Why Are Children Such Extremists?


Like most five-year-olds, my son is engaged in a constant struggle to control his tongue whenever his plans go south. Not knowing any profanity, his manner of venting forces its way to the surface through some pretty strange channels. He has all but moved on from the usually forbidden and wholly unimaginative phrase “I hate this,” reserving it for things that sadden rather than anger him, such as when he gets his days mixed up and learns that Daddy has to work today after all.

[See the latest PJ Parenting Roundtable: Do You Allow Your Kids to Say ‘I Hate You’?]

With “hate” phrases off the table, he searches desperately for new avenues through which to cast terrible judgments and issue scathing ultimatums about whatever is infuriating him:

Spilled your drink? “I guess I will never drink apple juice ever again.”

Learned that your cousins aren’t going to be at Grammy’s today after all? “I guess I will always just play by myself all the livelong day.”

Discovered that your little sister commandeered the soldiers you used to build your epic, trans-era battlefield? “I guess I can never play with my army men ever again.”

For a while he tried to outflank us on the right with his ultimatums, inadvertently voicing exactly our own view of how intractable his predicament would be until he straightened up:

Bummed you need to finish your dinner before Mom and Dad let you play? “I guess I will just have to eat all of this food until it is all gone or I go to bed.” Yep. Well said. Get shovelin’.

Get shut down for trying to debate something not up for discussion? “I guess I will just sit here and not talk because I have a bad attitude.” Score.

Wherefore this binary thinking in strict blacks and whites, stark polarities, do-or-die-hardness, All-or-Nothing-ism? Being an INTP on the Myers-Briggs grid (an Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking Perceiver), I’m relieved to discern that I value a multiplicity of distinctions and options far too much for me to be the source. Such fire and ice must hail from his ESFJ mom (my polar opposite, an Extroverted, Sensing, Feeling Judge). (ESFJs, by the way, are said to make great nurses and hosts/hostesses. I am neither, while my wife is both, which allows her to write things like “It’s Not Your Home’s Size That Matters, but the People You Bring Inside It.”)

Needless to say–as my Sensing wife would point out–an ability to immediately distill all Grays into either Black or White is an amazing gift when cultivated and controlled by an adult. Eight years of marriage have repeatedly borne out that my wife brings a common-sense perspective to problem-solving that a Perceiver like me finds initially infuriating but ultimately inspiring, and embarrassingly more efficient.

My son’s All-or-Nothing-ism, however, is a long way from bearing such fruit. But the fruit it does bear is deliciously sweet:

“Dad, you know what was my favorite part of the day? Spending time with you. And God.” He lays it on thick, but it’s still nice to hear.

“If anyone tries to hurt Annie or Betsy, I will destroy them.” There won’t be a bad guy left to destroy once I’m finished, but he’s a great wingman.

Finally, this one just in via text message from my sister, who hosted him for a cousins’ sleepover last night. It actually was said by my nephew, whom my son strives to emulate, so I am sure we’ll be hearing it soon:

“This kind of is the best time of my life. No, it is the best time of my life.”

Mine too.

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