Imparting wisdom to a toddler feels a lot like using a sieve to catch rainwater on a sunny day. Things come out of your mouth, but your child passes through them so dry and unscathed that you question whether you are producing sound.
Then, of course, you turn around and find your worst mannerisms — speech patterns, facial expressions, and all — reflected back at you from the innocent face of your cherub.
They’re learning, all right.
Every moment in a child’s life shapes her world view and so even when you feel like an idiot and wonder if anything is sinking in, you tell her, “That boy pushed you because he was scared you were going to take his toy. Next time, you can tell him not to push and say you don’t want his toy,” because you know it will forever impact how she understands people, choices, and the origin of unkindness. I’ve whispered something to that effect in my screaming child’s ear many times.
Now we’re at the neat stage where I have the opportunity to witness Zoe problem-solving in action and see how much I actually have taught her. Zoe has an awesome personality, no doubt, but children cannot learn these skills without being taught with love — primarily by example. Here are some conversations I’ve had with my two year-old over the past month:
Me: Hmmm I can’t find the parking lot.
Zoe: It’s okay, Mommy. We can ask someone how to get to Stop & Shop.
Me: I wonder what’s back there.
Zoe: We can go check! Come, Mommy! *holding out her hand* Let’s go explore!
Zoe: *eating her snack* Mommy, I want to share my crackers with you. Will you please eat some of my crackers? Because I want you to be healthy and I want the baby to be healthy and strong.
One day I was reading a book and Zoe leaned over it and asked, “Is that Murakami?” Obviously this child can’t read, but she is perceptive enough to remember a name I mentioned to a librarian a month ago and associate it with the book I checked out. Imagine what else she’s picking up.
Zoe had a book fair at school this past week and I bought her some Frozen books she picked out that had sparkly stickers in them. She is obsessed with them. Wears them on her hands for days like tattoos. On Friday she wore a sparkly Olaf sticker to soccer practice (No, she doesn’t understand soccer, but she loves her coach and tries to kick the ball). Zoe was having a great time when all of a sudden she ran towards me, bawling. Apparently one of the boys had ripped the head off her Olaf sticker. She was pretty inconsolable for the rest of practice.
We’re pretty quick to assume that children are short-sighted and petty (which, like adults, they frequently are), so I want to point out that Zoe was NOT upset about the sticker. She uses and rips apart her stickers without a second thought. She has a bajillion more at home. The thing so jarring to her was the idea that someone would intentionally be unkind to her.
I did not take Zoe home like she asked, but I did hold her for the rest of our time there while her awesome coach made some semi-successful attempts to include her in the games. I told her she could have another sticker at home. I didn’t bother explaining much this time and instead sat back and watched her make sense of the situation. That process went like this:
Zoe: *bawling* That boy ripped my Olaf sticker! He did it! I don’t know what’s his name. *bawling and pointing* That boy!
Me: Charlie? Yeah that wasn’t very nice of him.
Zoe: Yeah, Charlie! I didn’t like it!
Me: I bet.
Zoe: *still bawling* It wasn’t nice! Why, Mommy? Why did he do that?
Me: I don’t know, babe. I don’t think he knew he was being mean.
Zoe: He wanted my sticker!
Ten minutes later at home, Zoe was happy and excited to see Daddy.
Oliver: How was soccer, Zoe? Did you have fun?
Zoe: *running for a hug* Yeah! It was fun.
Oliver: What happened? What did you do at soccer?
Zoe: *nonchalantly* My sticker ripped. I’m going to go get a new one!
One day later without any kind of prompting:
Zoe: That boy Charlie ripped my sticker because he wanted one. Next time, I’m going to bring my stickers to soccer practice and I’m going to give him one. Then, he won’t have to rip mine! Because he will have his own! Yay!
A day after that Zoe was having me role-play Charlie so that she could practice giving me stickers.
At this point my husband and I are staring at each other, wondering why we didn’t come up with that ingenious solution. Though we didn’t this particular time, apparently we’ve modeled loving behavior enough for Zoe to apply it in her own ways. I’ve blogged about the million mistakes we’ve made with her but it’s worth the self-awareness and it’s worth the time and energy when I see how adeptly and happily she handles conflict.
Onwards, parents! They really are learning.