Do your children eat internal organs? Do they eat pigs’ ears? Do they eat aged tofu? We have a habit of assuming that some foods are ‘acquired’ tastes, and universally hated by children, or, in some cases, anyone in their right mind. However, when I was a little girl in China we wouldn’t have blinked an eye at noodles served under a half inch layer of hot pig fat, or spicy pig’s ear salad. We would, however, have been disgusted by the American child’s ubiquitous grilled cheese sandwich.
When it comes to food, it’s not the food itself, it's the age at which a child becomes acclimated to the food. If children begin eating food before they realize that it’s somehow different or strange to eat it, they are comfortable with it and will be less likely to reject it when they grow older.
Though they still eschew the dreaded ‘stinky’ tofu I grew up on, my daughters Adrianna and Adora have a more varied pallet than most other American children. My husband John is from a Czech background and we started them early on dishes that cause their classmate Katie to raise an eyebrow as she peels the wrapper off her kraft single.
Am I suggesting you begin weaning your newborn on boiled chicken feet? No. But the principle has other interesting parenting applications. My daughter Adora has an eight-year-olds’ natural exuberance. In addition to an incomprehensible obsession with tag and sneaking up on her teacher, she also gets excited about watching CNN and reading about everything from the holocaust to the bubonic plague. When our friends come over and see Adora curled up in the living room reading a book nearly as big as she is about 17th C. Religious persecution, the first question I get is: is this really a good idea?
Adora has an insatiable thirst for knowledge and information; John and I long ago decided that we would not put stringent limits on the subject matter we allowed her to access. No, we don’t want her reading playboy or watching fox news, but we do encourage her to investigate anything she is puzzled by in the course of her reading. Another question I get from people who spend time around Adora: how can a child who can explain forced collectivization or the siege of Leningrad be so happy and well adjusted?
My finding is that, like food, the earlier you expose your child to ideas, the more likely they will adjust to the kinds of ideas you expose them too.
Traditionally, the idea is that we need to let kids be kids, meaning, fearing their ability to process and understand the darker side of history, current events, and literature, we wait until they are mature enough to process and understand. Is it really a good idea to wait until a kid is hitting puberty, arguably the human animals’ most emotionally volatile and confusing state, to start hitting them with the truth? Feeding children whitewashed versions of real events and then later letting them realize that their teachers and parents were lying is not necessarily a path to a well adjusted life. People also worry that children who are exposed to information will seize upon a frightening idea, shave their heads, and join a cult. I think the opposite is true. People who are exposed to large quantities of information are much less likely to be impressed by a single philosophy or mentality. They develop a realization that there are many, many options and many, many options that claim that they are the one true option.
I do not want Adora to think like me, or to always share my exact beliefs any more than I want her to become overly influenced by a toga wearing guru or a mascara encrusted rock star. I want her to have the access to the information she needs to form her own way of understanding the world. Too often, kids are fed limited information, or incorrect and biased information. They are not given the chance to be exposed to knowledge and information that will positively help them form individual beliefs, and thinking patterns. Adora is not a philosopher or a sage, however, she is a happier child because she has knowledge and information she needs to digest , solve and resolve problems wisely and calmly.
Pig ears anyone? More info on Adora, please visit www.adorasvitak.com
Joyce Svitak is the co-author of Flying Fingers-Master the tools of learning through the joy of writing Her daughter Adora Svitak published the book at age seven, since then, the book has been translated into Chinese, Korea. It will have a new edition in UK this fall. Adora has toured many schools to present her writing workshop. Please visit her website at http://www.adorasvitak.com for more info.