“Boy + Bot” by Amy Dyckman

A boy meets a robot. He asks if Bot would play with him. “Affirmative,” the robot says. The two have a lot of fun, but when Bot’s power switch gets accidentally turned off, the boy doesn’t know what to do. Is Bot sick? He treats him with soup and a warm blanket. Bot is equally perplexed, when he sees his friend in an inactive state, a.k.a. sleeping. He tries to bring him to action by reading him a manual and even changing his oil and battery. Finally the friends realize that they are two different creatures, but it doesn’t stop them from having fun together. “Want-to-play-tomorrow?” Bot asks. “Affirmative!” The boy responds. 

A warm and clever story about an unlikely friendship between two seemingly incompatible individuals, speaking two different languages.  We can make friends and communicate with each other, across the cultures, species or ages,  but it does not happen without challenges. Boy and Bot had to learn about each other’s differences, accept them and build on what they had in common. They even learned to speak each other’s language.

An adult- cild conversation can often resemble a boy-bot exchange. Two different perspectives and two different languages. What is obvious to an adult, like that a couch is not for jumping, needs a lot of explanation for a little guy. And vice versa. Splashing in puddles goes without saying for a child, but somehow, it is a no-no for the parents. How should we talk with children considering our different points of reference and understanding of the world?

I believe that despite our better knowledge and wisdom, that hopefully comes with our age, we have a lot to learn from a child’s perception. We should base our dialogue on partnership. It’s not always: I am telling you what you should think, say and do, but also I wonder what you think about it and how you would do it.

Other ideas I suggest regarding a parent-child dialogue:

1. Encourage conversations

Make your child used to sharing with you his or her opinions, comments and experiences. A simple “How was your school?” shows you are interested. (Of course, if a child says “good” and you move on to a new topic, then instead of your interest, you communicate “whatever”. It doesn’t augur well for an open dialogue in the future.

2. Forget your child’s age. Talk to an individual who shows interest in a topic. 

We often assume that children’s simple questions need to be answered simply. Wrong! Children formulate simple questions, but their thoughts are often very big and their memory good. A simplified response will result in more questions and a made-up answer will be remembered for a long time. I once asked my aunt what would happen if I swallowed an orange pit and she told me that an orange would grow in my stomach. I believed her for (too) many years. Of course, our responses can’t be overly informative and scientific, to discourage asking or cause disconnect. In language teaching, we talk about communicating just above a child’s level of understanding  ([n+1] formula, where [n] is child’s level of understanding). I think that this formula is easily applicable in any kind of conversation that is supposed to broaden children’s horizons.

At the same time, how to react to uncomfortable and difficult questions? My son recently asked why our neighbor lives only with her dad. Where is her mom? Why does she live in a different house? Will me and his dad will live in separate houses as well? These were all very deep questions and I had to be careful not to put my foot in my mouth. One wrong word could make my son  wrongly encode and misinterpret the concept of divorce. I chose to be truthful, but vague about our neighbor’s situation and very reassuring about our own family future.

3. Cherish your child’s simplicity of thinking. Once it is lost, it never comes back.

My son gets quarters from his dad every now and then. He saves them or chooses to spend them on toy cars. He thinks that one day, thanks to his quarters he will buy his dad a Hennessey Viper and himself, his favorite Bugatti Veyron. A real thing that is. At first I wanted to educate him on how insignificant his pennies will be, considering the cars’ price tags. But on second thoughts, I found his thinking so endearing that any word against it seemed unfair, if not brutal. I wish I could dream so purely, believe in Santa and Superheroes.  My son still has time to learn about disillusion.

Enjoy chatting with your child and enjoy the book. It’s truly engaging and memorable. The other day I asked my son if he wanted to go to the park. “Affirmative,” he answered.

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