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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Intuitive Counter

I am in for so much trouble, I can just tell. I think my wife and I have given our 18 month old daughter way too much freedom. We used to have physical boundaries in the form of plastic storage bins for decorations that kept her from wandering around to the various drawers and cabinets that contain all the fun stuff like knives and pans. It saves me from admitting that we need cabinet door locks and outlet covers. She’s getting to be the right height to open doors. Every week another danger rears its ugly head. I can’t rely on what worked yesterday as a rule of thumb. Usually, unless she knows something opens or has moving parts, she just assumes that it’s part of the background. It’s not until she notices you open something then she realizes she can open it as well.

Since the holidays came around we have taken down the barriers and the child roams free when we watch her. It would have been hard to explain to guests why we had these huge plastic totes barricading our daughter into the living room as if it was the wall between Mexico and the United States. At one point, before Christmas, as we were putting them away, I swore I saw a tiny David Hasselhoff singing on top of the remaining tote. He then picked up tiny fake cheeseburger toy off the floor and proceeded to it eat. But, now she goes into the kitchen begins to open drawers and doors and sees shiny objects inside. We had tried to be very discreet about not letting her see us do that. Somehow, she evolved, adapted, and overcome. Now, we’ve had to up our game. We’ve had to really become parents. We just went from defense to offense.

You see, as a parent I’ve had to learn a lot of things. Two very important traits are discipline and consistency. In other words, you have to be consistent in your disciplining of the child. Actually, I’m being facetious, in a way. In high school I took Sociology and found it to be the hardest yet most rewarding class. We did a whole segment on child development which nearly caused me to fail the class. Each student was given a different developmental period to master for a project and then a cumulative test touched on all stages of childhood development. I couldn’t make heads or tails on any of it. I didn’t understand that a lot happens in those first few years. While it may seem brief, the psychological development of a child surpasses the physical development of a human being over its entire life. There is so much to learn in that short amount of time. The only physical attributes that get honed are balance and dexterity. That’s just practice.

Now, I will say that, regardless of how little I know about child development, this kid is smart. Too smart for her own good. All the books in the world will never nail down a specific time frame for when a child should perform a certain action but I know we are either on target or ahead of schedule. So, it came as no surprise when the little one began to question authority. I think that developed while still in the womb. So, when I say that you need discipline. I mean that you have to be willing to make the child upset when it’s time for bed or bath time. You have to be ready to be the bad guy at a moment’s notice. You cannot make idle threats and not back them up or you’ve given the child carte blanche to ignore your authority. I credit my wife for having a well honed bullshit detector. She gets a lot of practice on me alone. Children are especially good at sniffing out BS like a prized pig can sniff out the best truffles. With my kid, she gets the added benefit of my wife’s DNA. If you tell the child you will send them to bed for acting up, you better have them packing if they do it again.

With consistency, that’s more of a team effort. If my wife forbids an action, I have to forbid it, too. Otherwise, the kid will pit your sympathy against their authority. For example, we give my daughter these little cereal puffs that come in a container. My wife doesn’t allow her to carry around the whole container because she tends to spill them all onto the floor. I like to get out a handful and put them in a little dish for the child to work from as an exercise in fine manipulation. The child sees this as a process improvement in efficiency. Sure, these little fingers can grasp one puff at a time, but if I lick my hand and stick it into the container, I can retrieve several. Less work yields more results. Now, when I refuse to let her do this, she gets completely irate and goes into operation shutdown. She flails about, whines, and does her best performance.

What really amazes me about this miniature human is that she is a very quick study. She knows exactly how to push buttons and when she’s being bad, she turns on the cutesy voice and says, “HI!” Somewhere along the line she said it for the first time and we thought it was adorable. Now, she uses it like it makes us forget she’s being bad. Remember, this child is not even two years old yet. That’s my contribution to the gene pool, I guess. I was very agile, not physically, but mentally.

So, here we are at my In-Laws and my daughter starts heading to the steps. Until this past November, she’s never shown any interest in them. However, now she is quite an accomplished climber and can ascend very well. Coming down is more like repelling and relying on gravity to do most of the work. This particular day was her first attempt and we had been trying to give the kid a chance to correct herself when she’s in the wrong by counting to three. Again, I have no idea when a child understands that counting is bad when coming from a parent and why they stop at three when schools expect you to go beyond your allotted digits before advancing to a higher grade. But, we figured we’d give it a try. If anything else, this kid will have fractions between two and three down pat. It never fails though, we get to three and she just stands there continuing the bad behavior. As she neared the steps, she knew she was in the wrong because she looked at us as she got closer. Two attempts to call her over had failed, so my wife went to the counting. No sooner than she muttered the sustained call of one that lasted more than three seconds, my daughter called back, “Twwwwoooo.”

Everything came to a screeching halt. We both looked at each other in amazement. Our daughter just helped count to two. I didn’t know whether to be extremely proud or smack her for begin insolent. Once again, I don’t know at what age that kids develop a sense of sarcasm. In either case, both my wife and I showed off how disciplined we really were. Neither one of us cracked a smile. Oh, but we laughed later when our daughter wasn’t around. We laughed hard.

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