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I Know Why Elmo Doesn't Have Ears . . .

Maddie noticed one day during playtime
that Elmo doesn’t have ears. Frankly, I’d never spent
enough time studying the toy to see that, but she’s
absolutely right. Why is this? Why create something that giggles
and kicks but doesn’t have ears? I finally figured out why.

Because the stupid thing would never listen to anyone else anyway.
How many Elmo dolls have you found that say things like, “So
how is Elmo’s friend today?”

I mean really, pretty much every Elmo doll is constantly talking.
He’s a real chatterbox (except for my favorite version
– the stuffed, silent Elmo), and I’m seeing his speech
patterns reflected in my daughter.

For example, as I’ve mentioned
before, Elmo always refers to himself in the third person.
“Elmo is very tired!” “Elmo is feeling
ticklish!” “Can you check Elmo’s temperature
please?” I’ve noticed Elmo never says, “You make
me laugh!”

And now that Maddie is big into narrating her own life, I
can’t help but see that she does the same thing.
“Maddie tired!” “Maddie crying!”
“Maddie jumping!” “Maddie going outside!”
and so on.

Which leads me to wonder – is this a habit she picked up from
Elmo, or is this something Elmo’s creators gave him to make
him seem more understandable to little kids? The more I think about
it, the more I wonder if it’s a developmental thing and not
just a marketing gimmick to get Elmo’s name pounded into your
brain. Certainly learning your name – that you are a unique
person called, for example, Maddie – is easier than learning
the complexities of personal pronouns. Maddie might grow up
thinking her name is “you” if that’s all I ever
called her, and she might find my name to be “I” by the
same token.

Thinking about this has made me start to use the personal pronouns
more deliberately around Madeleine, rather than fall into her habit
of third-personing it. Now when she says, “Maddie
tired!” I’ll say, “Is Maddie tired? Are you
tired?” I can definitely see a difference – mostly in
her saying, “You go there” rather than “Mommy go
there”, but still.

I’m going to have to give Elmo the benefit of the doubt on
this one, and hope that the choice was based on what children
understand earlier on. But I’d still like the red beast to be
on the listening end of the conversation a bit more, if you know
what I mean.


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