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A Parenting Lesson From Curious George

One of the fun things about reading with your kids is revisiting old favorites from your own childhood.  I always loved Curious George

That “but” is troublesome; it seems to suggest that being curious is somehow in opposition to being “good” (although I find the term “good” when used to describe children problematic anyway), that curiosity is a character flaw of George’s.   For those of you not familiar with the books, the plots tend to go something like this:  George, who lives with “his friend the man in the yellow hat,” gets into some sort of trouble due to his curiosity (becomes entangled in a pot of spaghetti, paints a room with jungle animals when he should be washing windows, muddles the schedule board of a busy train station, and so on).  Inevitably, just as George is about to get in serious trouble, someone realizes that he has in fact been helpful or has done something great after all and his earlier misadventure is forgiven.   Everyone goes home happy.

Since I’ve had a lot of time lately to contemplate the deeper meaning of Curious George’s tales, I’ve put more than a little thought into how we (parents/adults) view curiosity.   On the one hand, we talk about how great and wonderful curiosity is; we use a lot of language about how we want our children to “explore,” to “experience,” to become “critical thinkers.”  That same language appears in talk around schooling and education, in the curriculum and standards for children of all ages.  But at the same time, we so frequently tell our children “don’t touch that,”  “please stay on the path,” “do it this way” and so on.

I’m not suggesting that we should allow our children to explore life without restriction or guidance.  I mean it’s probably a good idea to dissuade them from touching hot stoves or playing with knives.  But I wonder if sometimes we don’t mistake our children’s natural curiosity for “mis”-behavior – or at least turn it into that.  Curious George is the quintessential toddler (must be one reason he’s so popular with the younger set!).   He finds himself in trouble not because he’s a “bad” monkey (as someone in the story usually labels him), but because he wanted to test out a new experience, wanted to help someone, or just thought something looked fun.  Callum does the same thing dozens of times a day.

As an example…Callum has recently discovered that he can reach the bathroom sink with his little stool.  He takes great pride in filling up his own water cup.  On several occasions I’ve realized that I’ve heard the water running longer than it should have been…and sure enough Callum has managed to “make a mess” dumping his cup or filling up the sink or otherwise experimenting.  While my first reaction is generally that of mild annoyance, it seems more fair to gently explain why we don’t want to throw water on the floor and help Callum clean it up.  After all, like the man in the yellow hat frequently does with George, I did leave Callum unattended!

Often when our toddlers do something “wrong” or “bad” it is annoying, frustrating, or down right inconvenient.   But we would do well to remember that like George, our kids are just curious.  They lack the capacity as toddler to be truly malicious; like George, they tend to think that people – particularly their parents – are pretty darn cool and lovable.  Sure sometimes they “know better” (or we think they do!), but the world is an enticing place full of things to try and test.  When Callum is at his “most curious” and I feel my patience wearing thin, I try to remind myself to see the world through his eyes – a place of wonder.  That makes the puddles on the floor seem a little less obnoxious.

Perhaps from now on we’ll read about George who “was a good little monkey AND always very curious!”


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Published in Parenting