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Lately I have been closely noticing the conversations we elders have with our toddlers.
Recently I was on vacation with my two year old toddler and had a chance to visit many of our relatives and friends. I saw that mostly people get very excited to see and meet small children specially toddlers. They want to play with them, talk to them, and try to amuse them whichever best way they can. Specifically, what I observed was that they are eager to converse with them so as to enjoy their half-broken language skills. My daughter is now beginning to make sentences and is quite a talkative and a social toddler.
Whenever I used to visit a relative, or a friend I was surprised to learn that there is a particular pattern of conversation which happens between an adult and the toddler. Keen on observing further, I found that the conversations generally started with greetings and introductions, specifically asking the child his/her name, school, age and then suddenly I used to see my girl crying or shouting. I could never understand how the topics of discussion changed which led the child being very upset.
One must be wondering what would an elder say to distress a little toddler? Initially very nicely a question was put to her 'where is your mamma?' When she pointed to me, Immediately her answer was negated and was told 'no, yeh tu meri mamma hai?' (No, she is my (elder's) mom. Though no harm or distress was intended by the elder but the child got insecure and reacted adversely to this teasing. But this was a thrilling and funny game for all the adults.
I also had an opportunity to observe many such adult-toddler interactions at several other instances. I felt utterly sad for my cousin's son who had to undergo a similar odyssey to convince that he was not at all willing to give away his car. The boy was holding tightly to a brand new toy car and was simply asked, 'Who's car is this? And then the killer statement which threw him into spells of rage and cries was spoken, 'yeh main le Leti hoon, Please Mujhe de do' (I will take it, give it to me).'
I observed the expressions and giggles initially and I just wondered HOW? How can a child's distress cause enjoyment to us adults? The worst is that mother is left to give an uncomfortable smile and also pacify the child that others are just joking and I am all yours and the toys are yours.
We adults are joking and just trying to break the ice. But we are generally oblivious of the repercussions this kind of teasing has on the child. We neither want their moms nor their toys. But we think the kids should understand these jokes. Rather this builds frustration in the child. The child's logical thinking hasn't developed so much that he/ she would understand that you are just joking around. Rather the children take things said to them literally and cry. Now when the crying starts the adult gives in and tells 'okay okay yeh aapki mamma hai' (she is your mom)'. You are in return reinforcing a tantrum related behaviour in the child. They would now know how to get their way out by just crying or shouting or by other negative behaviours respectively. The classic finale to the entire episode is that the child is labeled very aggressive.
Who is demonstrating aggressive behaviour- I think we all need to think upon?
We are subtly telling our children it's fine to tease around everyone and get sadistic pleasure out of it. Think who is giving them ideas for bullying or teasing?
I am not suggesting we stop joking, laughing with them. But is it helpful to joke at the cost of child's distress who doesn't even understand much due to less developed reasoning skills ? Can we think a little more responsibly here? Can we talk a little more responsibly with our toddlers? These are their foundation years. They imitate your behaviour. They are the mirrors to their parents, teachers or significant ones. Remember they are listening and observing you very intently. Next time before striking a conversation with a child, think twice that hopefully you are not provoking unhealthy emotions in them rather either laugh or play with them or help them learn something meaningful. There are a lot meaningful discussions or conversations you can have with a tolddler. The need is just to curb a desire for sadistic pleasure!