"When I grow up I want to be a painter, a doctor, a princess and God," my 4-year-old granddaughter Quin tells her mother explaining her life goals. "This child has incredible aspirations," I think out loud as my daughter giggles describing the thoughts of her After hanging up the phone I wonder, "What will our world look like when Quin is God?" Deeper thinking leads me to believe that Quin's world is a place I want to live.
In Quin's world everything is pink, people ride pretty horses and unicorns and everyone gets cuddles, kisses and hugs as they meet and say goodbye. Quin's world offers candy and gum for all who desire it, a simple belief that all people are kind and trusts that people will do what she wants them to do if they say please and thank you.
In this magical world my granddaughter controls, hitting is bad and sharing is good. When one does something wrong, one needs to sit in a chair and think about what he or she will do differently next time and an apology fixes everything. The people in this world forgive quickly, love easily and smile often.
Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget explains Quin's world point-of-view by suggesting that children pass through four stages of development as they grow. Quin is presently in the preoperational stage of development, which children enter at age 2 and exit around their 7th birthday.
In this stage of development, a child is egocentric the child considers things from their own point of view and imagines that everyone shares this view because it is the only one possible. The center of a child's world is based on their belief that the world, and the people in it, is there to satisfy the needs of that child. It is this belief that allows Quin to believe that she can be God.
Moral realism - the strong belief of right and wrong - is active in this 4-year-old. The child believes everyone shares this foundation. Children begin to respect and insist on obedience of rules at all times and are not able to take anything such as motives into account.
This accounts for the terrible 2s, the horrifying 3s and the fabulous 4s. Two and 3-year-olds are black and white thinkers meaning there are only two answers to all questions - yes or no, I love you, I hate you, stop or go. Thinking in the world of gray (a little right and a little wrong) does not exist for young children. As the child ages, decentering occurs and the child, around the age of 4, begins to look at their world in shades of gray instead of all black and white. The 4-year-old begins to understand others' point-of-view and becomes less combative and more understanding - fabulous.
Often children bite other kids during this stage of development because they don't understand their action is causing another's pain. The child lacks empathy. Often parents try to reason with a child in this developmental stage and offer other options besides biting but the child continues to bite. When a child bites another child, offering the biter an opportunity to see the result of their bite often stops the biting. Show the child the bite-mark; have the biter watch the other child cry and continually saying, "Your teeth did this, bad, no, don't bite again," often slows or stops children from biting.
One of the cutest things that happen during this stage is animism. Animism is when a kid has the belief that everything that exists has some kind of consciousness. Children often believe a car won't start because it is tired or sick, or they punish a piece of furniture when they run into it because it must have been naughty to hurt them. A preoperational child often assumes that everyone and everything is like them. Since the child can feel pain and has emotions, so must everything else.
I laugh when my wife makes one of our grandchildren hit the table or kick a rock that had the evil audacity to hurt them. The kid feels better, the tears stop and the rock seldom suffers from the encounter.
So, Quin is the God of her world. Her egocentric thinking allows her to believe that she controls her world and everyone around her feels just as she feels. Her world, full of pink-ruffled tutus, loving adults, unicorns and hugs is a pretty great place to live. I don't think I will bust her bubble by informing her that her, "God goal," might be out of reach.