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. Steve,
    As a grandparent of a 2 & 3 yr old I appreciate your insights, and those of others regarding child observation. I am not bashing my parents, but I can guarantee you all that I did not have the benefit of the parental insight that you have observed through your interaction with your child. As a consequence, neither did I approach the rearing of my children with the wisdom that you have shared with us. As I strive to learn more in order to be a better (grand) parent I thank you for sharing your insights. The ones that will work for me I will grasp and develop more completely, and if there should be any that might not fit my ideas I will be glad that they work for you. I am sorry that I am unable to contribute additional insights along this topic. I really feel that if people do not use your blog as a springboard to tell of their observations that they are missing the true opportunty that you have presented here.

  2. I haven’t read all the comments on the author’s relatively benign “#4” answer to his son, but it seems that at least a few people are reading way more into it than necessary. Where, exactly, does the son “see through” the “indoctrination” that his Dad has given him? All the son asks is “How do you get to heaven?” and “… who made God?” Neither of those questions say anything except that the child is curious to know more. I would be curious, too, if someone told me God made me and that everyone went to heaven. If a parent BELIEVES that certain things are true about God and is basing his/her life (eternal) on that, then they should be educating themselves, and their child on that. Going to church, or synagogue, or mosque, or whatever religious institution God draws you to is the best next step in that education (not indoctrination).

  3. Fun article. I hope you’re enjoying it Dad.

    Two things I learned from my young daughter:

    1) In giving my girl a drink, I intentionally filled the cup half way and asked the philosophical question of her -‘is the cup half empty or half full?’ Her reply was ‘ I dunno, but I got some!’

    2) Once I asked her ‘where do you think we go after we die?’ She told me ‘probably the same place we were before we were born’. I think about that a lot.

  4. Although this was great learning to help with my own son that’s 4 years old also, but I was truly looking for a biblical answer to why God allows Death, especially when it is seemingly premature! A man’s days shall be 3 score and 10 by christian virtue 4 score, so when someone especially a christian die’s or is killed before that time, I want some answers! I know that this isn’t a unique question that hasn’t been asked billions of times, but it seems know one has an answer, can you help me, I’m not inmature in the faith of God nor his scriptures, at least I think, but I’m hoping for answers of the dynamics of death and why it’s is! I just want to understand it and want to be able to later teach it to others, also!

  5. i find all these articals very informative and inspiring because i am only 16 and still have many things to learn about how i live my life. i enjoy read about ur past experiances(sp) and i hope mine will be as good or better than yours and hope my children are as bright as urs

  6. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End”-Revelation 22:13

    There was nothing before God, and there’s nothing after God. It’s hard for a four-year old to grasp that truth, that God was always and no one made Him, it’s even hard for us to understand it. That’s why it takes faith to believe it.

    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”-John 3:16

    You believe Heaven exists. Now the question is, how do you get to heaven? It’s as simple as 1+1 = 2. God loves us all. He created us and made us on His image (“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”-Genesis 1:27). Sin, as we all know it, started when Adam & Eve disobeyed God. We’re all sinners. Our destiny is hell. We’re all destined to suffer God’s anger, because of our sins. But God’s mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great that while we were still disobediant in sins, He brought us to life with Christ. He sent his Son Jesus to die for us on the cross, to forgive our sins. If you believe in that amazing love, you admit you’re a sinner, you accept Jesus in your heart as your personal savior, then you’ll go to heaven. It’s God’s gift offered to you. It’s your choice to accept it or to refuse it. I was 7 years old when I was told that. It touched my heart and life and since then I have a daily relationship with my Savior and I’m the happiest girl alive.

    It’s not hard for kids to understand all of that. Jesus himself said: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”-Matthew 19:14

    I’ll pray for your child and you 🙂 God bless

  7. Hello Steve,
    very interesting read, it’s amazing how many things you can learn from a child. Just one comment: trying to change your “natural” vocabulary in front of your child seems unnatural to me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s good to swear badly in front of a kid. But swearing is something that he’s going to hear anyway, sooner or later, so it’s better for him to be familiar with it and understand when people use it, that to learn it in a “oh that’s cool, my dad never does it” environment. And “that’s just ridiculous” is not too heavy even for a 4-year-old.

