10 Things I Learned from My 4-Year-Old

When my son was born, I imagined how I would teach him about life. Little did I know that he would be the teacher. He taught me:

  1. To use positive words
    One evening at the dinner table my son said, “Dad this food is disgusting.” I thought – where did that word come from? Another time while I was explaining the rules to a game he said, “Now that’s just ridiculous.” A minute later he said, “this is stupid, I give up.” At that moment it dawned on me… He’s getting this stuff from me. From now on I better choose my words carefully.
  2. To look for opportunity everywhere
    My son views the entire world and every new person, new object, or new event as an opportunity to learn something. When a new person walks in the room he wants to know who they are and if they would like to play. If I drop a new object into a cluttered room, he will spot it, touch it, pick it up, ask questions about it. Nothing new goes unnoticed.
  3. A new synonym for persistence
    Santa Claus brought my son a white board and a set of dry erase makers for Christmas (can you tell I’m in IT). My son learned to write very early. He spent months obsessed with writing letters on the white board. One day I looked at the board while he was writing and I saw this combination of capital letters – SHHANDSHOWBO. He also knows how to sound out words, so I asked him what it was. He said, “It’s a word I made up – Sha-hand-show-bo.” I asked, “What does it mean?” He said, “To keep trying even when it’s hard.” Now when I get frustrated I think – Sha-hand-show-bo.
  4. To ask big questions
    A few weeks ago our cat was dying. So I explained death to my son and told him our cat was going to heaven. I was amazed that he grasped the permanence of death. Like the other members of my family he was very sad for several days. Then he asked, “Dad, how do you get to heaven?” I said,”Well everyone goes there when they die.” He said, “No I mean, how do you get there? Do go out the door and get in the car? Do you take a rocket?” I had to admit to him that I didn’t know how you get to heaven, I just believe in it. A few days latter he asked, “If God made me, who made God?” Good question. I haven’t thought about that one in years.
  5. To accept mistakes
    Watching my son grow and learn, it became clear that all learning is based on trying something new, making a mistake, adjusting your actions, trying again, repeating until you get the results you desire. That is how he learned to walk, speak, read, write, build lego walls, set up train tracks, jump, run, and pedal. I can’t think of one thing he did right the first time. It is a good thing he has an abundance of sha-hand-show-bo.
  6. To pay attention to little details
    When my son was 2, he was pointing in a box and saying, “ate, ate, ate, ate.” I said no you don’t want to eat the box. He said, “no, ate, ate, ate.” I looked in the box and it was empty. I looked at him puzzled. He stuck his face in the box and said, “ate, ate.” I looked again closely. On the bottom of the box, in the corner, printed in a small font was the number 8. He sees things I don’t see, because he pays attention to little things everywhere, like the tiny red dot on the white sheetrock wall he called an “owie.”
  7. To stop complaining
    Recently my son went through a phase where he complained about everything. His food was too hot, playtime was too short, he didn’t want to go to pre-school, everything was “too hard.” This experience forced me to think and come up with a plan to help my son through this phase. I developed some techniques to help him stop complaining. His phase taught me how irritating it is to listen to complaints without solutions. His complaining taught me to listen to myself when I start to gripe and realize complaining isn’t going to get me the results I desire. It is one thing to identify something
    uncomfortable or painful you wish to change, and another to sit and complain about it and do nothing. Solutions provide value – gripes sap energy. Besides, how can I expect my son to stop complaining, if I complain – see #8.
  8. To strive for consistency
    If I am inconsistent with my expectations and actions my son won’t understand what I expect. For example, if I tell him I won’t allow him to jump on the furniture and then let him do it occasionally; he becomes confused and jumps on the furniture trying to understand his limits. The consequences for jumping on the couch are random and he never understands my expectations. If I let his little brother jump on the couch, rest assured, he will say “you let him jump on the couch. Why can’t I jump on the couch?” and I won’t have a meaningful answer. Since I have seen inconsistency lead to chaos with my 4-year-old, I now believe it will lead to chaos in every area of my life.
  9. How to build a maze with random items in the garage
    Garage MazeGarage Maze
    Garage Maze
  10. To experiment
    My son learns everything by experimenting. He learn the rules of the house by experimenting. He must ask questions in his mind at some level – like what will happen if I flick this spoonful of mash potatoes at my little brother? or how will mom react if I eat this bug? Now I’m not recommending that you or anyone else start flicking food at each other or start eating insects just to find out what happens. What I am suggesting is that my son illustrates how we learn. We learn by experimenting. Never stop experimenting.

This post was entered in the Carnival of Family Life. Please visit it for more on family life.

175 thoughts on “10 Things I Learned from My 4-Year-Old”

  1. Hi,

    I have a 3.5 yrs old daughter , I too have to learn a lot from her, and also need to teach her and make her understand what is good and what is bad. Great Blog, Great Post!


  2. I loved this post and would add ‘learn to listen’ to the list (might also fall under #6 pay attention to little details.

    My four year old nephew has an amazing amount of Spiderman clothing and toys. I recently asked him who his favorite superhero is (thinking I already knew the answer). He replied, “Batman.” I asked him why he has so much Spiderman stuff and he said, “That’s what people keep buying me.”

