So, has anyone seen a certain black and blue, oops I mean gold and white – wait no I really mean black and blue dress floating around cyberspace? Well, if you have then you were probably as dumbfounded as I was when someone called it one set of colors or the other. What really just floored me was that my husband and I saw it two opposite ways, on the same computer screen and at the same time. It was mind bending. And it got me thinking . . . which can be dangerous. And I’ve decided it’s all perception.
What does “It’s all perception” mean? It means that as we pass through life certain experiences color our understanding of what is happening around us. We see life through the lens of our experiences, physical status, mental status, and emotional status. These lenses act upon our ability to understand situations in very strong ways. They can alter our perception greatly.
For example, I have a fairly high pain tolerance. Yet, if I’m already hurting – say I’m experiencing a migraine – then every little bump or touch becomes overly painful. My physical perception of the pain the migraine was causing colors all other incidents of minor pain (like toes being stepped on) and turns them into major pain events.
Or, after my friend lost her husband and son in a terrible auto/pedestrian accident I found myself approaching a panic attack in the evenings if my husband wasn’t home EXACTLY when I expected him to be home. The emotional effect of my friend’s loss affected my ability to think logically about my husband’s arrival time.
I could continue listing examples, but I want to get to what was so powerful about this idea of it all being perception. And this is it – my children’s perceptions of things, all though often very different than mine, are just as valid as mine. Their perception of life is their reality. A lost toy, missing a show, a scrape, – these events (although I consider them minor) are major events in my children’s lives and deserve an appropriate response.
So, when my four year old is very stressed out because she cannot find her snuggly, which I know is in the back of the car, I need to stop thinking my understanding is better than hers and just understand her perspective. As an adult, with a few more years of life experience, it’s very easy to dismiss a child’s concern. It takes a lot of energy, patience, and restraint to validate the concern and work with the child to resolve the concern.
Also, we all perceive things to the best of our brains ability. Our understanding of the things we hear is often affected by what we already understand and by what makes sense. Our minds like patterns, and will try to make things make sense, even if that means changing what is actually being heard. For example, there’s a certain theme song that says “We’re done with our mission. Octonauts, at ease, until our next adventure.” My fourth grader hears all the words in this song. She understands the meaning of the words, so they make sense to her. My Kindergartner, however, hears “Octonauts and me, until our next adventure.” This makes sense with his understanding of words and English. Both perceptions are very real to each of these children. They spent a long time discussing (read arguing) about who was right, when really there was no “right” here. Each understood the song based on their understanding and while the actual words are how my fourth grader hears the song, the way my Kindergartner perceives the song is just as strongly right to him.
Learning to see things how my children perceive things will help me relate to and understand them better. There’s so much concern about being able to communicate with our teenagers, but the habit of communication happens long before they are teenagers. As I work to validate the perception of my children when they are younger, then they will learn to trust me with their perception when they are teenagers. And really it’s all about understanding each other’s perception, and really not about who’s right or who’s wrong.
Once my children understand that I understand what they are trying to say, and how they feel, then they will have a greater respect for how I coach, teach, parent, and guide them. They will understand that my rules about dating, homework, chores, etc., aren’t formed out of a desire to control or manipulate. And they will know this because I have spent the time showing them that I do understand and value how they perceive the world. Perception colors our reality, and having our perception validated strengthens our respect for the one doing the validating. And really, it’s all perception anyway.