WFH with a Tyrannical Toddler

Our world…

Developmentally speaking, “2 years old might be one of the roughest ages” for social distancing, says Arthur Lavin, a pediatrician in Cleveland and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. A 6-month-old offered peas for dinner either wants them or not, but a 2-year-old knows something tastier exists. It’s the age of challenging the world, making vague demands and feeling intense emotions at every turn.

Expert advice for sheltering in place with a tyrannical toddler. Washington Post, On Parenting. By Veronica Graham. April 1, 2020.
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The article goes on to advise parallel play…

  • Stay close and present
  • Keep up physical contact
  • Pick toys that encourage exploration and imagination
  • Scale back on toys

I think we have done pretty well. Fleur spends time with me on conference calls. I will turn on the video so she can talk to early bird coworkers before a call starts. She gets bored pretty quick on moves on to something else adjacent to me.

Flow

Flow happens when you do something that completely captures your attention. A lot of people would call this “being in the zone,” in other words: full absorption in something and complete happiness while you’re doing it.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

For me, this has always occurred while writing / editing, playing video games, or solving a computer problem. I also find it while driving, which is why I always enjoyed going places far away. A crutch I use is familiar music to drown out sounds that might distract me.

But, yeah, achieving the happiness of being in Flow is as worthy as the product that might be produced. I can say that I work in IT in part because I enjoy the feeling of being in Flow and having some skill in the work allows me opportunities for doing work that gets me there.

Working from the office has numerous distractions from flow because of emails, instant messages, people stopping by, phone calls. They all interrupt flow and it takes around 15 minutes to get back into it. People try to be respectful of others.

Working from home is worse:

Flow, unfortunately, is rare in family life. The father of flow research, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, told me so point-blank when I wrote my book. (All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood) When kids are small, their developing brains actually conspire against flow, because they’re wired to sweep in as much stimuli as possible, rather than to focus; even when they’re older, they’re still churning windmills of need.

Camp Is Canceled. Three More Months of Family Time. Help. Jennifer Senior. NY Times

The toddler needs what she needs RIGHT NOW! Some times it is funny. Like, there is an obsession with trucks, especially the garbage trucks. (One comes through the neighborhood every week day. She comes flying to a window to see it stop or pass by.) Other times she is just cranky and infecting the rest of us with it.

Rage Against the Parents

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Language acquisition is hard on a toddler. Fleur knows what she wants. It is a matter of getting me, the parent, to understand.

And dealing with the frustration when I fail to get it. In true toddler fashion there are moments where there is pulling at me while vocalizing displeasure because I am not doing the right thing or not the thing in the right way.

Then maybe I figure it out and we are both happy.

Or maybe she improves the pronunciation / enunciation or pick an easier term to pronounce. And we are both happy.

My personal favorite is when Fleur improves the pronunciation or enunciation. It shows problem solving through experimentation. Okay, far too often I feign ignorance just to see if she will try. I want her to work through how to manipulate me through communication. After all, persuasion is why we have the big brains we do. And language acquisition is how we persuade.

Sharing is Caring II

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In the original post, Sharing is Caring, I wrote about how I got Fleur to try new things by imitation of my eating them then how it morphed into her feeding me when she didn’t want it.

Now, my wife is concerned about my loss of weight. It has been about eight pounds in the past two weeks. Since discovering it and given that so much is up in the air, I have become more cognizant about what may have changed.

  • The familial isolation: we are holed up at home and limiting our going out. One would think that would mean being more sedentary, but I found that I burned 1200 to 1600 more calories on days where I stayed home with Fleur than days where I went to work without going to the gym.
  • Fleur play: To help Fleur sleep, we need her to be as active as possible. That means going outside and getting her to run and jump and move.
  • Dietary habits: At work, I typically ate breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, and an afternoon snack. I might miss the morning snack if things got busy but that is because I had a 3 hour window between breakfast and lunch and really I needed more time between the two. I am finding I typically miss the snacks at home because I am juggling work and toddler.

But, then there is also the toddler. She wants my food. We endeavor to give her the same food we eat at dinner. However, the food on my plate is the BEST food. She always wants it over what is in front of her. She especially wants my portions of her favorites. Portion control goes out the window when the toddler is taking some random amount of them.

