Son trying to understand reality(11 Posts)
First, I'll declare that I am a dad so I hope that's okay to post on here, I'm no sure where else to find the wealth of knowledge Mumsnet has to offer.
I've a quick question on what age you've found children start questioning their reality. My son is 6 and today said he doesn't like himself. He's cute, funny, intelligent and sensitive so it was strange for him to say this out of the blue. He's got a perfect life and shouldn't have a care in the world. I re-assured him that he's amazing and to be himself because we love him just as he is.
He seemed happier but then he said the following, "I don't believe in god, don't believe in Jesus, don't believe in anything. How do I know this is all real? How do I know I'm real?".
I tried to re-assure him some more but could see the questions troubled him.
I don't mind these questions. I'm an atheist and have not encouraged him to believe or not to believe. I figured he's way too young and will work it all out for himself when he's older so it's never really been discussed. I expected to have a conversation like this when he was approaching his teens. It's great that he's asking deep questions but I don't think he's mature enough for the answers.
I'm not sure what I'm asking for really... perhaps just how common is it for a 6 year old to question his existence and how can I re-assure him about reality without confusing him more.
My DD is 6 and we often get questions about 'Is God real?' 'Is this film real or is it an actor?' 'Is this story real?'
It's good that they have objective minds, I'd channel it into maybe watching some programmes together like David Attenborough documentaries or Blue Peter or similar and talking about how this is real life. And then watch a cartoon or kids movie and talk about how they are actors.
I wouldn't really talk too much about religion as I think it can really upset and confuse kids at this age so I would focus more on day to day realities and pretend things.
Thanks TTRJ, he has often checked if things he sees on TV are "really real" but this was just a bit unsettling as he asked if he himself was real. He tried pinching himself but then said it didn't prove anything. Perhaps I just need to let it go and hope he's forgotten about it but I just worry that with a deep question like that unanswered his mind might fill the gap with things to confuse himself even more.
If you think about how complex the human body is and the world that we live in, it's no wonder that kids like ours have problems conceiving how real it is.
If you have a science centre locally maybe take him to see that. There's usually a lot of interactive kids activities and, while it might not answer his direct questions, will give him a bigger base knowledge on how dynamic everything about human physiology and the world around us is.
6yo DS has autism, and is very bright. It means that he has surprised me with some out there questions sometimes. One of his aunts died last year, which means he has dying higher in his mind than he might otherwise.
I try to remember that these are questions that people have been pondering for thousands of years. While our DC don't know as much as we do, their brains are just as capable (probably more in my case!) as ours of identifying these big questions.
So I sometimes say, I don't know/nobody knows for sure, and this is what I think.
You might like to try the Huge Bag of Worries book and similar, if you are concerned that your DS is anxious.
I think I was around 6 when I began to doubt the 'religious' stories we were told at school (in the 1940s !)
The fact that he is thinking in such a logical and constructive way, would, to me, suggest he is intelligent - maybe ultra-intelligent.
After all, things that some children are nowadays familiar with - evolution; plate tectonics; the ISS and Tim Peake; the jet stream - were only known to scientists, when I was a child, or didn't exist at all.
And, unless you have read up on Descartes, DS may be nearer the truth than you realise!
You can only answer and support him as honestly as you are able, and try not to scare him.
I think children are natural philosophers: they are trying to understand their world - including all the big questions - and haven't yet internalised the 'that's just how it is' filter we adults apply to so many things.
I distinctly remember various conversations with friends when I was a child which really surprise me now, including one about how there was no way for us to be sure that we were seeing the same thing when we looked at a colour, since we both just had the same name for our own experience. Fairly astute for a couple of 8-year-olds!
I think the thing to do is to talk it through with him, keeping it at his level. A good way to do that is to let him lead the conversation, by mainly asking questions which help him to explore the ideas himself. You don't need to know the answers - hearing your answers will help him less than finding his own. You'll want to tell him what you think too, but it should be an exchange of ideas not a lecture.
The obvious question to ask in your son's case is 'what do you think this could be, if this isn't real?' and have some fun with different ideas, suggesting some of your own. But perhaps the more useful question is 'what would you do differently if it wasn't real?' and follow that line (towards how we have to make choices about how we live, based on what we know, which is never everything).
These questions aren't something to fear - thinking about these things is interesting and fun, and a fundamental part of being human. You are lucky and privileged that your son is sharing this part of his journey with you.
You could look for some books on childrens philosophy to get you into the frame of mind to see the types of questions to ask. A quick search on 'philosophy for children' brings up some options. The chapter on 'the dream' in the book described here looked like it might address your son's current questions.
The cbeebies program 'what's the big idea' is also good.
A new TV series on BBC 4, 'The Brain with David Eagleman' started tonight with "What is Reality?" and should be on 'iPlayer' for a while.
It covers the questions we have been posing here.
Both my children went through a reality stage at about the same age. I do think that it is a developmental stage where they realise the world doesn't revolve around them. My second ds really struggled with the thought of death, and would get very upset about it. They are now 13 and 9 and don't vocalise those thoughts and worries anymore, so either don't have them, or don't want to talk about them.
My DD is 7 and just started questioning FC, tooth fairy, magic, etc.
It actually broke my heart a little, as they seem to be choldren for such a short time.
She has also said a few of the "I don't deserve X Y Z" things, and I do wonder whether society puts such emphasis on being "good" that it all gets too much?
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