    I just started my own blog on balancing my life and have found your very inspirational. Thanks!

  3. Kids are sure teachers (and some are head masters)… I have a son about same age as yours… and dives into Logical thinking far better than myself.

    One day he called my office to ask me if apple and mango trees grow from their seeds how to banana trees grow. I never thought of it in my childhood and never cared when grown up, so immediately opened Google to search for the answer and went home with few photographs to explain him.

  4. As the father of a almost 5 year old, I think this is a great post.

    A shame that the comments section devolved into little more than a great illustration of the type of atheist as is defined in the Encyclopedia Dramatica. Scroll down to the section titled “Atheists on the Internet” for an exact description of what happened here.


    Warning: ED is definitely not politically correct, and no matter who you are, you’ll find something offensive there.

  5. Mike I’ve been there before. Its not that simple my friend. Also your son sounds incredible ^^ Anyone should be able to learn from there children. If you think you know it all you’d be sorely mistaken to think your understanding is that great.

  6. Mike G… give up! Stop being a prick! People like you so suck, if you don’t believe then fine, but don’t talk trash! Dumb ass!

  7. Nice post…You remind me to what happened in my house just few days ago. I haven’t had a child yet, but I live with my niece and nephew. Yesterday I heard my niece grumbled because she ate the same meal for twice in a day. I was just going to mad at her because of her ungratefulness when I rememer that I did the same thing just a day before. I don’t remember if she was there when I grumbled but I guess she learned that from me.

  8. Great list. I’m just hoping I was such a good teacher to my parents when I was so young.

    As to the discussion resulting from the post…

    Each to their own.

    Atheists (which I am) forcing their beliefs onto religious people is just as bad.


  9. Wow! I enjoyed reading this but when I got to the cat going to heaven, I almost stopped and clicked stumble to move on (but I changed my mind). I did read the rest but as an atheist, I disagreed with your answer to your child, but it is your child. It made me laugh out loud when I got to the comments section and saw the MANY posts about the same topic I disagreed with. I really wouldn’t have written a comment, but this is overwhelming! That’s the best thing about blogs, you post something and you get different opinions and great discussions! Excellent work!


  10. Fantastic post, very much useful information. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days. I am goint to subscribe your blog.

  11. ok i just read this and thought it was good because i too am a mother of a 4 yr old and i have learned alot from him. But this whole thing about god is just ridiculos. he never once said that he was brain washing his soon he was just trying to comfort him. death is a scary thing or some people and i bet it really scary for a child so for him to give his 4YEAROLD, NOT 9 yr old no not even 10 a freaking toddler some comfort makes him a horrible person i think not. i’m pretty sure that some day he will let his son choice what he wants to believe. most parents do cause i didnt read anything in there that said he forced the kid to read the bible till he believed that the cat was in heaven and he said his son asked him a question about god he didnt say well i belive so you have to as well. so stop looking for the bad parts in this mans story of his son and enjoy the experince he has with his son

  12. Hello to all. i love this post. most readers missed the whole idea of this blog and is focused on one subject. so sad!

  13. Hi I agree with val – an amazing article – shame so many of you angry people got caught up on the God issues and missed the sentiments at the heart of it.
    This from a non religious person – who is not so zealous i have stopped waking up and smelling the coffee. keep blogging steve

  14. Ugh. This post really, really made me smile, but all these ridiculous comments almost ruin it. Teach your child what you see fit, they’re eventually form their own ideas anyway!

  15. i was looking for “what to teach a 4 yr old” and came across your post and i liked it! my son has just turned 4 and has taught me so much in the past 4 yrs that i cant help but say, “a child is the father of man”. keep writing!

  16. Steve Sweet article..I enjoyed it!
    To Random: you sound disconnected from reality…I feel for you …You talk nonsense…Knowledge is power…Love is great but we all should strive to not makes those unthetical and moral “mistakes “that believers like you tend to make and think that Jesus will forgive u!!!

  17. I loved this article.. I have a 4 year old girl who taught me the same, God bless our children and bless you for this sweet article 🙂

  18. My four year old asked me if God made him. I told him yes. Then he stared to say, so God made daddy and everyone?! I said yes. He seemed to be surprised and relieved. He then said who made God? I told him, if someone had to make God he wouldn’t be a God now would he? Then he just said, yup! It just came so natural to him and it took me so long to think of an answer for that question. Haha

  19. Very nice article. I arrived at this thread searching for something to give my 4 year old son because like all of us, I just love him so much. It’s true that we really learn a lot from our kids and it makes us a better person, for him, for ourselves, and for the whole family.

    Keep up the good work!

  20. Hi Steve,

    I am so very happy that i stumbled upon your article, very meaningful and so much more that i can incorporate. I loved the first point . I can’t imagine about all the other comments but i truly believe that you’ve raised your boy wonderfully and is continuing to do so. Well done. Very few parents take the time out to notice what you have and the best part is that you’ve been kind enough to share it with us all.

    Thank you


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