I guess my child isn’t a sociopath

For the most part, the books Tilly reads now are all board books or picture books. I haven’t tried any short stories or early reader type books because I thought she was still too young for them. But then I received a review copy of Scaredy Monster (out 24 March, 2020), Tilly grabbed it, and demanded that we read it. So we did.

The book itself is a hardcover and shaped more like a grown-up books than her board books and picture books, and consists of three short stories about Scaredy Monster, a monster who is a bit of a scaredy-cat. The first story is about losing a tooth, the second is about learning to ride a bike, and the third is about Scaredy Monster going to his first slumber party.

Two things happened when we read the book that surprised me. One, we actually read all the stories and Tilly seemed to enjoy them all. She’s brought the book to me a few times to read, and we’ve read some of the stories multiple times. I thought they would have been too old for her, but either I am underestimating her or she likes being a big girl and reading big girl books. Or both. I might try some other early readers and see how she does with those.

Two, and this is the thing that prompted the title of this post: one of the stories made her cry. This is the first time that this has happened! We were reading the third story, about Scaredy Monster at his first slumber party. Before he got into the car at his house, his monster teddy fell out of his overnight bag and he didn’t realise. He gets to his friends house, plays games, has dinner, has a jolly good time. But when it comes time to for the scary movie and to be tucked up in his sleeping bag, he realises he doesn’t have Teddy Monster and gets upset. He wants his mum and he wants to go home. So his mum comes, tells him he’s brave for asking for help, AND she brings Teddy Monster. Scaredy Monster, now that he has his teddy, decides to stay.

When we first read the story, Tilly was very concerned when Teddy Monster fell out of the bag, but she was fine. Just her first experience of foreshadowing, I suppose. We kept reading. She liked the bit about the games and the dinner (they had pizza!), and even the teeth brushing and getting into pyjamas is fine. But then when Scaredy Monster got scared, Tilly did too. And when he couldn’t find Teddy Monster, her lip quivered and she looked scared and she kept saying he wanted his teddy. And then when he wants to go home, she repeats that and starts full-on crying and saying he wants to go home, he wants his teddy, he wants his mummy. ¬†We didn’t actually finish the story the first read-through because she was too upset. And you know what made her feel better? Not cuddles with mummy, but holding onto Greyson, her favourite teddy (harrumph).

I think what surprised me about this reading experience was the clear empathy involved. This was not a simple story like in many of her picture books and board books, and she followed exactly what was happening. She felt what the character was feeling so strongly that she cried too. Not knowing a great deal about child development, I didn’t expect empathy to be expressed this early on (she was two years and three months when we first read the story). I know grown-ups cry at books, but I didn’t think toddlers did too. We’ve since read that story two more times, and there was slight upset the second time (but she did manage to make it to the end of the story), and she was fine though solemn the third time. I guess she knew what to expect by then. This is one of the more unexpected reading experiences I’ve had with Tilly, and one that has taught me to not underestimate her.



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