Mind What You Say To A Highly Literal Child

My daughter is literally the most literal person I know. Her brain is just wired that way. 

If she asks for an extra big scoop of pasta and I say, “I hope your eyes aren’t bigger than your stomach,” she’ll say, “Nope. My eyes are normal size.”

Or if you tell her, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” she’ll ask, “Which bridge? Are we driving or walking over it? Can I pack a snack?”  

Until recently, if I snuggled her and said, “You’re so delicious, I could just eat you up,” she’d wriggle away in protest and exclaim, “I’m not food!” She understands now that it’s an expression of affection, and that I won’t actually come at her with a fork. 

I love a witty figure of speech, a pun, or clever turn-of-phrase, and use them often. As a rule, I think this is the best practise. How else will a child learn to communicate effectively if we don’t introduce modern vernacular and push the language bar?

This morning I inadvertently pushed the bar too high.

The horrified expression on my sweet girl’s face is burned on my brain; because her literal brain mistook my “tech specific” language for something alarmingly dark.

Her friend had gone LIVE on Facebook earlier and the replay of the video popped up on my computer. Avery saw her friend chatting away and excitedly called her name, waving enthusiastically. Peering at the screen she asked, “Can you see me? It’s me Avery! How are you?? I miss you!!” 

Absentmindedly I said, “Oh sorry Avery, she can’t hear you. She’s not live now.”

Seconds later I looked up and saw the utter shock and horror on her face. 

“What’s the matter??” I asked. 

She squawked, “She’s not…. SHE’S NOT ALIVE NOW?!” 

I replayed my last words in my head and knew immediately where I’d gone wrong. 

“Oh no, she’s alive!! She’s perfectly fine. I promise! She’s not “live” in the video I meant. It’s a recording of her from yesterday. Like a TV show. She’s just not there right now…” 

Oh god. 

She breathed a long deep sigh of relief and said, “You scared me mummy.” 

Once I knew she was truly okay, I had a quiet chuckle. Because what a ridiculous miscommunication. Another comedy of errors in the long list of “oops moments” that dot my life as mama to a unique and highly literal child.  


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