    Think about it. You have a common sense about swearing right? And probably your father didn’t pay too much attention about how he speaks. Mine didn’t. We just grew up naturally. “Naturally” doesn’t mean “in the absence of everything that’s bad.


  8. “There was nothing before God, and there’s nothing after God. It’s hard for a four-year old to grasp that truth, that God was always and no one made Him, it’s even hard for us to understand it. That’s why it takes faith to believe it.”

    Would it not be as big a leap of faith to saw that perhaps the universe always existed, there was nothing before, and nothing after? That seems to make more sense to me instead of a “supernatural god”. We can see the universe and study it, while god is a man-created construct, having no basis in reality.

    And no, we aren’t born evil…. people are more good than they are bad.

  9. Great article. I hope most people reading all this crap below it realize there is little to no added wisdom in these comments. I wish I could post near the top of this section to warn people before they choose to continue and waste their time.

  10. Really enjoyed your observations. Thanks for writing them down and being so transparent.

    I don’t think any of these insensitive and critical commenters would have the courage to say any of that to your face. Don’t be discouraged by it.

  11. I really enjoyed your blog. I can also say that I’m glad to see that the true colors of atheism that I always suspected have seen the light – absolutely no class.

    Judging by the comments here, it would seem that the world has turned atheist and the normal people who beleive in God are few. Actually, your blog post was posted on Digg.com, which demographically consists of a hugely disproportionate amount of both liberals and atheists. Rest assured more than 98% of the world’s population has not lost their head with the atheists.

  12. Love the stuff about bringing up your kid.

    Also love to see the holy war start yet again, you Americans are capaable of so much, yet you always end up bitterly attacking each others beliefs while the homeless are having their tents ripped up, (St Petersberg, google it). Didnt someone get nailed to a cross for saying lets just be nice to each other?

    Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
    —George Washington

  13. I found the article very insightful and liked it. Steve, please keep producing content like this. As for all the “Number 4 nazi’s,” quit complaining (which happens to be number 7) and try to see if you can learn something from the article (whether that includes number 4 or not).

  14. Wierd. Matthew 18:3 says you must be born again to be saved. That means kitty didn’t make it to heaven my friend. Sorry.

  15. Telling your child that you believe in a higher power, (could be god, buddah
    or whatever) leaving the choice up to him in specific when he learns more
    about religion. Is my opinion of a good way to tackle the whole “is there really a god” situation.

    And thanks for a good story of your Father son relationship.
    sounds like you are doing a whole lot better job than alot of
    people out there 😀

  16. There’s an easy way to sort this out.

    Hands up if you were told that Santa Claus was real when you were a kid.

    Now hands up if you still believe Santa Claus is real.

    Most normal people figure these things out for themselves. Until such a time, the concept of heaven is a perfectly harmless one that might actually help assuage a child’s pain at losing a beloved pet!

    Oh, and if you had your hand up after the second point, you really shouldn’t be on the internet. No seriously, you could hurt somebody. Including yourself.

  17. You’re all being really stupid and naive. Yes, okay, so teaching her child the religion she believes is wrong, yes? Well what about the whole of society that we live in today? We’re all oppressed and are forced to accept it, mainly through religion also. I’m athiest but ive learnt to just accept it and get on with my own life and let others live theirs. Surely bringing up children to your own ways is going to annoy someone somewhere no matter what you do because we ALL have different norms and values? Its completely pathetic. Let the kid make his own mind up, hes 4 for christs sake.

  18. Your kid sounds quite bright. Did you do anything in particular that helped him learn to read so quickly, or is he just naturally good at that?

  19. Haven’t read the comments past the 1st few – especially the angry atheists, which were truly hilarious in their impracticality.

    I’m an atheist myself but seriously, the kid is 4. Long winded discussions about the indeterminate nature of god is really not appropriate. He has plenty of time to get cynical about human nature.

    Either way, the kid is not going to end up an emotionally disturbed adult as a result. Relax. Some people are just too earnest.

  20. “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.”

    If any of you cared to notice he didn’t totally rebuke the child’s question, but just said, he didn’t know.

