Defining and Promising

Lillian: “Daddy, can I take some balloons to school tomorrow?”

Me, in my most sympathetic voice: “Sorry sweetie, you know you’re not supposed to take toys.”

“But balloons are not toys.”

“What are they then?”

“They’re for blowing air into.”

So I ask: “What’s the definition of “toy”?”

Not surprisingly, she stares at me blankly. Maybe she’s never been asked to define her terms before.  (This skill didn’t appear on the list of cognitive skills to be achieved that was posted on the wall of her kindergarten room.)

So I try a simpler approach.  “What is a toy?”

“A toy is something you play with.”

Right! – though she’s missed that a balloon is something you (can) play with.

So Lillian seems to have somehow picked up the skill of explaining what a word means, even an abstract word like “toy”, though she doesn’t know the word “definition” yet.


Tonight shortly before dinner she wanted to watch “her TV”, i.e., one of her DVDs.

I said: “OK, but you have to promise that we’ll turn it off when dinner is ready.”

“Yay!” she cries, heading towards the living room.

“Do you really promise?”


Teresa asks: “Lillian, what does “promise” mean?”

“Dunno” she says, shrugging her shoulders.  But then, like most kids, she often responds to questions this way, when she couldn’t be bothered answering.  Maybe she does understand what it is to promise.

Fifteen minutes later, dinner is ready.  Lillian is engrossed in The Bee Movie.  I go to turn off the TV.

“Daddy! Leave it on! I want to watch it from the table!”

“But you promised that we would turn it off.”

“But I want to watch it while we eat!”

Maybe she does understand what promising is, but any inclination to observe the subtle social norms around promising is massively overwhelmed by the desire to continue watching animated bees.


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