We give our kids the words to understand themselves.
One of my jobs as a parent is to give my kids words they can use to orient themselves inside the confusing world around them.
We use words to express feelings, draw boundaries, connect with others, and get our needs met. With toddlers, the trick is to get them to use words instead of hands, teeth, or implements of mass destruction (i.e. a toy to the head). I considered Peanut a success at 2 years old when she looked straight up into my eyes and said, “Mommy! I’m angry and I need some space!”
(Of course, I also considered it a success when 2-year-old Peanut pointed the remote at me while I was talking to her and pressed the “Off” button. Let’s call that “non verbal communication” skills. Ahem.)
Today as a nearly 6-year-old, we encourage Peanut to use her words to talk about her experiences. To describe and define herself positively (this is helping big time). And we use age-appropriate words to tell her the truth about anything she wants to know: the birds and the bees, her little sister’s adoption, family dynamics, you name it. Nothing is off the table and nothing is taboo.
With our 2-year-old, Pumpkin, we are still working on using our words instead of stomping our feet. I consider screaming “Leave me alone!” progress over rolling around on the floor, wailing incoherently. I’d like to that think when she says “I don’t like that!” she experiences the relief of being able – and allowed – to express herself in a safe space.
With both girls we have worked hard to tell them their stories long before they were old enough to understand them. Each of our girls has a storybook of her first year of life complete with pictures and stories.
We started reading adoption stories to Peanut a year before we ever became foster parents to Pumpkin. We talk often about how families are made in lots of ways. With Pumpkin, we decided to never have the “honey, you’re adopted” talk but to instead weave that into the story of her life from the get-go. We talk often about that day in the pumpkin patch when our lives changed forever. Even at two, Pumpkin understands that she has a first mommy and a forever mommy.
One of the most rewarding bits of parenting for me is hearing my kids use their words with others. I revel in their ability to articulate, with precision and confidence, who they are or what they need. I also love hearing them explain words to each other. I experienced this little gem this weekend:
Me: Aunt A is going to have her baby soon. Isn’t that exciting?
5-year-old Peanut: Mommy, are you going to have another baby?
Me: I think I’m done with babies, honey. Remember when YOU grew in my tummy?
Peanut, turning to her 2-year-old sister, Pumpkin: I grew in Mommy’s tummy. You grew in another mommy’s tummy.
Pumpkin, mimicking: I grew in another mommy’s tummy.
Peanut: That’s right. You are adopted. Ah-DOHHHHHP-ted
What?!?! I’m a DOLPHIN?!?!?
Take a page out of Pumpkin’s book and try not to take yourself too seriously today.
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