Lessons from a Toddler


Gum MachineBy Baaqia Uqdah-Grey

I ventured off to my neighborhood Laundromat at approximately 7:00 a.m. this morning. By 8:00 a.m. a crowd had begun to form. By 8:30 it had become overcrowded.
Few environments bring forth the nobility or baseness of one’s inner personality like an overcrowded Laundromat. For example, you can determine if someone is quarrelsome or agreeable by whether or not they step aside to give you enough room to walk through a narrow space.
You can surmise someone’s lack of ability to share if they dominate a laundry cart for the duration of their stay. In spite of the fact that “all” of their clothes are in a washer or dryer (and all other carts are in use), they place their personal belongings inside the cart and stand firm on the toddler’s creed: “It’s mine!”
For anyone who has never heard it, the toddler’s creed is written by Dr. Burton L. White as follows:
“The Toddlers Creed”
If I want it,
If I give it to you and change my mind later,
If I can take it away from you,
If it's mine it will never belong to anybody else,
No matter what.
If we are building something together,
All the pieces are mine!
If it looks just like mine,
If it breaks or needs putting away,

By far, the most interesting person I’ve observed in this Laundromat was the 2-year-old male child who came in with his father this morning. To the left of the entrance are four bubblegum machines. Upon entering, the father’s attention was caught by a man who greeted him in a friendly tone and seemed happy to see him.
The toddler’s attention was drawn to the bubblegum machines. For the first few moments the toddler spied the brightly colored contents of the machines. He tapped on the machines with his hands several times. Then he repeatedly placed his slightly opened mouth on the machines and moved it away to look at the bubblegum.
One might get the impression he was disappointed because the bubblegum had not fallen into his mouth. Each time he moved his mouth away from the machine he uttered the sound, “Ba-bu. Ba-bu.”
After several attempts at what seemed to be an effort to take hold of the brightly colored bubblegum with his mouth, he turned his face in the direction of his father and said, “Dad-dy. Ba-bu. Dad-dy. Ba-bu.” His father did not respond, nor did he acknowledge the child’s attempts to communicate with him. The toddler then walked over to his father (an approximate distance of five feet) and tapped him on the leg.
When the father looked down to acknowledge him, the child pointed to the machines and said, “Dad-dy. Ba-bu. Ba-bu.” The father looked in the direction of the machines, turned his attention away from them, and continued to engage in conversation with the adult.
The toddler returned to the machines. Once more he tapped on the machine and then placed his slightly opened mouth on one of the machines.
After having gone back and forth four times, and each attempt being unsuccessful, the toddler, now standing next to the bubblegum machines, began to tear up. For a short time he called out to his father reiterating, “Dad-dy. Ba-bu.” All the while he was pointing to the machines.
Apparently realizing and accepting the certainty that his father was not going to acknowledge his persistent efforts to obtain the bubblegum, the toddler conceded, and moved onto another location in the Laundromat.
Amazing! Admirable! Enlightening! That was my response to the toddler’s behavior, and the father’s response to that behavior. For many years, in the capacity of early childhood educator, early childhood consultant, and parent, I’ve entered many battles in the zone of Toddler-dom.
In some battles, I could see that if I just stood my ground I could be victorious. In other battles, I learned to wave the white flag of surrender or truce from the onset. All the time knowing one thing is certain – you may win individual battles with a toddler, but you’ll never win the war.
Observing this father’s response to his son’s persistence was an “Ah Hah!” moment for me. It shed new light on the phrase “Ignore the behavior and it will go away.” Most of the time, as it relates to toddlers and tantrums, “the behavior” referred to is what transpires “after” the toddler has crossed the threshold of a tantrum.
That, and the adult’s previous practice of giving in to the toddler’s whimpers and whines (prelude to a full blown tantrum), present a bonafide recipe for disaster. Ignoring the behavior does not mean ignore the child. In this new light I must consider too that ignoring the behavior doesn’t mean ignoring the behavior “after” it has begun.
Instead, it may mean ignoring those actions that prompt the unwanted behavior. It is important to note redirecting the child’s attention remains a useful tool. But observing this child and his father impressed upon me that just as language skills, motor skills, cognitive skills and social skills are developed and therefore need to be supported as early in life as possible – so do disciplinary skills.
How wonderful a world we could live in if by the age of two we all learned to put forth our best effort, communicate, try and try again, compromise, clarify, and then concede and move on after putting forth our best efforts.
I witnessed all of that in those few minutes of observing this toddler and father. The child displayed an excellent example of emergent self-control (discipline), and the father displayed a good example of ignoring the prompts for undesirable behavior.
For the remainder of the time it took to remove my clothes from the dryers and fold them, I observed the toddler running with his father being ever watchful. I saw the father panic when his son had momentarily ventured too far to be seen, and I saw the father hug and cuddle his son as he offered him what appeared to be grape juice in a baby bottle.
These latter interactions were examples of love and forgiveness. Wonderful life lessons were displayed during their interactions. One such lesson is we’re never too old to learn.
I can’t say I learned these lessons by observing this child in the Laundromat. However, I can say what I witnessed today reinforced the life lessons that my mother taught me when I was a toddler.


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