Toddlers are honey badgers

Yes, I previously wrote toddlers are cats. I may have changed my mind.

Videos of the tenacity of honey badgers fascinate me. The toddler makes me think maybe they are honey badgers.

  • Toddlers don’t care.
  • They have enough patience to wait for you to turn your back.
  • They will escape whatever you use to contain them.
  • They will get into whatever you hide from them or put out of their reach.

Head of household

As Fleur develops language skills, she puts them to very practical uses. She asks for snacks, articles of clothing, and people. Of late, though, that also entails directives. Orders.

Daddy, eat!
Daddy, sit!
Daddy, [throw this] away!

I fear our interactions with the ever listening Big Sister have encouraged this style of direction. The first directives were aimed at it. The “Meow” the cat. Then Galahad. Of late, that has included the parents.

Ah, well, at least she is getting me to eat my oatmeal in the morning.

Toddler linguistics

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Parents of toddlers master a patois spoken by a population of one. We come to understand the various mixtures of missing consonants or inappropriate vowels. Then repeat back to the one the correct pronunciation.

A section of the brain is devoted to tracking how they use the phonemes. Then mapping that to meaning. Basically it is like learning an almost foreign language. The usage is similar. The grammar is simpler though growing more complex over time.

Achieving self-service

As a technologist, we aim for self-service solutions. The tool should allow people accomplish their work without the direct intervention of support staff.

As a parent, we aim for our children to do the same. The time sink is doing everything for them, so the more they take care of themselves the more time we get back. With the toddler, I see the gross understanding of processes and some mastery.

She can feed herself with her hands and is getting better at using a spoon. In putting on clothes, arms are placed in a position to make it easier to pull on or off a shirt or coat. Or switching a toy to another hand. Or climbing into the high chair for dinner.

Baby steps to getting dressed herself. Though, this morning she did pick the outfit: her Star Trek Lieutenant Commander (TNG) onesie. So, you know I am proud.

Study: Infants recognize counting as numerically relevant

brown numbers cutout decors

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We play a game: One of us parents will count to five and say that number of fingers are coming after you and tickle Fleur. (My wife does to five and tickles with both hands. I will to five & use one hand or ten &use both.) In true dopamine fashion the smile is largest in the middle (three and eight). It did make me wonder if she recognized the words, but that apparently comes around 3-4 however there is evidence that starting around 14 months they have an approximate numerical system that allows them to recognize it.

Children do not understand the meanings of count words like “two” and “three” until the preschool years. But even before knowing the meanings of these individual words, might they still recognize that counting is “about” the dimension of number? Here in five experiments, we asked whether infants already associate counting with quantities. We measured 14‐ and 18‐month olds’ ability to remember different numbers of hidden objects that either were or were not counted by an experimenter before hiding. As in previous research, we found that infants failed to differentiate four hidden objects from two when the objects were not counted—suggesting an upper limit on the number of individual objects they could represent in working memory. However, infants succeeded when the objects were simply counted aloud before hiding. We found that counting also helped infants differentiate four hidden objects from six (a 2:3 ratio), but not three hidden objects from four (a 3:4 ratio), suggesting that counting helped infants represent the arrays’ approximate cardinalities. Hence counting directs infants’ attention to numerical aspects of the world, showing that they recognize counting as numerically relevant years before acquiring the meanings of number words.

Experiment one: The infants watched a demonstration of putting items in a box some while counted and others using “this” instead of counting. Then the researcher had the child do the task on sometimes two or four objects (two in front and two in back). They measured the search time and found the children searched longer for the two when counted. The supposition here is the counting primed working memory for four items. Or setting a summary representation array using an approximate number system (ANS).

Experiment two: In this one, the researchers teased out the efficacy of the ANS . The two tasks were both counted prior to hiding. This time the search time was measured after the first two were found. In the other, the search time was measure after the third was retrieved. If ANS were used, then they should not distinguish between 3 and 4, which was the result.

Experiment three: The number of objects was increased to 4 and 6 as it should exceed the capability of working memory. It confirmed ANS is likely the component in play.

Experiment four: Same procedures as three but measured like two.

I would love to see this have with more kids and replicated.

Wang, Jinjing & Feigenson, Lisa. (2019). Infants recognize counting as numerically relevant. Developmental Science. 10.1111/desc.12805.