Obviously, many parents want to apply mind control against their children, if the reactions to the last week’s column are any indication. Before, I thought the column was going to be considered weird, thinking others don’t count among us, the many long-suffering parents.
We, who are on a daily basis, manipulated, subjugated and thoroughly terrorized without having the power to fight back – because we’ll consider ourselves bad parents if we do.
But now that we’re united on the plan to learning the tricks and strategies – including, shamelessly borrowing from the dark arts – on how to manipulate the little manipulators, let’s quickly move unto other techniques. The first one is actually not a trick. It’s a powerful tool from philosophy which teachers have employed for centuries.
Abstraction – how to explain sickle cell anemia to a six-year old
Why can’t an AS person marry another AS? A child asks. How do you tackle that question? Use abstraction. Abstraction is a powerful tool for explaining concepts to children. Here I’m going to explain what it is, using different experts’ definitions and how we used the technique on my son.
Abstraction, to use Stanford’s Wordweb’s definition, is “the process of formulating general concepts by abstracting common properties of instances.” Used in this sense, abstraction functions like a theory. In her book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” Angela Duckworth explains what a theory is: “A theory is an explanation. A theory takes a blizzard of facts and observations and explains, in the most basic terms, what the heck is going on. By necessity, a theory is incomplete. It oversimplifies. But indoing so, it helps us understand.”
The essence of Duckworth’s explanation is that a theory or the abstraction of an idea sacrifices accuracy in favour of facilitating understanding. Since, we know that children don’t need to know everything about an idea either because aspects of that thing is not appropriate for their age or because they do not have the cognition to understand the idea, what do we do to accommodate their incessant questions? Use abstraction.
We were in the car discussing the health difficulties of his cousin – who is a sickler – with the mother. Of course he wasn’t invited into the conversation. But like many children, he crashed the party and completely distracted us from what we were discussing. “Both parents are AS,” the mother told me.
“What is AS?” My son asked. Therefore, from discussing his cousin, we moved to explaining the concept to him, as both of us struggle to find the right words for him. After many attempts failed to make him understand, we settled on the following explanation.
An AA person doesn’t get sick. An AS person gets sick sometimes. An SS person gets sick all the time. Therefore, if you are an AS person like Baba (my son’s father), you must marry an AA person like Mama. If not, you may give birth to an SS child and the child will get sick all the time. You don’t want that to happen, do you? Silence. The next question he asked showed that he understood our explanation: “So where is the AA woman for me to marry?” He asked.
Of course this elicited some laughter. “Slow down young man,” we said, “when you become a big man, you will find an AA woman to marry. In sha Allah.”
We thought that was all. But something happened in the evening which demonstrated that abstraction sacrifices accuracy. The mother had a headache. So she was resting, lying down. “Did you pray for Mama to get better?” I asked him completely forgetting our afternoon’s discussion on the super powers of the AA.
“What is wrong with Mama?” He asked. “She has headache,” I replied.
“But Mama is AA and AAs don’t get sick.” He said, confused. This necessitated us to revise the theory a little bit. “Actually an AA person also gets sick sometimes. But not as frequently as others.”
It would appear that he gets it now, but there’s no guarantee that he wouldn’t ask more questions on the subject again.
I realize that we had the space to discuss only one technique this week, we’ll continue with others next week, including how I used the superiority my son feels over his two-year old sister against him.