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When Kids Fight

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013 8:34 pm | By Stephanie Woo

When Kids Fight

B and M are currently obsessed with Thomas the Train. During our move, we lost all but one red train. You know where this is going. One day, M has it, but B wants it.

I did my usual. I said, “Brooke, ask Mackenzie if you can have it after she is done.” She started repeating after me, but, well, B wanted it NOW. So it escalates into a snatching contest. B grabs it. M takes it back. Then B takes it again. M starts crying. I’m tempted to grab it out of B’s hands and say, “M had it first.” But I try not to forcefully take things out of anyone’s hands because that just invites copycat behavior from the children. 

So I pick up Brooke, put her in my lap and say, “Brooke, you need to sit here with me until you’re ready to give it back.” 

I say to both of them, “Mama doesn’t know what to do. Brooke wants it. Mackenzie wants it. But we only have one train. What should we do?”

M sort of stops crying for a second. They both look at me. B says, “Mama buy another one.” 

“Great idea!” I immediately add it to my mental checklist. Then I say, “Okay, but we only have one right now.  What else can we do?”

They’re both thinking – and quiet. I say, “What if we go make a Thomas out of clay?” 

Apparently that was a brilliant idea. M immediately goes to get the Playdoh. And then I say, “We can also draw a Thomas!” B goes to the chalkboard and starts drawing a round circular thing. My multi-talented friend Candice who was visiting us that evening – bless her heart – draws several Thomas the trains on the chalkboard and keep the kids entertained the rest of the evening.  

I could have played the judge and decided who gets Thomas and who will just have to learn to deal with it. I could have taken it away from both of them. But not only would I have to endure more crying, they’d always look to me to figure things out for them. Instead, I discovered a new principle: when children are thinking, they are not fighting. Instead of figuring it out for them, let them do the problem-solving. 

How to Avoid the Terrible Twos

Monday, April 22nd, 2013 6:47 pm | By Stephanie Woo

“She always trying to get her way. She’s just spoiled,” I hear so many parents say about their toddlers. Even my husband said it this morning about Brooke. 

We’re parked (illegally) on the side of the road because Mark forgot to buckle in Brooke. I’m kneeling on the front seat reaching back to buckle her in as quickly as I can. She starts whining, “Daddy.” She wants Mark to do it because he usually does. I say, “No, Mama is gonna do it.” She stops whining for a while. I buckle the bottom left buckle, she cries, “No, No!” I do it anyway because we need to get moving fast. She starts crying and struggling in her seat, trying to unbuckle the buckle. At the same time, I can see she’s trying to get her other arm under the right strap. With all that struggling and crying, Mark says impatiently, “She’s always trying to get her way.”

I know that isn’t why she’s crying. It was obvious that I wasn’t doing things in the order that she’s used to. First of all, Mark usually buckles her in and he buckles her in a certain way. I’m clearly not doing it that way. Order is critical to the young child, including the order in which you do something as well as the order of things within the environment. If the order is off or it isn’t what she’s used to, you can expect a tantrum. She’s not trying to annoy you, there simply is a need of hers that isn’t met. 

Just to give you an idea of what I mean. Every morning, I need to do these things to wake up: brush my teeth, wash my face, drink a cup of water, followed by a cup of light, sweet coffee. If I miss any of those things in that order, something feels wrong. And then my day is just a little bit off. Unless I’ve run out of sugar, half-and-half or coffee altogether. Then don’t even try to talk to me. Now, imagine you and I lived together, even if you don’t have those same needs, you’d most likely respect mine, right? To avoid my morning rage, you might even put my coffee on for me and gently coax me to drink it as quickly as possible! What about your toddler? They have an intense need for order, which you may or may not need. What do you do when they express their anger, frustration and disappointment because their need for order isn’t met? 

I decided to let Brooke show me what she needed. First, I unbuckled the bottom left buckle that I had forced on her. And then I waited to see what she would do. She slipped her right arm under the strap and buckled the cross buckle. Now that both arms are under the strap and the cross buckle done, she waited for me to buckle the bottom buckles, which I did. I got it right this time. She sat back, looked out the window and started singing ‘Itsy-Bitsy Spider.’ We drove off and heard nothing but singing from her the rest of the ride. She knew exactly what she wanted. If I hadn’t fulfilled that need, we would’ve heard crying the whole way home. Instead we had peace and quiet. 

A toddler needs order around her because she’s learning how the world works. Once she becomes a six-year old and internalized that order, she doesn’t need external order as much anymore. That’s why elementary school kids can be complete slobs and still be happy. People call the toddler years The Terrible Twos and Threes. That’s because toddlers are misunderstood. They have a need that you and I as adults no longer need and we can’t understand what’s the big deal. Well, it is for them. And if you’re looking to coexist peacefully with your little one, start watching carefully. Next time your toddler suddenly starts screaming, figure out what’s different from the way she’s used to. Is something not on the same shelf she’s used to? Is something not done is the sequence she’s used to? Is the day’s routine different than usual? If you can figure out the clue to this puzzle, your toddler – and you – will be much happier. And then you’ll see, the terrible twos doesn’t have to be so terrible. 


Toddlers and Modern Art

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 10:08 am | By Stephanie Woo
Matisse's Dancers

The Dancers by Henri Matisse

For Christmas, I bought B and M a set of art books, which I saw when we went to the Baltimore Art Museum last month. We started reading the Matisse book at bedtime yesterday. In case you’re wondering how 24-month-olds react to Matisse, here’s what happened.

As we’re flipping through the book and talking about each of the pictures, we came upon The Dancers. Mackenzie comments first. “Naked,” she said. B starts pointing out and naming body parts: “foot,” “belly-button,” “butt.”

And then M gets up and starts wiggling her little behind. B follows. Next thing I know, they are holding hands, jumping up and down and dancing on the bed for the next 5 minutes! 

What I love about this scene is just how natural and LOGICAL their responses were. If we allowed ourselves to follow our deepest instincts, wouldn’t we all be holding hands and dancing in front of this painting at the museum?

Here’s the lovely set of art books we’ve been reading: