Friday, November 10, 2006

The Tautology of Two


Two is an excellent age in so many ways.  It's also the age when you want to ship your children off to distant planets because they are so incredibly maddening.  But it's also really, really excellent. 

One of my favorite things about hanging out with Addie right now is the adventure she is having with language.  Being two allows one a delightful level of creativity with proncunciation, meaning, and logic without self-consciousness; this makes communicating with Addie particularly exciting.  For example, she's been singing this version of "Twinkle, twinkle" lately, which she made up all by herself:


Twinkle, twinkle, little moon

How I wonder why you spoon

Up above the world so high

Like a giant pizza pie

Twinkle, twinkle, little moon

How I hope to see you soon.

Cool, huh?  Brilliant little genius, she is.  She also says things with such a sweet little lisp--a bird's nest is a bird's "nesthsh" and so on.  So, this is all endearing and wonderful.  When it's not particularly frustrating, that is.

We're doing a lot of talking about emotions lately.  I was getting fed up with Addie's pretty much constant tantrums a while back, and when I get frustrated, I read.  A discussion of parenting books on my favorite-ever parenting website, Parenthacks, led me to a 1961 book by Haim Ginott called Between Parent and Child.  It's written in this old-fashioned, Cold-War-civil-defense-manual tone and there's a whole lot of sexist stuff about what mommies and daddies do and don't do, but if you can get past that, I think it offers some pretty good advice.  For example, it recommends offering simple, clear answers to kid's complex questions (I know, duh, but for some reason I had gotten into the habit of giving Addie some long-winded answers lately, and this was a good reminder to shut up a liitle).

Ginott's book also reminded me to simply acknowledge Addie's feelings as they were happening rather than try to fix them, interrogate them, or teach her to suppress them.  For example, these are the types of conversations we were often having, typically precipitated by my asking her not to do something such as, oh, I don't know, sticking peas in her nostrils:

A (lower lip protruding prominently):  Mommy, I'm sad!

M:  Why are you sad, Addie?

A (now kicking and screaming, peas flying everywhere):  Because I am!


Nowhere to go from there, right?  I mean, how do you explain the problems with circular logic to a toddler?  So now I'm trying something that looks like this:

A:  Mommy, I'm sad!

M:  It's okay to feel sad, Addie.  We all feel sad sometimes and it's good to express it.  But peas should usually go in our mouths, sweetie, not in our noses. 

A (lip still protruding but no kicking and screaming):  Okay, mommy.  Mommy?  I can't breathe!

M:  I know, my darling girl.  Let's get those dang peas out of your nose.


Not exactly Jedi magic, but the whole "It's alright to cry" thing seems to really work with her.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  In fact, my therapist really helped me to feel my feelings, too, to the tune of a couple hundred bucks a month.  But it worked--I don't stick peas up my nose anymore, and I know it's okay to feel a liitle sad about it.  Whatever--the idea is that you teach your children to identify and express their emotions in appropriate ways.  Pretty healthy stuff.

The other Ginott gem that Eric and I have been using with Addie for a while is the old giving lots of choices trick.  The key is to make sure you provide manageable and acceptable choices.  In other words, the choices have to be simple enough to not overwhelm a two-year-old, and also contain alternatives that are acceptable to you as a parent. 

For instance, asking a toddler what she wants for dinner is a bad idea (she might say "marshmallows" or "bats' eyes," neither of which is on the menu around here).  Asking her if she wants a hot dog or a quesadilla is a better alternative--at my house, anyway.  At your house, feeding your kid a hot dog might be as bad as the bats' eyes.  The point is that you provide a range of appropriate choices for you.

This is particularly useful when you get the ubiquitous "no" response.  Addie won't even hear your question before her ruby-red lips are forming the word "no," so we've had to develop some creative strategies around this.  Of course she doesn't want to change her pull-up!  She likes lugging around three pounds of pee-soaked cotton between her legs!  But the choice she has is not really whether the pull-up is going to be changed.  It has to be.  Her choice is whether she wants it changed in the living room or in the dining room, or whether she wants to do it herself or with my help.  Acceptable choices. 

Ginnott also talks about why bribing and threatening are bad, though those habits have been a little harder for us to break.  Still, we're working on it.  And his strategies are certainly making my life with Addie more excellent than frustrating. 

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