Friday, November 4, 2016

Thoughts on Toddler Parenting

Verbal Communication

My son’s speaking voice now rapidly oscillates between its only two settings: alarmingly-loud and obstinately-hushed. The former is the default and utilized for everything from conversation to announcing bowel-movements while the latter is reserved for times when verbal communication is requested by an adult.

For instance, if my phone were to ring while we were in the car together he would begin requesting a snack at an ear-splitting volume. If we were at home and I was asking him what he wanted for dinner he would simply mouth the words while exhaling. I am eagerly awaiting the onset of normal human speech.

My daughter is just beginning to speak and her favorite word is “no.” This is probably due in no small part to its ceaseless use in her presence. Previously foreign phrases like, “No! Stop relocating dogfood to the toilet bowl!” become alarmingly commonplace.


My children’s eating habits have diverged dramatically over the past year. My daughter will eat anything. Her entire philosophy could be summed up as “I’ll have what you’re having.” She is so concerned with missing a side-dish that she spends more time on plate surveillance than eating. Even while chewing, her eyes constantly scan the area in front of her dining companions to ensure that she has not been shortchanged.

Heaven help you if contraband garnish or a clandestinely-applied sauce is discovered. She will immediately raise an accusatory figure toward the perpetrator’s plate and exclaim “dat!” until shame compels you to offer her half of the last crescent roll that you had hoped to consume unnoticed. Leftover night is a culinary massacre because once she has pilfered and pillaged everyone else’s meal we have to watch her shoveling handfuls of deconstructed meatloaf pancake applesauce spaghetti in her mouth.

My son, meanwhile, has narrowed down his nourishment to three meals: chicken nuggets, peanut butter & jelly, and “I’m not hungry.” (To be fair, there may be other dishes he would eat but he was talking so quietly we could not hear him) Even within that narrow framework, acceptable presentation is an ever-moving target. Should the nuggets be whole or sliced into portions? Do we preemptively de-crust the PB&J or allow him to dramatically discard it later? Even a properly-plated acceptable entree risks contamination from an objectionable side-dish. In these cases, the PB&J is unilaterally rejected based upon its association with English peas.


Punishment is also becoming more complicated by the day. For whatever reason, toddlers are given the ability to discern inconsistent consequences long before they can understand the concept of developmentally-appropriate repercussions. This means that any deviation based upon a child’s age risks putting the entire system of justice on trial. “How come she gets to (insert infraction here) and I get sent to my room?”

As much as you wish an in-depth lecture on cognitive milestones would settle the issue, you are left with vague claims of authority based on nothing more than your status as a parent. The daddy-knows-best platform has been roundly rejected by focus groups for centuries, but I have yet to discover a viable alternative.

Punishment is also one of the most polarizing issues faced by parents today. Like political ideology, a complex issue tends to be broken down into two diametrically opposed subgroups which promise the exact same dire outcome for those who disagree:

Spare the rod, spoil the child – Corporal punishment is Biblical, ethical, and effective. There is a direct correlation between the morality of a society and that society’s willingness to spank a child when warranted. Abstaining from corporal punishment with a child will force them to become disrespectful, irresponsible adults destined for prison.

Bear the rod, see you at trial – Spanking a child is a barbaric, psychologically-damaging act that erodes the trust between the vulnerable and their caregiver. Enlightened minds will tell you that spanking a child leads to emotional distress and is nothing more than a tantrum by an adult. It models violent behavior that will invariably create an adult destined for – you guessed it – prison.    

As best I can tell, the prudent measure is simply to utilize what works for you and your offspring while befriending a criminal defense attorney as a hedge. Your child’s aforementioned concern with fairness means that subsequent children will cite precedent when judgement is rendered so there is additional pressure to make the right call the first time.

This all becomes a moot point because the only thing my kids are more passionate about than even-handed justice is immediate leniency. My son will insist that his sister receive swift and decisive punishment up until the moment that it is rendered, whereupon he will advocate on her behalf (she’s a baby). If my son is placed in timeout, my daughter will immediately begin lobbying for clemency by asking for him and trying to free him from his room. Perhaps I can take comfort in the fact that one day they will be each other’s greatest allies at their parole hearings. 

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