(Note: A downloadable PDF copy of this lesson is available on the last page.)
Why do adults behave childishly?
Where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
1 Corinthians 3:3, NKJV
I was sitting alone in a living room, waiting for the man of the house to appear. Instead, a door opened and in walked a small boy. He walked over to where I was sitting and asked me some pointed questions:
“Who are you?”
“What do you want here?”
“Have you got any children?”
“I have a dog. Do you like dogs?”
“Do your children have a train like mine?”
I had my mind on the reason for my being there, so these questions were distracting me. I tried to think of some way to get his attention away from me, and all I could think of was to give him my billfold to play with.
Immediately I saw that this decision was a mistake. He began to extract my credit cards and money. I needed to redeem my billfold.
My first approach was to ask him to return it in as nice a voice as possible. “Would you please give me my billfold?”
He replied, “That’s my billfold.”
A simple, childlike transaction. I had no other choice but to take it away from him. In my mind, I needed to be calm, cool, and collected for my appointment, so I needed to bring this encounter with a three-year-old to a swift conclusion. I retrieved my billfold, put the credit cards and paper money in place, and pocketed the billfold. But my little friend was determined to retrieve “his” billfold. He approached me with a smile on his face and in a pleasant voice, he said, “Please, mister, can I have my billfold back?”
With such a sweet request, I felt quite mean and inconsiderate, but I replied, “No, that’s my billfold.”
“Can’t I please have it back? Please, Mister? Please can l have it back?” he pleaded, still smiling.
I was almost persuaded to give it back to him, but I got a firmer grip on my resolve and said as gently as possible, “No, you can’t have it.”
As if by magic, this nice, polite, friendly, little boy turned into someone else. His smile was gone. He eyes became slits, he stomped his feet, his little hands doubled up into fists, and in a shrill voice, he shouted, “I want my billfold!”
I said, “No!”
Then he started to cry. Tears streaming down his cheeks, he looked utterly pathetic.
He wailed, “I want my billfold.”
I said, “No!”
Finally, he gave me an ugly look and turned his back on me.
He was pouting.
I was getting the silent treatment. He acted as though I was non-existent.
At that point, his father showed up and the incident with the child was over. Later, I had some free time and began to relive that scene.
Small children have some very effective tools to get what they are after. The tools can be charming: smiling, reaching out for a hug or sweet talk; they can also be deceptively charming: rolling their eyes, yelling, screaming, crying, or pouting. Childlike behavior can be very effective.
There are two definitions for the word charm. One is the expression of genuine pleasure, delight, pleasantry, and gratitude. The other is to deceive and pretend pleasure, delight, pleasantry and gratitude to allure, entice, captivate. In either case, the behavior is the same; the motive is quite different.
I have parents approach me because their child is five years old and clearly still uses deceptive charm (as the three-year-old who approached me) to get what they are after. At what age is it no longer acceptable to use pretended pleasantry for personal gain? Would you say ten, twenty, or forty years old?
We were having lunch with an elderly couple. Their ten-year-old grandchild approached the table. She was all smiles and charm. With her back to Grandpa and hugging Grandma, I heard her whisper in Grandma’s ear, “Grandma, can I have a dollar”?
The grandma said, “No, not now.”
Then she turned around with her back to Grandma and gave Grandpa a hug and a kiss and told him she loved him. He was noticeably pleased by her attention. Then she asked him for a dollar. He gladly responded. She gave him another hug and kiss and declared her love for him; she gave Grandma a big smile, and was gone. She’d gotten her dollar.
My three-year-old friend’s actions in attempting to acquire my billfold and the ten-year-old’s success in charming Grandpa out of a dollar start out to be childish self-interest. But this behavior works so well that it often is continued into adult life.