Sunday, June 24, 2012

Advice: Love It or Lose It


I’m always on the lookout for a good parenting trick.  Something that eases the passage of potty-training or inspires creativity during a tantrum feels like a golden nugget in my hand.  I weigh its heft, tossing it back and forth to gauge its effectiveness.  As often as I find truly helpful nuggets of guidance though, I also find piles of confusing or discouraging advice. 

Like the parenting book I read once, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, by Dr. Harvey Karp.  One of Karp’s suggestions is to speak Toddler-ese – a way of connecting with the screaming toddler on their level, in choppy phrases and matched emotion.  I even went so far as to try it once, years ago at Target. 

When my toddler began to throw a fit over not being allowed to kick a ball across the store, I stomped my foot right alongside her, imitating her anger.  I mirrored her emotions and her tone of voice, proving my empathy and authenticity.  “You WANT to kick the ball!  You’re MAD!  You’re mad, mad, MAD!” 

At that point, I was supposed to lower my voice – still using Toddler-ese language – to ease her out of her tantrum and into placid understanding.  Something like, “You want to kick, but noooo, noooo kick.  At home, we kick.  In store, no kick.”  Once she’d calmed, I could then divert her attention with more small words and sentences.

I might have followed through if I hadn’t seen the look of glee in my child’s eye as I appeared to throw my own tantrum.  Suddenly it felt like I was condoning her wildly expressed outrage.  Not to mention, I was sure there were hordes of laughing customers and employees sniggering at my idiocy.  Probably recording my ape-ish behavior on small, accusatory mobile phones. 

We left the store, by what means I can’t recall; I’ve blocked the rest of the episode from my memory.  I can see how the Toddler-ese approach to easing a tantrum might work for someone else under a different set of circumstances, but for us it had been a no-go. 

The basic Toddler-ese advice was probably sound: let your child know that you recognize and affirm their feelings as valid before teaching them correct behavior, and use small words and phrases to reach them through their emotions.  But perhaps the middle of a busy store wasn’t the best location for our first foray into this particularly awkward strategy.  It wasn’t a happy experience, and that’s just how it goes sometimes. 

Advice is like that: one size doesn’t fit all.  All the self-help books and kindly advice will be worth nothing if they aren’t tailored to the family for which they’re intended, so take it with a grain of parenting salt.  It’s not about perfect advice or strategy because comfort zones and personalities help dictate interactions.   

It’s wonderful to have books and friends and well-meaning strangers tell you how to raise your family, especially when that advice is actually helpful.  But it’s equally wonderful to know when to give the advice a makeover to fit your needs.  Or when to throw it by the wayside. 

As for my family, we’ve still got Dr. Karp’s book in reserve.  It’s not a complete wash-out; there are plenty of helpful ideas within its covers, but we definitely threw Toddler-ese overboard.  Although it landed with a huge splash, abandoning it was less humiliating than trying to imitate my toddler’s angry emotions in public. 

2 comments:

  1. nice! and encouraging for this Mom who will soon be flying with a toddler...!

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  2. Haha! I had a similar moment with toddler-ese when Katherine was a toddler. There's nothing like a first-time mom mimicking a tantrum in a crowded store. Seriously, it makes me wonder if Dr. Karp just has a really good sense of humor. :-)

    Great advice!

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?