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Tomato-Head Kids

December 15, 2005

It is easy to recognize when a child has had significant interaction with his parents. His eyes are bright and alive with the pleasure of everything happening around him.

He is always “in the way,” not wanting to be left out of anything interesting—and everything is interesting! He is full of meaningful questions and expects an intelligent answer. On the other hand, children who have been raised by cartoons and computer games, and are relegated to the out-of-the-way back bedrooms filled with toys and music, are dull and unresponsive. They lack interest and generally seem to have a lower IQ than children of interactive parents. The shoved-aside, “come back when you grow up” children, are raised like greenhouse tomatoes, and have about as much personality as the tomato has flavor. The dull stare, the lack of interest in what visiting adults are talking about or doing, the wandering off to sit and play with toys, and the general “I mind my own business” attitude is obvious, even though in varying degrees. Of course, personalities differ, but when a very young child is constantly provoked into thinking and interacting with his parents, it becomes obvious that his understanding exceeds that of his greenhouse peers.

We have observed that children who have been raised in an atmosphere where they are challenged to use their minds and their voices will more likely grow up to become independent thinkers. The tomato-head will still be compliantly sitting, waiting for someone to tell him what to do when he is 30 years old.

Children who have been talked to, intellectually stimulated, challenged to understand, and who received explanations before they were “old enough” to understand, will understand long before their peers. Not that we want our children to win out over other children in the social race. We just want them to be wise and creative, to be aggressive in their desires to learn, and to be an active, productive part of life. But, more than just being a part, we actually want them to be that part of life that makes things happen, not simply to be a recipient of what “happens” to come their way. It is the difference between being the wind and being a piece of paper. A piece of paper won’t bother you, but give me a face full of wind any day.

Some parents see it as a burdensome chore to “have to” interact with their children. Children who are blessed with lots of such interaction are interested in what adults are talking about, to the point of having to be told (often repeatedly) to wait before sharing their opinion. They expect you to want to know what is on their mind, just as they want to know what is on yours. If you are sewing, they want to try their hand at it. If you are cooking, they want to smell the food, taste the mix, and stir everything. When you are loading firewood or cleaning out an old sewer pipe, they want to be there right smack in the way, holding something for you so as to feel a part of the project.

The interacted-with child is no tomato-head. He will be marked with bubbling self-confidence, whereas that vegetable-headed child will tend to be easily bored and insecure. The set-aside child is the one who becomes self-loathing, knowing for certain that he is pushed away because he is clearly worthless. The interactive kid will grow up to be a shaker and mover of people and events.

Where the TV with its soap operas once stole the children’s mothers, it is now the web. Mothers surf and children suffer. They learn to be quiet, to not bother. In time they won’t bother with anything. Spend your hours talking and visiting with your friends instead of talking with your 2-year-old and your 2-year-old will not grow up to be your friend.

Children who are spoken to and listened to throughout the day grow up to speak so that others listen. And, they grow up to listen carefully, so as to understand the subtle nuances of what is being said. A good vocabulary doesn’t necessarily come from books; it comes more from hearing an abundance of conversations of which they are a part. Your babies cannot ride around in a car seat or a shopping cart and develop productive brain cells.

Time at the table talking is more important than times tables. God said it like this in Isaiah 28:9-10, “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:” Here a little, and there a little—even while they are nursing be giving them Bible teaching (when they come up for air). Don’t let ignorance get a hold on their young minds, and don’t let the status quo become their default ambition.

Yesterday Mike came in the door and said, “You know that 6-year-old kid outside? He is really smart!” I asked Mike, “How’s that? What did he do that was so smart?” I could see Mike was trying to come up with an example to explain why he thought the child was so smart. Finally he said, “Well, he asked me if there was going to be a contest for knife throwing, and if so, what would the rules be.” Through having conversations with the child, I had already observed that he is wise, alert, and eager to be an important part of a bigger world than that of the average boy. He seems to be more like a small man than a child. This little man has grown up in a very interactive family. His mama has no interest in life greater than instructing her children.

Most dads, when they come home in the evening, enjoy relating to their children what they’ve done during that day. Evenings are but a small part of a child’s life—just the ending of a long day. Let’s face it Mama, we mothers are responsible for the greatest part of our children’s education and development. Some mamas are no more than loving babysitters, whose children reflect their lack of intellectual interaction.

It is common for fathers to leave the raising of young children to mother and not get very involved in their sons’ lives until they are old enough to tag along and participate in their adult work and play—usually at about 4 to 6 years old. Many fathers take their young son out with them on a sort of “coming out to manhood venture,” only to discover that their son is a dumb, insecure, disinterested sissy. Dad can’t relate to him, and after several more unsuccessful tries, leaves him to Mother to finish raising. Sure, a wise and loving father would be more involved all along and wouldn’t give up on his son no matter what, but statistics indicate that only about one out of one hundred dads is wise and patient. Many families today are made up of imperfect fathers and imperfect mothers trying desperately to raise perfect kids—not an impossible task, but a demanding one.

So, Mother, help make sure that when your husband does try to relate to your son, he finds him interesting and challenging. Your son should be snappy and quick-witted, interested in all that is happening, eager to try everything, full of curiosity and a zest for new experiences. Fathers are not interested in their boys being quiet, compliant, and kind. If your son is going to be able to ask an intelligent question, he will have to have a genuine interest in what his dad is doing. Your attitude and conversation can generate that interest in your son.

We are not forgetting the girls. Many a capable young man has passed over a potential lifemate because she simply had no interest beyond clothes and hair styles. A beautiful body without a vibrant interest in life-changing things is like a person without a heartbeat or like a frame without a picture. It’s what’s inside that counts! “Dumb” girls—girls never talked to at home—have limited options in life. They often become victims, and are used by bullying men. Little Jane should be able to sit at the Thanksgiving table and explain how long it took to cook the turkey, and why they chose that particular method this year. Six-year-old Suzie should be able to answer questions from visitors and ask a few of her own.

Encourage your children to speak of their ideas, recount their dreams, explain what they meant, and defend their position with logic. We regularly told our children Bible stories and discussed the whys and hows of them. The Bible says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children” (Hosea 4:6). Bible knowledge is armor to the wearer thereof. It is wisdom. It is freedom. Read and tell your Bible stories until all your children can recite them back to the family with exciting zeal. You will also discover that it is an excellent way to teach them to speak in public with confidence.

Life is always about interaction. “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself” (Romans 14:7). Give your children the gift of a vision of who and what they can be. You don’t have to be highly educated to accomplish this, just highly motivated. Talk and laugh with your children. Listen to them, ask questions, wait for the answers, respect their opinions, and, share your ideas. Don’t be surprised when they soon pass you up in their insatiable quest for knowledge. Praise God when you see it happening, and pray faithfully that God will grant them wisdom to match their acquired knowledge that you have inspired them to attain. And then rejoice with that growing number of faithful parents who, when finished with their child-rearing days, will be able to proclaim in God’s presence, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4).

Michael and Debi Pearl

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One comment on “Tomato-Head Kids”

  1. It’s true, this can often be seen with twins where they interact with each other or are given toys to occupy them because there are two mischief makers! My twin nephews walk into a room and look for what there is to play with, whereas their younger brother walks into a room and looks to see ‘Who’s watching me?’