The "What Meemo Said" series is written by Robin's daughter about raising her own three daughters, who are all under two. Robin's grandchildren call her "Meemo."
My husband Sam and I went away for a weekend when our twins were about fifteen months. We needed the break- the girls had been stealing, grabbing, and fighting over every. single. toy. They even fought over toys that we had two duplicates of, sometimes hitting each other over the head, often pulling hair, and always screaming and generally wreaking havoc despite our insistent requests to share, be soft, keep their hands on their own bodies, take turns, and all the rest.
When we got back, they would look at us with a pleading in their eyes, point to the other childs' toy, and say "twooooo...." It turns out, she had taught them to count to five when they wanted the other child's toy, and then put their hand out, palm up, to ask for the coveted toy. While this definitely sounds like something that would not work for twins under two, lemme tell you something: it worked.
To date, when they want a toy, and especially when they start fighting/grabbing for a toy their sister has, we remind them to count. Now they can both kind of count (though don't worry, we're pretty sure they don't know their numbers yet even if they can recite the sing-song-y 1-2-3-4-5 in exchange for a toy), and they pretty consistently will give up their toy to their sister if she counts. Honestly, one of them will give up a toy about 80% of the time if she's counted on, and the other will give it up about 60% of the time, and sometimes they still cry- but they will almost always hand it over. Sometimes they immediately start counting on each other again, but they do it. And truth be told, they've counted on me trying to get my Diet Dr. Pepper and they kind of think if they count on me when I have my cell phone I'll give it up, and sometimes they try to get each others' unfinished ice cream by counting, but you know, most of the time it still works.
Here's proof, with the coveted hose while watering the garden:
So, why'd it work?
Connection, rhythm, repetition.
When Meemo started this little intervention, they already were what I like to call, #meemoexclusives. She'd already done the work to know them and love them, she'd already spent the hours looking into their eyes at eye level and talking to them about their toys and feelings and routines. So, there's that, and it's really important. Because there was already a connection, she had something to build off of when she introduced the new concept... counting and then giving up a beloved toy.
Secondly, she sang. I mean she really just counted, but it was in a sing-songy kind of voice, that had some rhythm to it. So . no, they didn't learn how to count at fifteen months, but they did learn to recognize how counting sounded, and they figured out that that song meant they were about to give up as toy to sister.
And finally, she did it all the time. She repeated and repeated. She made them hold out their palm, face-up and wait for a toy, every single time. She made the other one give the toy up, every single time. At first it was like 1-2-3-4-5, the child got the toy and within two hot seconds the other child was counting back, so and then again and again and again. It took a lot of do-overs and a lot of counting and some tantruming too, but eventually they got it.
And then Sam and I- and the others around the babies- got to reap the benefits. It wasn't totally free, they still tamtrum about it sometimes. But we all do it enough, and again and again and again, and we all can count in one language or another, and we do. And they give up toys. It doesn't work automatically if another person teaches your kid something like that and you want it to work for you too, but it does make things easier. You'll have to build off of your own relationship, and you'll have to be consistent and sing-song-y as well, but if the base is there, you don't need to reinvent the wheel, either.
So forced sharing? It's so necessary when you have multiple kids. It doesn't work exactly as it should when you don't want to share your wine or you cell phone, but everything can't be perfect, so we'll just be here, counting on each other for all the things. And if my kid comes to your house and starts saying "twoooooo, twoooooo..." you'll know exactly what she wants.
fThe True Stories series tells the stories of parents who tried everything, and after they came to Positive Parenthood, something finally worked. Names and identifying details have been changed, but the stories are every ounce the truth.
AJ had never, ever left a park on his own two feet. You know that mom who has to drag her kid out of the park, and he is screaming so loud that all the other parents kind of pretend not to stare but are actually staring, and the mom feels mortified and awful and judged and like the worse parent ever? That was AJ and his parents every time they went to the park.
Until it wasn't.
AJ was on the climbing wall, and the sun was setting and it was getting to be time to go home. Three more minutes, his dad sang. Three more minutes, he repeated back in the same sing song voice. Two more minutes, his dad sang and he echoed. One more minute, his dad sang. One more minute, he sang back as he played. And then it was time to go. All done park, his dad chanted with him. The chant wasn't over yet, though. Together, they sang I'm leaving to the car in 5-4-3-2-1. AJ took his dad's hand, and his mom walked alongside them, and together the trio sang Time to go in our car and then its time for driving, over and over and over again until they got into the car. AJ walked the whole way.
