Life Lessons From a Three year Old


Even though he is now a teenager, I remember the absolute joy of watching my grandson grow up over the years. At one point, probably ten years ago now, I made note of what his worldview was. It occurred to me then and still does today, that his (and most children’s) way of navigating through life makes all the sense in the world. How much better off would we be if this approach to living didn’t disappear at about six years old? 

You can wear the same shirt 2 days in a row.  Adults are often obsessed with cleanliness and freshness. Clothes washers get bigger and faster each year for a reason. If we wear something for even a few hours it is likely to go into the clothes hamper or off to the cleaners. Three-year-olds aren’t concerned with such things. If the shirt covers me, keeps me warm, and isn’t too big or small, what does a jelly stain matter?  Who cares that I wore it yesterday? In fact, I don’t remember what I wore yesterday.

I’d save a few loads of wash every Saturday if I followed his lead. The bigger lesson he is teaching us is to not be overly concerned with little things that don’t matter much. My grandson saves his focus for the important stuff: food, play time, naps, and his sisters. If something doesn’t get in the way of his enjoyment of those four issues, then why worry?

The best toys are the simplest. Give almost any child a cardboard box and he or she will play with it for hours. It becomes a boat, a rocket ship, a train, a fort, the list is endless.

Yet, every Christmas billions of dollars are spent on fancy, high-tech, plastic toys that are forgotten much quicker than the big box in the corner. Complexity is something adults seem to relish, but not kids.

The solution to many problems is often the simplest. In fact, something called Occam’s Razor is a well-known scientific principle. It says the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. While adults don’t spend much time playing with toys, the belief that something must be expensive or complicated to be best is just not true. Finding my “cardboard box” might be better for me in the long run.

It is OK to create a mess occasionally. Children live in a world of messiness. They are at their creative best when things are strewn everywhere. They easily find connections and uses for all that stuff. While I have no proof, I would bet their minds are a bit messy, too. All sorts of random thoughts, impressions, and stimulations are continuously bouncing around in there. Over time an order is imposed and they learn to think like we do.

Maybe we’d be better off thinking like them, at least part of the time. I am at my peak of production when stacks of books, legal pads, and paper cover the desk. Sticky notes line the edges of the computer screen. It is when I stop creating that I put everything in piles, clean up the papers, and clear off the desktop. Order has returned. Creativity has stopped. I think I’d like to be messier more often.

At times you have to do something you don’t want to do. Watch my grandson when it is time to go to bed, or turn off his Thomas & Friends video. Rebellion bubbles just under the surface. He is totally absorbed by some game or play activity, but it is time to stop and do something else.

He may not be happy, but he does it. He knows where the power is. He respects his parents and does their bidding. Does that mean he is always happy about it? Not likely.

As an adult we know there are a lot of things we have to do we don’t want to do. In fact, for many of us, that seems to make up most of our day. Unlike a child, we often forget that everything we want, when we want it, isn’t going to happen. We get angry or stressed, rude or combative. We have clearly forgotten we don’t make all the rules and there are consequences when we forget that.

Changes in routine can be very exciting. Years ago, the grandkids had their first sleepover away from home, at our house. My grandson was beside himself with excitement. He was ready to start packing a week beforehand. His mom had to make a calendar so he could cross off the days until the big event. The kids visit our home every week or two so that wasn’t the reason for the excitement. I’m guessing it was a change in where they slept and all the things that would be different from their regular schedule. It would not be routine.

Change can be exciting whatever your age. This blog makes it quite clear that I view retirement as one of the most exciting and enjoyable times of my life. The routine of working for over 30 years gave way to a time where the only routine is the one I create. And, I am free to create a new routine whenever I want. Come to think of it I like sleepovers, too. In my case, a nice resort in Hawaii or a B & B in England is probably more my speed than a sleeping bag in the living room, even though Covid restrictions have given me a new appreciation of the joys of staying put.

Love is all you need. With apologies to the Beatles, children are supposed to live in a world of love. I know that doesn’t happen all the time and that is a tragedy. Too many children grow up in anxious uncertainty and misery. 

For youngsters like my grandkids their world is safe, secure, and makes sense because they are loved. They have no doubt that mommy and daddy will protect them and always be there for them. Their worldview doesn’t yet include hate or oppression or rancor. Their world is love.

The adult world is not so lucky. I’m not going to dwell on all the reasons  but  I doubt many would disagree with the belief that all of us would be a whole lot happier and more joyful if our world view was closer to that of a 3-year-old. We know that love isn’t all you need. But, the more of it you have in your life the more life you will have in you.