Years ago, it could have been as far back as The Saturday Evening Post, there was a cartoon of a child painting at an easel. His work of art consisted of a leg up to the knee. Explaining his creation to a preschool teacher, the caption reads, “I paint what I see.”
What does a kid 24 inches tall see? What do fourth-graders notice? Right after the adolescent growth spurt, does a teen's point of view change as much as his or her height?
Adults stand three times taller than a typical child. We'd have to cozy up to a mammoth 18 feet tall to get the same feeling. Imagine how tall a chair or a crib would seem. Picture your house as a gigantic doll house bigger than a blimp. And we are the dolls. It would be a forest of furniture legs, much like a mangrove jungle.
Cars would be bigger than a 747. The bathtub would be the size of a water park. A door would extend to the sky and a desk would occupy warehouses like the old vacuum tube computers.
The greatest comparison would be what our world would have to be to a newborn. The most important person in the world to an infant is his or her mother who is much larger than the 7-pound, 20-inch creature. Let’s just say that the adult is 140 pounds or 20 times the weight. If we were the babies, our parents would weigh 2,800 pounds!
There are a couple of thoughts that come to mind when we start to see what children see. It is more than knees. While we talk about a child’s resilience, we may be seeing their tiny world from our bigger perspective. A dog to us is a small domesticated creature. To a child, it would be the equivalent of a man-eating black bear storming toward them. A fall off a bike to them would for us be magnified to falling from a horse.
The parent-to-child ratio could be why a dad or mom is both terrifying and super comforting. Think how it would feel to have a gentle giant coddle us in its warm, soft arms. We would know without a doubt that we were safe.
Tragically, the opposite would also be true if we adults were to look down from on high with a mean and scary face.
Abuse is real. It is bigger than life.
Some years ago, Mark Eaton, formerly of the Utah Jazz and a defensive player of the year in the NBA, did a TV piece about abuse. He is not 18 feet tall. He stands a puny 7 feet 4 inches. Nonetheless, picture him in your face. He is handsome, but that would not be pretty. Intimidation is too often used to compel a child to change his or her behavior.
Instead, think of the amplification that size could give to encouragement or compassion.
If dads three times as big as a child would say something could be done, it may not be totally believable. The unspoken answer coming back from the child would be, “Sure, it is easy for you because you are so big.”
What if, in addition to the encouragement, the parent says, “And I will be right here if you need me”?
Life is definitely a stroll on a high wire. We have to balance all the demands of work, home, family and school while living on this very tiny string suspended miles up in the sky. If we knew there were these giants watching out for us down below, the walk across the void would be less scary.
We do paint what we see. We create our world from our point of view. Most of the time, it is not about height but rather bias, indoctrination, prejudices or sweet lessons of love.
What we do as parents is amplified by our size. If we do things right, our being taller than our kids will mean they can stand on the shoulders of giants.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing physician for 30 years and a hospitalist at Primary Children's Hospital and the University of Utah. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org