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I Do Not Recall

Maddie’s in the midst of those
terrible twos, and has several meltdowns a day, almost as if
she’s got an allotment of them and feels obligated to use
them all. I’ve got the formula for dealing with them down
pat, but Maddie’s recently thrown a little wrench into my
pattern, the clever little monkey.

First, there’s me making every effort to avoid a meltdown.
I’ve learned she does really well with plenty of warning when
a transition’s coming up, so I run through a list of upcoming
events several times: “Maddie, we’re going to eat our
lunch, play for a few minutes, then read books and take a
nap.” The more foreknowledge she has the less she reacts as
if I’ve sprung something grossly unfair on her, so I’m
happy to oblige in this.

The second meltdown avoidance technique is
transitioning between “things”. If Maddie starts to
read a book, I have to let her finish it or at least flip through
it before moving her to the next step of something, so when
she’s playing and it’s getting near nap time I’m
always on the lookout for a natural break in her play. If
she’s winding down in her kitchen I try to catch her before
she starts dancing with Elmo, for example.

Of course, these aren’t foolproof and sometimes nothing keeps
the kid from going nuclear. When that happens I (try to) remain
calm, stand my ground without being mean, and bring her down off
that ledge. I wait – sometimes through a break – until
she’s calm and can discuss what happened. We’ll talk
through how it got started, where she disobeyed, and the
consequences of that disobedience (which is usually what instigates
the meltdown). Then we’ll discuss why her disobedience was
wrong, and she’ll apologize to me for what she did. Finally,
I offer forgiveness and we move on.

This isn’t a blog about discipline, so I’ll wrap this
up and get to the punchline. Yesterday, Maddie was playing with her
toys while I fixed lunch. Lunchtime came and I told Maddie to get
to her seat. She refused, at which point we arrived at the
“choice” part of the conversation: walk to the seat, or
Mommy carries you. She refused again, so I carried her and she
started screaming. I put her in the seat, fighting me every step of
the way, until I explained that choosing to fight me would mean
losing the chance to watch Sesame Street later. She chose to let me
put her in the seat (smart kid), but it took a while for her to
calm down enough for us to talk about it.

When Maddie was finally calm, I said, “Do you remember why
you were crying?” “No,” she answered. “Ok,
do you remember playing with your dolls and me telling you it was
time to eat?” “Yes.” I walked her through the
entire episode, with her remembering every step.

“Ok,” I finished, “now that you understand what
you did wrong you need to apologize for your actions.”
“I don’t remember any of that,” Maddie said.

I was stumped. Was she faking it so she wouldn’t have to
apologize? Did she honestly not remember? If not, then how was she
able to verbally walk through the entire thing with me? I talked
through it again, Maddie agreeing and filling in the blanks, but
then again saying she didn’t remember it.

We finally got to the point where she understood she disobeyed me
and apologized, but for a bit I was sweating it. How can you make a
two-year-old apologize for something they don’t remember
doing? And how could I say, “I don’t believe you
kid,” when she doesn’t even know what premeditated
lying is?

At any rate, we got through it, and now I’m watching her for
signs that she knows between truth and falsehood and tells a lie on
purpose. For now, instinct says to give her the benefit of the
doubt – she’s only two, for Pete’s sake! –
and keep leading by example.

Hmm – leading by example . . . maybe that’s where she
learned the “I do not recall” thing. No more C-Span for


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