This may seem simple enough, but AJ was eight and AJ had been to a lot of parks, and really, truly, this was the very first time AJ left without being dragged, kicking and screaming, from the park. This was the first time AJ's parents weren't mortified to the point of wanting to cry themselves as soon as they got into the car. So what was important about this time? What was different?
They primed him: Not the cursory "we're leaving in five, kid" that you hear all the parents say *because that's what you're supposed to do,* this was real. It was meaningful. It was sing-songy, and AJ did it with his parents. They didn't shout it over their shoulders so that later they could throw their hands up and say, well, I did give him a warning. They sang it right to him, and he sang it right back.
They shared control: When it was time to go, AJ's parents shared the control with him. Together, they counted down from five, and they waited for him to be fully present with them, and they were fully present with him. They sang together. They didn't order him around. They allowed him to participate in being about to leave, and getting ready to leave.
It was a shared experience: From the time that there were five more minutes, it was a shared experience between AJ and his dad. They looked at each other. They sang to each other. They waited for each other. They were doing something together. It's critical that AJ's parents were with him in these moments, really, actually with him. They helped him sing and count, and they counted and sang themselves, not because they were doing it for him, but because they were sharing the experience with him.
And that folks, is how its done. OK, ok, we all know its not easy. But it is possible.
The "What Meemo Said" series is written by Robin's daughter about raising her own three daughters, who are all under two.
The glass was sweating in the late afternoon sun, a beautiful icey pink with strawberries floating in it. The pizza was hot out of the oven, and the scent of melted cheese and basil filled the air. We sat down to dinner, and Sienna refused to sit in her high chair. She settled on my lap and we blew on her pizza.
And then she saw the beautiful pink sangria glinting in the sun, and that is when everything started to get a little nuts. I mean I can hardly blame her, lusting after the sangria. Except for that she's not quite two, and I just can't justify letting her sip the alcohol even though she was screaming for it, and even though there were big, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. Papa tried to distract her with his bottle of root beer, which she also could not have. She cried harder. I rolled my eyes. Her twin sister started to cry because Sienna was crying. So much for the peaceful summer pizza with a glass of sangria before bath and the rush to bedtime.
I was eating ice cream with my mom after the twins were asleep , when I stared into my eight week olds' eyes and proclaimed, "we'll keep you baby, if you promise to never act like your big sissies did tonight at dinner." Here's what Meemo said:
They all act like that. You acted like that. She's gonna act like that. Then she said that it didn't have to be this way. Sienna didn't have to scream for the sangria, ruin dinner, throw her sippy cup across the table, make her twin start crying to, and then cry because she wanted the root beer and the sangria. We could have said, "Sienna, I know you want that sangria. You really want it. You really really really want it. You really want it really bad." We could have empathized. We could have let her upset about it, we could have made sure she understood, and then we could have held the limit, sans offer of a root beer bottle she could also not have.
But we're not Meemo, we're adults who want a glass of sangria and so I rolled my eyes, but I sort of listened too. Because obvi I don't want this to be my everyday. Dinner was crazy-town, and I scrambled to eat my last scrap of pizza on the way to the bath, and I wrinkled my forehead because it was stressful and the ice in my sangria melted and it got watery and not as good which didn't even make it worth it that the screaming ended shortly after they got in the bubble bath. Sound familiar? You, like me, might know it doesn't have to be this way, but you, like me, might sometimes just need a glass of sangria on a Sunday night.
So, what's important here? What could we have done instead so that I could have had the damn sangria before all the ice (and the child in my lap) melted down? Here's how we could have turned that sh*t around:
CONNECT, EMPATHIZE, HOLD THE LIMIT.
Sienna needed connection. She needed to be recognized, validated, and heard. Sienna needed empathy. God knows she wanted that sangria just as much as I did- I could have empathized. And finally, Sienna needed the limit to be held, not the root beer to be offered. I mean I wasn't gonna give her the sangria, but Sam could have also not offered her the root beer. Getting anything right takes a whole lot of getting it wrong first. Besides, as one of the children upon whom Meemo herself practiced, I promise you, she didn't always get it right either.