Terrible Twos Hit Us Hard!!!

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For a while I thought I would be immune to the “terrible twos” phase thinking that it is more of a North American phenomenon and because, from day one, I was very keen on raising my daughter with strict parenting rules.

I used to enjoy telling everyone from her pediatrician to our doorman what a great sleeper she was, sleeping through the night since she was 3 months old. I used to praise her eating habits (and secretly my nutritionist powers;)) and in particular how smoothly the breastfeeding period and later on solid food introduction went. I once called my mom at 6 in the morning overseas to tell her that her granddaughter had a raw eggplant with dinner!

It didn’t stop there, instead of feeling self-conscious in front of other mommies about the fact that my house isn’t at all kid friendly nor kid proof, I used to take great pride in complementing my daughter’s discipline around the house, in fact I was so happy to be raising a house-proof baby! In restaurants, the pouring compliments and applauses on how well my daughter behaved and how amazing it was that she was sharing my salmon with spinach with no shred of objection, used to make my day! Now you’re thinking a mother would always find a way to praise her child even if he/she was the worst kid on the block (an old Arabic proverb says: the monkey in the eyes of its mother is a gazelle). However, it wasn’t only me who thought that my girl was an angel. When her previous nanny had to leave us, she gave a great reference about my daughter to her successor, describing her as “rigolote et facile à vivre” (EN: Funny and easygoing).

Then suddenly came the day, right after her 2nd birthday. It started with a few NOs here and there. In the beginning, we found this super cute, even smart. We were caught-up in making sure that she was meeting all her developmental milestones and were very pleased to check off: better expression skills, better communication and ability to make choices. We thought a strong character might come in handy in the future if she wants to survive a wild environment (like New York City for instance). However, the NOs started getting more and MORE frequent, more and more DOMINANT, until I started noticing it became chronic. Hélas, my daughter was now only speaking in the negative tense! “NO I don’t want the potty”, “NO I don’t want to eat yogurt”, “NO I don’t want to clean up after playing”, “NO I don’t want to go in the stroller”, “NO I don’t want to say Merci/Bonjour”…So we were spending a big chunk of our days just dealing with her “no no no no no no no no no no” (which is one way for her to say No).

Picky? She defined that word! One day, she woke up from her nap with the weirdest request: She wanted clementine for snack…only BLUE clementine not orange! Food time was no more a piece of cake like the old days. I had to find a new trick every mealtime to distract her into finishing her plate. I became a master in all sorts of clown performances. A restaurant meal would transform into a battlefield with her throwing chopsticks on us. All the restaurants we frequent started having a specific table for us, engraved with my daughter’s name. It’s that table all the way in the back, next to the kitchen or the restroom, where the risk of stares (to us or the waiters), walkouts or all out catastrophe is at a minimum.

Nevertheless, after the initial panic, I reluctantly realized that she had just changed and my old tricks were not working anymore and so I had to update them. After coming to terms with the new challenge and gradually gathering more patience and energy to counter her increased stubbornness and vigor, I am starting gradually to regain control. The key was perseverance, adaptability, patience and creativity, illustrated by the following:

  • As much as she said NO I was equally stubborn with my YES and eventually she started learning that she just can’t have it her way all the time (and often for a very good reason that I try explaining to her so she doesn’t feel that I am randomly putting her down).
  • We changed our restaurant habits: in order to keep them enjoyable, they are now “short and sweet” (We sometimes pick our plates by checking the menu online before even stepping into the restaurant).
  • Creativity in trying to grab her attention towards something or distract her away from something (e.g. “Oh look those yellow carrots are so magical!” as I try to make her forget about the blue clementines)
  • There is also space for appropriate punishment (e.g. “No Play-Do time today because you misbehaved (aka screaming tantrum) in the grocery store”). With time, I can tell that she is starting to learn that actions have consequences and that she is starting to think about the repercussions of her own choices, which is actually a very important life lesson.

While there will be an initial surge in the crisis feel at home, your will suddenly start seeing signs of change and at that moment (the turning point) you will realize that it was all worth it (and you’ll secretly or not so secretly tear up). For me that happened when one day I became very furious when she threw her cheese plate on the floor, then she came to me and looked me in the eyes and said in her primitive sentence structure: “Plus de bêtises a maman, des bisous a maman!” (EN: “No more trouble for mommy, only kisses!”).

My Daughter and her iPad

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We introduced the iPad early on in my daughter’s life. As soon as her motor and cognitive skills started developing, her tiny little fingers were serving for more than just grabbing random items to put in her mouth, they were serving to discover by trial and error how to use this fascinating electronic device which never fails to respond and often has something new to offer… our tiny little one was reaching out to the cyberworld! Before she was one year old, she was able to navigate it like a pro, switching from apps, to pictures, to filming short videos, to snapping so many bizarre selfies and then to cartoon watching on YouTube!

