I sat on the living room floor and commented on needing a nap as my niece brought a yellow wooden puzzle designed for a two year old. As she is smart and newly three, we took turns and finished quickly. She then went and fetched another, this one a little bit harder, and after we had finished that one, another. Cooperation was moving like clockwork until I looked up and saw her with an interlocking 50 piece wooden puzzle with no sample picture – a puzzle even an eight year old or middle-aged auntie would find challenging. She dumped the pieces on the floor.
What is she going to do now? I thought to myself. I began working on the edges, and trying to help her find things that go together, but she wasn’t having much luck. Entirely undaunted, she picked up a few puzzle pieces, and looked at me.
“Puzzle fight!” And my head and arms were hit with slightly stinging pieces of wood. I laughed. I gathered them up and redirected, and we worked on the puzzle a little more, me trying to give her pieces that went together after my own hunt for them. I began noticing that piles of puzzle pieces were suddenly in the way; she was making puzzle piles and knocking them over, again, with a smile on her face. After a bit I redirected again (the only way to put the thing away was to finish it). Then I heard that little voice.
“I will make a bed for you to take a nap,” she said, and instructed me to keep working on the puzzle as that little girl with the long brown hair went over to the couch and proceeded to straighten out the pillows, lay down the fuzzy cranberry blanket, and make it all neat and ready.
I told her we had to put the puzzle away first and we did finish, but I had to laugh at the whole thing. This girl was amazing. She found a task that was too tough for her, and, caught by surprise by this, what did she do? She came up with creative ways to still have fun. First the puzzle fight, then the piles, then making the couch as a bed, she kept the play up despite an overwhelming task at hand.
When babies are over-stimulated by the gaze of someone, they look away. When kids below a certain age don’t know the meaning of a word, they simply ignore it. When toddlers fall, they crawl away or get back up. And when children are grieving, they take reprieves of play between the sadness. Though kids need help, there is a part of the very little ones that instinctively knows how to deal with things that are, “too much.”
Part of growing up healthy is to learn to deal with the overwhelming emotions that all children have. Another part is to not lose those natural ways to go easy on ourselves that seem to be programmed into the human person. My newly-three year old niece didn’t say to herself, “I dumped this puzzle out and I have to put it back, and I can’t, and I hate myself…” She was too young for that thinking, and no one was scolding her for being caught off guard as children often are. I want everyone to be too young for that thinking. I want everyone to say, “Well look, this is over my head. Let’s tackle it, maybe get some help, and know that it’s just a problem. It isn’t the gauge of my worth.”
Sadly, the world comes in, and many kids develop perfectionism much too young. Maybe you are one of them who did. This is a reminder to you and to myself: It’s OK for some things to be too difficult. Finding things that are too difficult means that we are reaching out for new experiences, becoming open to learning, and really living life. Sometimes, the best way to conquer self-debilitating perfectionism is to look at children. How do they give themselves a break? It’s naturally a part of us. Let’s relearn that.
May God bless your day.