Children are Like Tiny Foreigners

When it comes to interacting graciously, children have two disadvantages over adults: first, they’re just learning and practicing impulse control; and second, children’s bodies are so much tinier than ours are. This means that they get hungry, they get tired, and they get overstimulated much more quickly and easily than we do. To make things even more challenging, children are largely unaware of what’s going on when they’re hungry, or tired, or overstimulated. They just feel uncomfortable and they don’t know why. They can’t say, “wow, I had a really hard day yesterday, I’m just going to take it easy today.” In fact, they don’t get to do any of their planning at all. They are simply thrust into situation after situation by us, the adults in their lives who don’t get hungry, or cold, or tired, or overstimulated nearly as easily as they do. So the first step for us, as adults, to help children learn to interact graciously, is to set them up for success.

Make sure your children are dressed warmly, that they’re getting 12-14 hours of sleep per 24-hours (including naps), and that you take them to new places, and introduce them to new situations, judiciously, being aware doing new things take more energy and can wear kids out. We don’t think of going to the bank, or the grocery store, or a restaurant, as being exhausting, because we’ve done them hundreds and hundreds of times. But think about when you’ve traveled abroad. Especially if you’ve traveled somewhere where that uses a different alphabet than we do. Think about how much energy even basic daily tasks take when you’re in that country: the language doesn’t come easily to you. You don’t know the customs. You can’t read the signs very well. Even something basic like going to the corner store for milk and bread takes a lot of energy. Doing something exciting, like taking the bus to go visit the Haigga Sophia or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, can be exhausting! It’s fun, but it’s exhausting.

Well, think of young children as tiny foreigners in our country. They’re just learning the customs. They can’t read the signs. They haven’t done everything hundreds of times. So please be careful about how much stimulation you expose your children to, even if the things you’re doing are fun, like visiting the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Because when children are tired or over stimulated, they won’t be able to interact graciously, no matter how much they’ve practiced, or how well they do on a ‘good’ day.



  1. This is so true! Lili’s school was out for Columbus Day so I took the day off. We went to the park, then to her favorite restaurant for lunch (mac & cheese and a yogurt machine!), then to the mall and rode the train there, then to a friend of mine’s for a playdate.

    I’ve talked about Lili being slow to warm up, but she was downright anti-social with the girls that she’s had so much fun with before and who kept trying to hug and include her.

    I was talking with my sister about it and she said that what we did was a LOT for a 4-year old. Oops… You know, it’s probably good for mom too to slow down on the running around if it’s not needed. Fun-filled day is what we went for and it didn’t end up horribly badly, but maybe we both could have used the downtime instead, talking about the fun we had already had that day.

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