  21. I think we can see the reflection of the heart of those that can take an article such as this and turn it into a circus of religious arguments. Why would anyone listen to an atheist or even Christian Ultra-Conservative when approached in judgement. If you want to try and make a valid argument, the cynicism has to go. The attitudes silence anything that you say, valid or not. The way that some of you have approached this article is no different than me coming back to you and saying that you are going to burn in hell. Come on, Steve was just talking about joys of his 4 year old, but no, you have to pollute his wonderful post with such filth. You know what, it is so sad – some of you are probably the same type of people that hate kids and have never had kids and never want kids. Furthermore, if any of you did have kids, you are instilling belief in them as well. You have faith in the fact there is no God, and are teaching your kids that you don’t know and it’s not important enough for you to seek it out and that is what your kids are going to learn. Your kids are not going to put any significance on spiritual things, thus mirroring you at your age, not knowing anything and telling their kids to seek it out on their own. On the other hand, those of us that believe there is a God, believe that it is very important to teach our child what we believe. NO different than teaching them to stop at a stop sign or not drinking and driving. How about teaching your children not to drink soft drinks and to eat fruit. IT’s a matter of life or death. Likewise, we believe that the belief in God is a matter of life or death. I am and will not push my belief of God on you, so please, do us the favor and don’t push YOUR beliefs (which youcall a lack of belief – that’s funny) that there is no God on me. And if you don’t want, what you think an unintelligent answer of questions not aswered, then don’t ask. But for some reason, you think that you can open the floor for some sort of answer from us God-believers, but then argue that we are pushing our beliefs on you. You know what, just don’t ask the questions and you won’t get an answer that you don’t like. So there…pls in the future, don’t pollute such a wonderful article about a father and a son.

  22. Imagine you are in a courtroom. You are about to be sentenced with a penalty of death by lethal injection before a group of observers. You were brought to court, tried and found guilty of breaking the law. There’s no body that can bend the truth, make something go missing, etc. You are guilty. You broke the law. There’s no way out.

    Then all of a sudden this man comes into the court room. Before the judge is about to announce the obvious decision, this man interrupts the judge. He convinces the judge to listen to him. He’s a well respected man, he’s done great things for the town and surrounding area in which he lives, he’s given money to needy folks, he’s provided clothing and food and shelter. He’s the perfect public figure. He’s full of wisdom and is always loving towards those on the streets that he meets. He’s just as honest in private as he is in public.

    This man, because he is so well respected, is heard by the judge. He tells the judge to let him take your place. He wants to die for you. He wants to give his life for you because he believes that you deserve a second chance. He’s willing to do this because he loves you dearly and you don’t know him at all. You are a stranger to him, but he still believes in you and loves you. He wants to see you become more than you’ve ever been told that you couldn’t be.

    He convinces the judge to allow him to take your place. The judge asks him why, and his reply is this: “Love Always Wins!” The courtroom is so still you can hear a pen drop, a child cough or a mouse scurry across the floor. No one knows what to say.

    So the judge allows you and the man to an hour alone. He tells you about all that life is about. He tells you that he has always loved you even though you never loved him. He teaches you some of his greatest insights that he’s learned in his short life. He’s only 33 years of age. He tells you again, before you leave the room, “Love Always Wins!”

    You are allowed to witness his lethal injection, his death. He looks at you one last time and repeats once again, “Love Always Wins!”

    You see, at first I said, imagine. This story has been taking place for a long time. The truth behind it has stood the test of time. This is a story about you, this is a story about me, this is a story about us.

    This is the message of victory through death. This message of love is constant. This is the love of Jesus Christ.

    “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God.” (Church History In Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley pg 3)

    The Bible teaches us that Jesus is God’s son and also Jesus reveals of himself and God as one John 14 – The Holy Bible, then read John 17 to understand a little more about this connection between Jesus and his father, God. Or take a look at his birth as recorded in Luke 1:26-38.

    Read this message of love, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the first four books on the New Testament of the Bible.

    So you wonder why I make such a post. It’s because this message has changed me. I believe in Jesus Christ, he forgave me of all the wrong I have done when he died for my sins, our sins, on the cross. He was sentenced to death for the penalty of my sin, our sin, because he came back to life on the third day as he foretold. So I believe in him and have life, everlasting life beyond my mortal death. My soul will find rest in the presence of Jesus in Heaven.

    I’ve skimmed over all these post. They have saddened me dearly. I felt compelled out of the love of Christ to share this truth of love, because LOVE ALWAYS WINS!

