Thursday, February 26, 2015

How To Count To Ten

Read enough parenting books and blogs and you'll inevitably come across this piece of advice: You shouldn't try to reason with toddlers.  They simply don't have the comprehension skills, emotion-management skills, expectation management skills or time-management skills to reason or rationalize.

And surely, anyone who has watched as their kids melt down because someone cut their sandwich the wrong way, or because one parent or another pushed the elevator button first - the HORROR! - will realize that this is true.

If all 3 kids are mad, I have to count to 30!
If only it were this easy...
It is also advice I ignore.  Not entirely ignore, mind you, but largely ignore.  Because its a parenting TRAP and not entirely true.  Instead, I think you should totally talk to your kids above their cognition level.  What you should not do is expect them to understand.  At least not right away.

You see, I've found that if you talk to your kid like a baby or like the two-year-old child they are, the passage of time - or time travel - tends to tie you up in knots.  Because while you are talking to them at the two-year-old level perfectly fine for conversation yesterday, they jumped some three levels of cognitive ability.  Suddenly you are way, way behind them.  They have all these neat new vocabulary tricks and tactics, and no idea how to use them.

I've been talking to my three-year-old triplets for a year about how to manage anger.  Deep breaths; to ten; that sort of thing.  Mind you, it was only a couple months ago one of the kids stopped skipping six when he counted to ten.  As for the deep breathing thing... well, I said I talk to them about it, I didn't say they employed it.

Sure, they are really good at telling me, at any random time, that taking a deep breath is a good idea and that its the way to act if they are angry.  They can even tell me when I am failing and need to take a deep breath.  In the moment when they are seeing red?  Well, not so much.

But they will get there.  And I want them to arrive knowing what is expected of them there.  I don't want to spend a month in meltdown hell while I figure out that I am no longer effectively speaking to them because while they slept some cognitive jump occurred.

By talking just a little bit above their level you make sure they know how to use those neat mental gymnastics their brains can now do.

We spend so much time and energy teaching our kids to write and read and learn, that sometimes we forget that they will eventually get all those things.  Do you know any 15-year-old kids who can't spell their name or read?  Hopefully not.  But I know lots of 30-year-olds who can't understand their emotions, how to control them, or what they really want from life.

If I help my kids parlay a happy childhood into a serene adult life at the expense of them knowing how to recite some fanciful knowledge from memory or how to write their name, well, that is a trade off I'm willing to make.




    Okay, joking aside :P

    I think it's always a good idea to talk to children as if they are people. Yes, that often means they might not get something the first (dozen) times, and you'll have to repeat and sometimes repeat in a simplified fashion, but it also teaches their brains to work harder. When people face no challenges, they don't advance. So by talking over their heads, you're probably helping them learn other things faster, in the long run.

    As for the emotional management: I think the fact you're teaching them skills rather than facts is important. Memorizing that 2+2=4 may let you score well on a test, but it won't help you figure out what 4+2= if you've never been taught the thinking behind it. And you're teaching them to think and to analyze themselves. It's like the potty training of emotions: How am I feeling? Do I have to pee/scream? Count to ten. Nope, just gas/I really am angry that Dad cut my sandwich that way, ensue tears.

  2. The potty training of emotions. That is perfect. Wish I had thought of that.

  3. Love this post! They will always have time to learn the abc's etc but teaching them about their emotions is so important, and better in the long run hopefully! #multiplemadness

  4. Great post with a really important message. Teaching kids to deal with emotions is one thing many parents just don't seem to get the hang of. Thanks for linking up again with #MultipleMadness

  5. Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words, Katie.