We were aware of the potential negative impacts of tablets on young kids ranging from attention deficit problems, to vision problems, to the development of sedentary and anti-social habits, therefore we tried to limit the time she spent with her magic tablet to a strict minimum. We had an initial rule of offering her the iPad only as a last resort to keep her calm and entertained when there was a need to get some things done and no help was around. With time, the rule started to bend gradually to accommodate her increasing demand for attention and stimulation coinciding with the increasing demands of our daily routine which was leaving us with less and less energy and time to interact with her as she grew older. Since we were under the impression that it was working wonders with her educationally and intellectually (I can’t say that I’m not still impressed by some of the things that Le Petit Genie app has taught her) and more specifically in providing her with a more fulsome exposure to French which we worried she was lacking in New York, we started to let go … and then the iPad quickly took control.

Today my daughter is 2 and the first thing she asks for when she wakes up at 6:30am is her iPad. She wants to watch her all-time favorite cartoon “L’âne Trotro”, or play with “Talking Anya” the doll which repeats what the child says (and will give you the most insane headache!).

I understood that the iPad became problematic when she started preferring it over her toys and books and was asking for it all the time. On one particular occasion that I remember vividly, we were strolling outdoors and she asked me to go back home to “watch on iPad”! (I immediately teared up). Lately what was even more alarming is that she started demanding to eat while in front of the screen. The idea that I (nutritionist) am setting my daughter on a sedentary (couch potato) path with the innumerable health detriments that go with it started to horrify me.

Tablets are still a relatively new gadget and since my daughter’s generation is the first to get exposed to them at such an early age, there aren’t enough studies to scientifically prove the many potential risks on a developing kid’s body and mind. That being said, there’s no need for studies or research to notice that this tablet, despite its interactive nature, will, without strict control, end up causing the same detrimental effects that unmonitored TV and video games’ consumption by kids has been known to cause for some time now (ADD, eating disorders and social problems included).

I can’t say that there weren’t times recently when I was so discouraged by the iPad’s take-over that I even flirted with the idea of getting rid of it altogether, but technology is here to stay and my daughter will be part of a generation which is bound to incorporate it increasingly into every aspect of their lives (whether it is for work, to connect with other or for entertainment), therefore rather than inhibiting her ability to learn to interact with it and risk putting her at an unfair disadvantage which may cause its own social issues for her growing up, I decided to enforce some structure on her relationship with the iPad and hopefully this will teach her how to keep those boundaries with technology throughout her life.

Therefore, I decided, as a pre-2014 resolution, that a strict rule for using the iPad for no more than 1 hour/day is warranted and no food is allowed during that time. I was also happy to learn today, by doing some research for this post, that there are recently released guidelines by the American Academy of Pediatrics which encourage parents to limit entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day and in children under 2, the guidelines discourage screen media exposure altogether. Therefore, my resolution seems to be in line with their recommendation.

So genius apps and French cartoons will just have to stand in line as my daughter’s health is taking center stage! Pray for me! I’ll keep you posted with how this resolution pans out!

Oups, alarm clock ringing! Time for me to go back to my little one…

Pick a Parenting Style

Here are a couple of parenting books I greatly enjoyed:

Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (disponible en francais: L’hymne de la bataille de la mère Tigre par Amy Chua)

China is on the rise! Not only economically but culturally. We are moving into a world where Western parents are enrolling their kids in mandarin classes at the age of 2, schools in New York are offering frequent cultural immersion trips to China and Western moms also want to know how Chinese moms raise their kids!

Here is a great book by a Chinese, westernized (2nd generation in America) mom caught between two cultures as she tries to raise her two daughters on rigid Chinese principles in America. It is inspiring at times, shocking at times and “lol” funny at others!

To associate with the story it’s ideal to read this book when your kids are at school age.

Funny quote from the book:

“Stop it Mommy. Just stop it.” [Lulu / the daughter]

“Lulu, I didn’t say anything,” I [the mom] replied. “I didn’t say one word.”

“Your brain is annoying me,” Lulu said. “I know what you’re thinking.” [Lulu]

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Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman (disponible en francais: Bébé made in France. Quels sont les secrets de notre éducation)

This book is another insightful mommy memoir. The story is set in Paris where an American journalist becomes a mom and discovers that French parenting is as great as French Couture and French Cheese! It’s very witty and awakening!

To associate with the story or take advantage of the advice given, it’s ideal to read this book if you’re expecting a baby or you’re a new mom.

Passages from the book:

“These books can be useful to people who lack confidence, but I don’t think you can raise a child while reading a book. You have to go with your feeling,” one Parisian mother said.

“Having a baby who sleeps through the night early on seems to be the norm in France. Just as stories of terrible sleepers are easy to find among the Americans, stories of spectacular sleepers are easy to find among the French.”