Children Understand Everything


In his novel The Idiot, Dostoevsky’s innocent Prince Mushkin explains how much children understand:

“One can tell a child everything, anything. I have often been struck by the fact that parents know their children so little. They should not conceal so much from them. How well even little children understand that their parents conceal things from them, because they consider them too young to understand! Children are capable of giving advice in the most important matters….

“However, most of the people were angry with me about one and the same thing; but [their teacher] simply was jealous of me. At first he had wagged his head and wondered how it was that the children understood what I told them so well, and could not learn from him; and he laughed like anything when I replied that neither he nor I could teach them very much, but that they might teach us a good deal.”

Dosteyevsky's wife and children

What Dostoevsky seems to be saying is that adults who understand children are just as misunderstood as children.

Ever since I was a child, I have believed that children understand virtually everything. Children lack concepts, of course. But so do adults. And how important are concepts (sevoir, saber, dianoia) when you have understanding (connaître, conocere, noesis)?

The belief is confirmed all the more now that I am a father of a 2 year old and a 4 year old. My “babies” understand everything important: life, death, birth, prayer, eating, family, anger, sadness, humor, love, danger, anticipation, regret, forgiveness, beauty.

Josiah (4) said, “Mom, do you see that tulip? It’s so beautiful it breaks my heart.” Evelyn (2) said, “Don’t take that!” I told her, “I’m sorry, Evy.” She said, “I love you.”

What more is there?