During the last few weeks of elementary school, my son, as with most students and teachers, has been overtired. In my son, overtiredness manifests as extreme excitement (i.e. goofing around) and being disruptive both at home and at school. Our son also is a solid "yes man." What that means is that anytime one of his friends says, "Hey do you want to do [any bad idea]?" our son will immediately say, "Yes! Sounds like a great idea!" It is usually not a good idea.
After the second time in two days where he had been sent to the Principal's office, we were having a robust discussion on the importance of making good choices, being a good friend and not just following whatever your friends are doing at the time. In order to help him understand, I was using what I thought was a direct and moving analogy using lemmings.
The conversation went approximately like this:
"There are these animals called lemmings and they all end up running around close to high cliffs."
"What's a lemming?" asks my son. I then briefly describe what a lemming is and I can see my husband staring at me, incredulously. I think that perhaps he does not approve of my lemming analogy because it is too violent. I briefly sum up the rest of the analogy even though both children have long since lost interest.
"...they gather in large numbers and then their population gets too big and the lemmings on the edge end up running towards the cliff [I am actually unsure of this process and am largely making stuff up at this point]. The lemmings in the middle follow the other ones right off the cliff then they all die. Do you understand?"
"Not really," he says, sweetly.
"Well, just because your friends all think it's a good idea, it doesn't mean that it is a good idea. You can decide things on your own. Don't be a lemming." I finished the analogy and turned to my husband who looked at me with a strange expression.
"Megan, lemmings are not birds."
"What do you mean?" I ask, confused. He then shows me photos of lemmings and to my utter shock, they are clearly not birds. I am not entirely sure why but somewhere along the way, I thought that lemmings were a type of bird. They are in fact a gopher-like creature that does not fly.
My husband then asked why would birds run off a cliff when they could fly? I had thought they were similar to the flightless emu and were just a bunch of sad little birds who couldn't fly. The challenge of parenting sometimes is knowing different ways to explain complex issues to your children. It is far more complicated when you are blindly using analogies that are less than perfect - a little like a lemming.