? But what really got me was the fact that this little boy wanted to paint the train. He was interested and motivated. That’s the PERFECT opportunity to teach someone a new skill. Unfortunately, it was a missed opportunity for this little guy.

And it got me thinking about expectations for our kids. If we don’t think our kids can do something, then chances are they won’t be able to do it.

I used to see this a lot when Nathan and Ryan were little and we were at a playground. It always surprised me how many parents would not let their kids climb on certain equipment because they didn’t think their kids were “ready”. With support and guidance and a hand to reach out if necessary, it’s really amazing at what our kids can really do.

So my thoughts then turned to kids and money management. If we don’t think our kids can learn about money when they are young, then the chances are they are going to grow up without the skills needed to effectively handle money. And just like learning to paint well, learning how to manage money takes practice. Lots and lots of practice.

Like the boy and his fascination with the train, kids are fascinated with money. Not in an obsessive way but in a curious kind of way. It’s the perfect opportunity to tap into that interest and teach them money.

I was a little sad as I left the store with my stickers; I chose the glittered flowers because they were a little bright spot in an otherwise rainy day.

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