    Sacha posted on November 20th, 2006 at 8:34 pm an excellent reason for which I believe the same. We are Christians, not religious people. We are sinners, we mess up everyday. It’s the grace of God that allows us to find forgiveness in him, grace is receiving something that we do not deserve. By that forgiveness we grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

    Why does God let bad things happen to good people? To draw us near to him to trust him and for him to receive the glory for what incredible work he can do. Don’t believe me. Google Nick Vujicic and watch the videos. (He has no arms, no legs…just a little stub wit a few toes, oh what marvelous a message of hope!)

    Lastly, I post because I love you. We are all different, black, white, red and yellow but Jesus loves us anyway. For those that claim to be of Christ or of Christianity forgive them for they know not what they have done in their postings. It has only turned such a great insight of a man’s relationship with his son and what his son has taught him to the work of the Lord leading me to this blog to give a reason for that which I believe in.

    May you all come to know the love of Jesus Christ, because LOVE ALWAYS WINS!

  23. I don’t have a four year old, but I do have scores of nephews with lots of friends. Know what they taught me? To SMILE a lot. That got them many many friends in the play lot.

    It’s the one currency you can never be stingy about.

  24. Hi Steve!

    This post just made me smile! Thank you! And I particularly enjoyed this one (well all of them but I choose this one):

    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.”

    To often we spend our lives flitting from one thing to another never sitting still long enough to see the “8’s” in our world. Smart kid!

  25. Hi Steve,
    Great stuff…….Its amazing what we as adults CAN learn from our children……Persistence…..a child will never give up and is constantly bettering themselves……its amazing to watch and funny at times 🙂
    Also……although my daughter is not talking yet she has taught me how strong television screens really are……..the remote control has been thrown several times at incredible speed and accuracy directly at the screen and still good as new lol 🙂

  26. I beleive the best segment was of consistency. I have found that when a person gives a persistent and consistent effort, they will almost always attain their goal. Too many people fall just short of reaching their dreams because they quit just before the benefits of their efforts start to multiply.

  27. The insight of children is sometimes quite surprising isnt it. I have a young son as well, and we recently went through the everything is “stupid, absurd’ etc phase, and like you I realised he was picking this stuff up from me.
    What I learn from my son, about myself, life and yes, about God (he’s always wanting to know what God’s nature is like) is just simply wonderful. I’m so thankful I have him as I feel he helps make me a better, wiser person each day.

  28. I was enjoying this forum until I started coming across the people having a go at Steve for teaching his son what he believes. These very same people teach their children what they believe, even if they then go on to say they leave their children to decide for themselves. Talk about hypocrisy! And by the way, if God needed to be made by someone, He wouldn’t BE God would He? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work that one out. Asking such a question just means you don’t know the answer, it doesn’t mean there’s something to see through and you’ve seen through it. What kind of reasoning is this? The kind that comes from people who don’t believe in God and think there is something wrong with those who do, and think they have to open their big mouths about it everywhere they get a chance.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your forum Steve, and like most others, can identify with no. 1.

  29. Steve,

    Thank you for your beautiful reminder of lessons we can all learn from our kids. It’s easy to forget that the teaching we do goes both ways, and to be humble enough to learn from these little guys, too.


  30. this father is a lucky man to have the opportunity to learn as well as be able to write about it. His son will be a teaching tool for a quite a while. Yet the fun has just begun. I wish him levity, love and songs.

  31. Even though I do not have a kid, I find this interesting because I have a 7 year old sister. I heard that on average a 2 year old asks 437 questions a day, theyre all to eager to learn. It is what were hear for though, to teach the next generation, I gues sometimes they just end up teaching us instead.

  32. I spent a good share of my children’s younger life in the navy and Let me tell you, you don’t realize just how fast they are growing and learning till you’ve spent weeks or months away from them. When you are there every day, even for just a very little while it seems that they are taking forever just learning to crawl, but go away for two months and it’s magic! You have to learn very fast to check the floor behind you before taking a step backwards. And by the way, my first great-granchild “Penny” was born yesterday, I hope I live long enough to see if you really can teach an old dog “sea dog” that is, a new thing or two.

  33. Wow…

    What a great initial post. What great responses.

    Each to their own…..Is there ever a right way to do anything?

    If I’d known that grandchildren were so much fun…I would have had them first.

    Let the world revolve.

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