Toddler "Discipline" Books: On Not Getting What You Want—Or Getting It!

6.16.10: Leo's 25th Month

leo eating noodles article.jpg

Two year olds are not famous for being easy to live with. Usually, I keep this in mind when Leo throws himself about and screams. Sometimes, though, I simply get annoyed. Pissed off. Inconvenienced and impatient. “Just shut up and do what you’re supposed to,” I want to say. Instead I scowl and harumph for a moment, then scoop Leo’s limbs together and try to put us both on track. Happily, Leo’s volatility works both ways, and he’s onto something new before I’m over whatever just happened.

I mention this because I’ve decided to consult the experts again. Not to ‘cure’ Leo of toddlerdom, more to coach myself through those less-resourceful moments. Surely that’s all a book can really offer, right? The toddlers I know are, across the board, fairly consistent in their reactions to being thwarted, despite the differing approaches and temperaments of their parents. Yet the subtitles of the books I’m reading tend to make great promises, along the lines of “make your child behave better!”

Elizabeth Pantley’s follow-up to her beloved sleep book is called The No-Cry Discipline Solution, and the subtitle is “Gentle Ways to Encouraged Good Behavior Without Whining, Tantrums & Tears.” Heck, sign me up! And Harvey Karp’s sequel to his brilliantly reductive and effective newborn book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, is called The Happiest Toddler on the Block, subtitled “How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old.” I’ll take one of those please.

I suspect that in the end the more realistic title that I’m reading, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, will prove the most useful. It hones in on the basic yet effective communication skills that we could all brush up on from time to time. Communication seems to be at the heart of all three books actually. Currently I’m reading the very “self-help” style chapter in Karp’s book, about what he calls The Fast Food Rule. Essentially, he’s reminding parents to really hear their child’s emotions and to show them they are heard by repeating them back with the right tone to make the child feel understood. I definitely plan to practice this.

Next time I serve yogurt and Leo screams for eggs, I’ll resist going first to the “like it or lump it” reaction and will pause for a moment of “Oh, honey, you want eggs! You feel like eating eggs!” We’ll see how it goes. Of course it seems bratty when a kid turns his nose up at a perfectly nice meal and makes specific demands. But you know what? I’ve been craving peanut noodles ever since I started my diet. Not whole grain veggie and noodle salad either. Peanut noodles, take-out style. And I have a mild peanut allergy so even if I wasn’t on a diet this would be out. Still, I just couldn’t get past it.

Finally, yesterday afternoon, I decided there was no fighting it, grabbed the almond butter and whipped up a huge bowl of noodles for dinner. And I ate so many noodles before Leo and Aaron were home for dinner that I wasn’t hungry again till breakfast. They were SO satisfying. That’s where Karp’s Fast Food Rule logic seems to break down. It’s one thing to repeat back what someone wants before giving it to them (ie “two burgers and fries”), it’s another to just repeat back what they want and then let them down.

This is a reality of life, of course, we don’t always get what we want, and helping a toddler handle this is one of a parent’s greatest challenges. But man, when we do get what we want, it sure is delicious.

Recipe: Nutty Asian Noodles

Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.