Steel Trap: On Toddler Brains and Promises

Steel Trap: On Toddler Brains and Promises | Twin Cities Moms Blog

“You know that one time a week ago when you said you’d buy every toy in the world if I would just eat everything on my plate? Well, I just ate everything on my plate and I can’t wait any longer for those toys!!! Where will I put them? Can we go to get them now? Do I have to share with my sister? She never eats everything on her plate! Mom? Are you listening?”

So, if you’re a frustrated parent and your wise brain has run out of logical ideas on how to encourage or persuade your children to do something – this just might be a familiar situation.

The brain will never cease to fascinate. Especially when I’m around two little ones that are growing and changing so fast, I can barely catch my breath. My three-year olds are now sweetly reminding me to do things like “don’t forget the milk!” while we’re at Target to buy milk. You know how that goes: Go to buy milk, leave with a bunch of stuff you don’t need, and forget the milk… But no, I don’t do that anymore. I go to buy milk and also leave with a bunch of stuff I don’t need. I remember the milk, because I have a toddler with a steel trap to quickly remind me.

The first time I really witnessed the doors to their little steel traps open, I was like one of those lizards that just freeze stares… but my look was more like a smirk of disbelief. My most recent scenario left my daughter in tears (due to my forgetfulness) and me in, well, a disbelieving smirk, followed by big hugs to her.

Steel Trap: On Toddler Brains and Promises | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Bedtime is a wild time in our house. Both of my children have lovely energy that explodes right about the time we say “Ok, let’s get ready for bed!” A couple nights ago, my daughter was her typical hyper self right before bed and I casually said, “You really need to calm down now so you can save all your sillies for the morning!” This surprisingly worked and she calmed down. Morning came and it was pretty typical: wake, eat, play. But the only (huge) difference was that both of my children were off the wall. I sat one of my daughters down (who seemed to be the one initiating the craziness) and I semi-sternly said, “You need to calm down, you’re being too silly, honey.”

This was the moment, she lost it. She burst into tears and threw herself to the ground. I was already exhausted from the crazy, so I walked away to have my own quiet for a moment. She stood up immediately and said, “You said I could save ALLLLL of my sillies for the morning! It is morning and I am being so silly! (big cry).” I didn’t even know how to respond (insert frozen lizard). I stumbled to find my own words. I felt terrible like I had broken her heart. I couldn’t believe she remembered what I said and actually took me seriously. In disbelief, I hugged her and apologized. I looked in her big droopy eyes and said, “I did tell you that, huh?” and I let the silly commence. I needed to let it continue and I needed to admit I was wrong.

Now that I sit here and re-read that she “…actually took me seriously,” I feel like a horrible parent. Of course our kids will take us seriously – we are their parents! We are the example they follow, their guide, their helper, their leader. I suggested that she act a certain way at another time and she did just that. She listened and she enjoyed herself because she was given the ‘ok’ to do so! Right now, as a parent with toddlers, I feel like I have a mesh trap and things just slip out without me even noticing. Thankfully my little ones seem to catch it all!

So, I see this phase in toddlerhood as two-fold: not only do they hear every word I say, but they are wonderful at follow-up and can quickly understand us (more than we know at the time). So, be cautious what you say and how you say it. Choose your words wisely and think carefully before you promise something big in exchange for their cooperation. We need to be able to follow through on what we say. Their tiny steel traps will keep what you say, lock it in tightly and let it out at just the right time. It will surprise you when it happens, leaving you feeling either a) incredibly proud because they remembered and it may have actually helped you in some way or b) terrible because that thing you said in the past isn’t something you can really follow up on, but they sincerely believe you will. 

Be proud of their little brains – even when they remind us about the very unrealistic promises we made. We are their first promise makers, let’s set the bar high. 

Steel Trap: On Toddler Brains and Promises | Twin Cities Moms Blog

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