Communicating big ideas to young minds

One of my favorite things about parenting is the challenge to communicate big ideas to a young mind. It isn’t just their limited vocabulary that requires you to get creative.

I just wrote a children’s book based on an experience with my son where using a super hero metaphor proved surprisingly effective. As you can see in the cover image above, it’s called Grey and the Good Attitude Cape.

Let me tell you the full story. Recently, I was in an exceptionally rough season of life with a lot of major transitions. My son and I were both feeling the effects. New apartment, new job, new schedule.

These life events are challenging for any family, and as a single parent, I was incredibly overwhelmed. My son was experiencing the stress of an inconsistent schedule between mommy’s house, helpful friend’s houses, and daddy’s house, and most of his toys were still in boxes.

Neither of us were sleeping well and we were both disappointed about not getting enough quality time together. The (at the time) three year old and his mommy were cranky.

I was floundering, trying to find a way to not only set a good example, despite exhaustion, but to also explain in words to a three year old that you can choose to be nice and thankful, even when things are hard.

I wanted to communicate that having a positive attitude is a choice. It doesn’t mean that you pretend you’re not disappointed or tired. It doesn’t mean that wanting more time to play with mommy is a bad thing.

It just means, that even when you can’t have what you want or need, you can still choose to use nice words when you ask for more milk or help with your shoes.

And just as important, when you realize you’re not having a good attitude, you can stop and change it. As I say in the book, “it takes strength to be kind even when you’re frustrated.”

My son, Grey, had recently redirected his attention from trucks to super heroes.  And in a moment of combined frustration and divine inspiration, it came to me. “Grey, do you know what your super power could be?” I had his full attention.

“Your super power could be choosing to have a good attitude! When you realize you’re having a bad attitude, you can just put on your cape and choose to cooperate!”

It was a little silly. But he was all in. We found a piece of cloth, made a cape and continued talking about how having a good attitude is choice. And even adults have to change their attitude sometimes.

I thought it might last a day and just be a short-lived, but still valuable moment. Instead, it really caught on. He didn’t forget about that special super power. And it continued to be a great way for me to encourage him to reconsider his interactions and that it’s okay to stop and change how you’re interacting with someone.

Those of you who read my previous post will hopefully get a kick out this. I recognize the irony. I promise, I am not obsessed with capes and super powers. I guess I just spend a lot of time with someone who can’t get enough of super heroes and it affects the illustrations that come to mind.

Let me say one last, crucial thing. I am not here suggesting this has transformed my son into a child with perfect behavior. The ‘good attitude cape’ is primarily a way to discuss the big idea that we can choose our attitude in the same way that you can choose to put on a piece of clothing. I expect this conversation and topic to continue to develop between us as he grows older.

Grey is not a flawless Good Attitude Super Hero. I’m not either. We’re both still learning to curb those instincts to complain. This is an area where I need (almost) as much growth as he does. I need to create new habits of not reacting with negative thoughts and attitudes too.

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, Grey and the Good Attitude Cape is currently available in a pay-what-you-can style as a PDF e-book, great for iPads and other mobile devices. If you’d like to know when it will be available on Kindle, Nook, iBooks and paperback, sign up to be notified.

What ideas and illustrations have you used as a parent, to explain abstract ideas to your children, especially in times of hardship?

Crystal Ellefsen

Crystal Ellefsen lives in San Diego with her blended family. She writes poetry, helps authors with their internet marketing, and makes time for sunsets and reading books.

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  1. This is wonderful! I’ve been struggling with my five-year-old and her attitude, which is so frequently less than positive. I just downloaded the pdf and hopefully will be reading this story to her within the next couple of days. What a great idea!

  2. Robin from Frugal Family Times says:

    Crystal, your book looks lovely! My son is obsessed with rhinos, so I know he’ll love your book. Can’t wait to share it with him!

  3. I love this post! It isn’t about fixing it is about learning to understand all the ways we are broken. Great job finding a way to help your son choose kindly even when he doesn’t feel kind. Thank you for sharing. I look forward to reading this with my daughter too!

  4. Oh I love this! I work with a classroom of twenty 3 year old children in a private school. How perfect this would be for them. They love super heroes! I will check out your eBook.

  5. Thank you for a beautiful post! You are clearly a great mom and a true blessing to your son! I often use tangible examples from nature to demonstrate ideas to my children. The sowing and reaping principle comes to mind. We have planted seeds in the garden, and have seen that the fruit of exactly what we planted, grew. This is one of my children’s favourite illustrations, and has helped them immensely to invest in the qualities and attitudes that they would like to reap for themselves from others.

    Thank you for sharing your heart and experiences!

  6. Great idea Crystal! You continue to amaze me! Mind if I share this with other parents with young kids? They will love this! You and Grey are awesome!
    -Uncle Mike

  7. Just bought it and love it! Thank you so much 🙂

  8. My 4 yr old son was recently diagnosed with cancer, so we have had lots of these big ideas for small kids conversations. One of the illustrations he has really clung to is when life throws you a curve ball you just have to adjust your swing. Its something that puts life in perspective for him and is a nice reminder for me when life gets to be overwhelming. Ill have to try the superhero one next time!

  9. This is such a great idea!!! Totally love embracing the “Positive Attitude Super Power.”

  10. Love when you said “you can choose to be nice and thankful, even when things are hard.” It’s something I really am working on to communicate and model to our five-year-old daughter. I want more parents to get this message that we can keep explaining big ideas like this to our kids and let them in on our faults throughout the day when we do feel overwhelmed. I am not a single parent, but I have many single mama friends and your stories are inspiring.

  11. I’ve always liked the idea of choice and think this is a great way to instill that very crucial skill in kids. I read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” and so much of it stresses that even as he was in a concentration camp, where they took nearly everything from him, the one thing he didn’t take was his choice to live, choice to smile, choice to never give up hope. I think it’s great for kids to realize that when they’re down in the dumps, they may not be able to change certain circumstances, but they can change how they view it and what they do about it.

  12. Hi Crystal!!
    It was certainly a pleasure meeting you at our holiday party. Hey, after we chatted about the cape thing, I took your idea of a crown and used it with my gals. Girls would make a circle, touching the two thumbs and index fingers, then…. “Look dad, I’m am good princess. I have my shiny crown on!!” It’s our daddy-daughter thing! So thanks!!!
    Happy holidays!!

  13. It isn’t just their limited vocabulary that requires you to get creative.

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