There are some all-too-familiar phrases shouted by The Boy that must be spoken by toddlers umpteen times a day the word over. Universal toddler-speak if you will.
The Boy has been going through a bit of a negative spell recently. At least, I hope it’s just ‘another phase’…it has been rather a while now. Currently, his most often communicated phrases can pretty much be filed under one of two categories:
- His dislikes (those statements containing the all-encompassing ‘no’; phrases/sentences including the keywords ‘no(t) like’ or ‘no(t) want’).
- His desires (‘I want’; ‘I do it’).
Today, just for fun,* I decided to keep a list of such declarations made by The Boy, along with a tally. Try it: it’s very satisfying, a little like crossing off numbers in bingo (I’d imagine). At the very least, it meant that with each irritating whine or shout there was a positive outcome too, in the form of a satisfying pencil mark and a smug ‘see – I’m right!’ smile.
My results are as follows, presented in categories in order of frequency from most to least often said (the teacher in me is loving this!):
1. “I not like…” (24 utterances)
Examples today included that story, that T-shirt, having to wear a jumper, tuna sandwiches, that cup, his sister’s feet touching him on the sofa during stories, that episode of Peppa Pig, shoes on, Maracajacks (the music class he’s been going to since he was 10 weeks old and always loves once he’s there), his nappy being changed, his teeth being cleaned… The list goes on and on.
2. “I want…” (19 utterances)
More grapes, one more Mr Maker, Mummy’s phone, another story, to ‘do’ numbers, to go in the garden, his felt-tips down from the shelf, the volume up loud on the iPod, stickers, to bash the hell out of his toy drum (whilst his sister is napping, naturally).
3. “I not want…” (11 utterances)
To go downstairs, breakfast, shepherd’s pie, to sit at the table, to have a nap, to go upstairs.
4. “I do it!” (7 utterances)
How dare I try to unzip his sleeping bag, hurry him up the stairs by lifting him the last few, choose the game he can play on the tablet, feed the playdough into the logging machine (don’t ask!), count the triangles in his shape book or pull the bath plug? Outrageous.
Life is so flipping black and white for these little people!
They see it as their prerogative that their wants MUST be met; after all, their needs were as a baby. The universe centres around them. And of course it opens that whole parenting can of worms about when to indulge them (for a quiet life) and when to teach them that the real world sadly doesn’t operate that way and throw some ‘no’s right back at them!
The child in me loves the idea of playing The Boy at his own game: “Well I don’t like boys who are stroppy/unreasonable,” or “And I don’t want to sit here for another 20 minutes while you do everything in your remit to avoid eating your lunch.” But obviously that strategy always backfires and ends up with him teetering dangerously on the edge of the black hole that is tantrum central. Also, of course, hearing these words being spoken out loud makes me shudder at what a mum I have become. Much like at work when I catch myself doing the teacher’s raised eyebrows or telling a pupil, “It’s your time you’re wasting, not mine.” (Lie.) Fitting the stereotype and inwardly squirming as a consequence.
I know ‘they’ say that ignoring is the best strategy, and I try, really I do. And, considering the frequency of the outbursts, I think a 50% success rate in doing this is admirable. Let’s admit, it takes A LOT of effort to keep natural reactions in check, particularly when sleep deprived.
Confession time: Sometimes, whilst ‘ignoring’, I have been known to gesticulate wildly (behind The Boy’s back of course), violently mouth profanities (again, not in his eyeline) or swiftly exit the room to sit on the bottom stair and sob. We’ve all been there…haven’t we?
Oh and guess what? Ignoring it doesn’t always work. You know, much like the ‘put them down drowsy but awake’ advice of the early baby years. Maybe this only happens under our roof, but The Boy takes such offence at not being listened to that he ends up just shouting it louder and louder and LOUDER.
It has taken a while (and hats off to the hubster here, for it was he who forged the way with this strategy, having infinitely more patience than me) but we have found that the secret to a (slightly) less shouty household lies in good old-fashioned bribery. Even this took a tonne of patience to ‘teach’; the main hurdle being finding opportunities where he actually complied to a request in order for him to see the positive consequence. Luckily The Boy considers extra stories at naptime and bedtime, Innocent smoothies and educational games on the tablet to be ultimate treats. Ha! We win. Here’s hoping that these preferences will last.
Nowadays, the usual exchange goes something like this:
Me: It’s lunch time.
Boy: It is NOT lunch time!
Me: Err, it IS lunch time. Look – pasta! Your favourite.
Boy: I not WANT pasta! No, no, no! NOT pasta!
Me: (Sigh) But you love pasta. Look – its got yummy butternut squash and chicken in it.
Boy: I not LIKE chicken. Yuk. I want to PAYY (play).
Me: (In my best teacher voice, calm and low) E, do you want a story at nap time?
Boy: (Sulkily) Yes.
Me: Well then, you need to eat your lunch. If you don’t eat your lunch, then no story. Do you understand?
(I battle him into his seat and, with many more words of encouragement, he reluctantly proceeds to eat. VERY slowly.)
Me: (Adjusting my face into an animated, inviting smile) E, if you eat up ALL your pasta in BIG mouthfuls like a dinosaur, you can have a smoothie!
Boy: Oh yes! I LOVE smoovees!
(Eating speeds up to approximately half the desirable speed. I concede that half-speed is probably ‘good enough’ – I am tired of this cringeworthy pantomime. I manage to get The Boy down for his nap minutes before Little Miss is about to turn from smiley happy adorable bubba to ferociously eye-rubbing overtired nightmare bubba. A hollow victory is once more mine.)
Any of this sound familiar?
In conclusion, as much as it pains me to say so, it looks as though some stereotypes ARE worth conforming to. Let’s all just admit it: There is such a thing as ‘universal mum-speak’ too. And it is every bit as irritating as the little people’s negative outbursts.
* I know, I know. How my life has changed.