Learning to Let My Toddler Have Opinions
I am the youngest sibling in my family, and even though I have a lot of babysitting experience, I’ve never had the experience of constantly being around a young child while they’re growing from a baby into a toddler. Until now, that is.
My daughter just turned 15-months old, and she is using baby signs to communicate what she wants, which is awesome because I don’t have to guess as much anymore. She is not only able to let me know what she wants (“milk,” “book,” and “bunny” are among her most frequent requests) but also what she doesn’t want. And so I’ve found myself in more situations where I need to step back and acknowledge that her opinions sometimes trump my own.
Right now, she still lets me pick out clothes for her, and she doesn’t seem to have a preference for colors or styles. I still get to pick what music we listen to in the car because she doesn’t protest (usually). With regards to food choices, I put food in front of her, and either she eats it or she signs “all done” and I take it away. Until recently, I would read whatever book I wanted before her bedtime, but now that has changed.
R has an extensive library of board books, not only because I love books but because I wanted to find baby books that were interesting for me to read. Some of my favorite selections include:
- Most Dr. Seuss books
- The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
- One Hungry Monster
- I Want My Hat Back
- All My Friends Are Dead (OK that’s not really a baby book, but it’s fun)
My preferred baby books have fun stories, some rhymes, a hint of a plot, and maybe a little twist at the end. But recently I had to face the facts: I’m reading books to R not for my benefit, but for hers, and her opinion on what books she likes is somewhat different from mine.
A few days ago, not too far after she learned the sign for “book,” I noticed that she would start signing for “book” even when I had already started reading a book. At first, I ignored her sign and I kept reading, and so she started signing “all done.” I thought maybe she was confused, because the book wasn’t all done (see how my brain works?) and I kept going, so she did the only other thing possible: she grabbed the book, closed it, threw it out of my hands, and wriggled out of my lap so that she could get another book.
We went through a few books like this, and then I finally realized that she wasn’t in a weird mood, but rather she was communicating her opinions about books to me, and I had been ignoring her signs because I wasn’t interested in her preferences. It hadn’t occurred to me that she would have strong opinions about books at such a young age.
So we sat down with her book collection, and I read through each book to determine which ones she liked. If we were less than halfway through a book when she signaled “book” (meaning “next book please!”) or “all done,” that book went into the Reject Pile. Mostly, we didn’t even make it past one page before she would reject a book, and only about 10% of her books passed the All Done Test. The books that passed included:
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
- Peek-A Who?
- Moo, Baa, La La La
- Hop On Pop
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
- Where is Baby’s Belly Button?
Of those books, Brown Bear is her hands-down favorite, and she will request it as many times as I can stand to read it. Most of these books have simple rhymes, and even if she can’t understand the words, she likes the rhythm. I don’t know why she likes Hop on Pop over any other rhyming book, or Moo, Baa over other Sandra Boynton books, nor do I understand why she likes the Pigeon books, because those don’t rhyme at all (although I’m glad we share an interest in preventing that pigeon from having fun, because those books are funny). I put up a gallant effort to read the beginning and ending of Hungry Caterpillar every time she picks it, but she is only interested in the pages with holes to poke–and who can blame her?
I knew that by teaching her baby signs, that I would be opening up the channels for communication and helping her establish independence. But I didn’t realize that my preferences were getting in the way of hers. For now, it’s books, and in the near future it will be clothes and music, and who knows beyond that. This is the first step, for me, in learning to let my daughter have opinions that are different than mine, and I couldn’t be any prouder of her for starting to express herself.