Momma told me...
May 30, 2008 10:10 AM   Subscribe

What stories about everyday things do you tell to your toddler/preschooler?

A friend told me that she tells her one-year-old when it thunders that the noise is “angels bowling.” Nice, but not really my style.

I know at some point when my daughter gets a little older, we’ll give a better/more realistic account of what’s happening, but in the meanwhile I’m looking for simple ways to explain life phenomena without mentioning a “god” and without getting too technical. For example, when it thunders now, I wimpily tell my 18-month-old daughter, “um, that’s the noise the sky makes sometimes!” Not overly helpful, I’m guessing, and I can’t remember what my parents used to tell me.

The question: Do you have any “cute” tales you tell your toddlers/preschoolers about natural occurrences? I’m not looking for things necessarily that address frightening things or big topics (like death), just your run-of-the-mill daily conversations. Hope this question isn’t too expansive, just would like to get a little better at answering the “why does....” question when it comes up, particularly with simple, age-appropriate, and charming (if possible) answers.
posted by dreamphone to Human Relations (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh - should have also asked: or, what stories about everyday things did your parents tell you?
posted by dreamphone at 10:10 AM on May 30, 2008

Why not do really watered down versions of what's actually happening? Thunder? That's when the clouds get mad and crash into each other!
posted by phunniemee at 10:28 AM on May 30, 2008

My father used to say that someone stepped on a duck when he farted.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:32 AM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

Squirrels are evil, and are plotting against us all.
posted by Artw at 10:39 AM on May 30, 2008

I'm with jamaro on this one. When the kids at work (preschool age) ask me about things, they get the truth. Thankfully they never ask about Santa or the tooth fairy or anything like that. But as far as technical things go, it doesn't hurt to have them know the real deal.

I should probably add that this is a Montessori school and these kids know what the underside of a turtle is called, where I didn't even know it had a special name.
posted by theichibun at 10:40 AM on May 30, 2008

Why not do really watered down versions of what's actually happening? Thunder? That's when the clouds get mad and crash into each other!


Thunder has nothing to do with clouds colliding.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:40 AM on May 30, 2008

I have a 1 year old, so we haven't exactly gotten to any conversation level beyond him pointing at things and me naming them and him trying to say the names, and I'm of two minds about how to handle these types of questions, and I think I'll do both.

Thunder might be cloud farts, or I might use jamaro's explanation.

My dad did similar things with me and my siblings. Sometimes we'd get a straight answer, and other times we'd get a crazy answer just outside the realm of possibility. Usually this would send us running.. "Mom! Did you hear Dad? Is that true?" His explanation to our mom was that he was instilling us with healthy skepticism. I think it worked out well.

I can't for the life of me remember any of my dad's crazy explanations though. Who knows how many I didn't catch and assume are actual facts.
posted by jrishel at 10:42 AM on May 30, 2008
posted by aswego at 10:54 AM on May 30, 2008

Best answer: We give our daughter (now almost five) a simple and true answer ("Thunder is the sound lightening makes"), and if the Why's get too persistent and annoying, we give her the complex and true answer ("Thunder is a sound of lightening, delayed because it's coming down through the atmosphere more slowly than the light, because the speed of sound is slower than the speed of light, which by the way is both particle and wave," etc. etc.). Usually this bores her, but the other day the septic tank inspector came out and I spent half a day explaining to her how septic tanks and wells work, and she insisted on seeing all the pipes in the basement. The inspector gave her technical drawings and she pored over them, absolutely entranced. But I digress.

I am a firm believer (not that you should be, just that I am) in not telling her things I'll later have to retract. This goes for Santa Claus etc. too, which I never believed in as a child, and never missed. And god, too. I've always been an atheist, and that's the way I explain the world to her because that's the way it is. (Did I even spell Santa Claus right? It looks wrong. But "clause" looks too grammatical.) Anyway, I tell her the truth.

And, too, my husband tells her the wackiest shit imaginable, to instill skepticism, because she loves it when we talk silly, because we love to see her smile and laugh. But she knows it's not real, partly because it usually involves elephants.
posted by Capri at 11:32 AM on May 30, 2008 [6 favorites]

This is a bit of a nonexample: my grandmother told me more than once when I was little and wy folks weren't around that when it rained but the sun was shining, this was because the devil was beating his wife. This is apparently not an uncommon explanation, and freaked me out pretty hard. She had a bunch of these (including the angels bowling one) all religious in orgin. My (pretty secular) parents weren't all too thrilled about them. To this day, i dont know if she actually believes the things she told me. She may.

My parents, however, pretty much did what jrishel's did.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:34 AM on May 30, 2008

nthing telling them the truth, watered a bit for age.
I've always told my son the truth when it comes to that sort of stuff, and now (at 5) he gets really annoyed at someone if they try to make something up.
posted by niteHawk at 12:11 PM on May 30, 2008

My Mom and Dad always told me the truth, and if Mom didn't know, she'd walk me to the library where we looked it up. I'm a scientist now, and I think this probably has a lot to do with that.
(I did, however, believe in Santa until I was about 5. I started having doubts and I just said "there's no such thing as Santa, is there?" and Mom said "no, but it's fun to pretend" or something along those lines, which still kept it a fun game for my little sister.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 12:32 PM on May 30, 2008

Based entirely on my single-child experience with my three year old, I'm entirely convinced that many pre-schoolers have the mental capacity to learn most things. Sure, his attention span and memory could use some development, and he is definitely lacking a lot of ambient knowledge. But, usually when I explain things to him, he gets the concepts surprisingly well.

On the other hand, I totally cringe at parents who treat preschoolers as mentally incapable.
posted by brandnew at 12:46 PM on May 30, 2008

Children understand more than we think. I always just give my 3-year old the real explanation.

We also go to a lot of museums, national parks, etc. where she can learn from other people (who are pros at explaining things to children, and thrilled at her boundless enthusiasm).
posted by Ostara at 1:21 PM on May 30, 2008

My dad had lots of "great" stories. To this day, I find myself pissed off that he was incapable of saying "I don't know." And I'll occasionally find that things I thought to be true without a doubt are urban legends or just plain evil. (He told me my grandmother Margaret was called "Peggy" because she walked like she had a peg leg because of her polio.)

So, "I don't know, let's look it up!" is one of my favorite phrases with my kid. Although she does get in trouble for correcting her teacher's factual inaccuracies.
posted by Gucky at 1:29 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a teacher, I've told one little white lie to my students. They were fourth grade and maybe they humored me, but maybe they believed me, I don't know for sure, but it was harmless and fun and served my purposes.

It would happen on a cold winter day, the snow would start flying and they would get all excited and chatty about possibly getting a snow day and leaving school early.

To cut the chatter, I would tell them to stop and breathe on their hands. They could feel the heat coming from their mouths. I then told them that the more they talked, the more heat they created and the snow would melt and not accumulate for a snow day.

To finalize my story, I'd keep an eye out the window and when they were quiet and the snow would start coming down heavy, I'd whisper, "See, it's working!"

They loved it and I did too.
Good times.
posted by NoraCharles at 5:55 PM on May 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

We have terrible barking spiders in our house. They are responsible for all burp and fart noises.
posted by h00py at 7:42 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sometimes when I am with one of my brother's younger kids, I will point to a horse and say "Look, a sheep! What does a sheep say? 'Mooo'!"
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:09 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm about 80% "TRUTH!" and about 20% Calvin's dad.
posted by padraigin at 10:18 PM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

^^^This means my five year old knows where babies come from but thinks chocolate milk comes from brown cows.
posted by padraigin at 10:20 PM on May 30, 2008

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