It took my sweet boy, in spite of an advanced and early vocabulary, 18 months to finally say, “Mama!” Those two sweet, simple syllables are transformative, making a minute in which I am being yelled at by a baby, covered in poo, and running late into a memory I don’t want to let go of.
But, “Mama” is absolutely not the best word I’ve taught my toddler to understand and say–neither is “please,” “more,” “Dada,” “share,” “shower,” nor the names of his siblings.
The single best word I’ve taught my toddler is, “TRADE.”
No, I’m not rearing my son to grow into a Machiavellian overly cunning capitalist. If you have a toddler, here are three reasons why teaching him or her “TRADE” will change your life for the better.
1) Let’s be honest, “share,” “give to mama,” “not for babies,” “that’s not yours,” and “no” are all wonderful phrases. But, make that especially, in stressful, high-stakes situations, they don’t always work. Some critics say, “don’t negotiate with
terrorists toddlers.” That’s all fine for lip service, but when my toddler has inexplicably gotten his hands on medicine or a breakable trinket my husband’s great-grandmother brought from Italy, parenting principles can be darned. In those moments, all I care about is that Graham doesn’t get hurt. Plus, I’d like to avoid destroying anything. “TRADE,” however, has yet to fail me. “TRADE” actually works and “TRADE” avoids tears. That’s a win in my book.
2) Most of us wouldn’t be happy, outside of cases of helping others, to give up something for nothing. We want to feel like our time, ideas, and possessions are valued when given to other people. Why should our kids feel differently? Yes, we all want well-mannered, respectful, loving children. However, do you want to teach your child to be completely subservient and not show a sense of self-value? I don’t. I want to raise him to be empowered, independent and have a sense of agency. Instead of taking something, “TRADE” lets Graham know that in exchange for handing something over, he gets something of value back. I also want him to be caring and compassionate. The flip side is he learns to expect when he takes something from others they expect–and deserve–something of value in return.
3) “TRADE” has shifted my lens to see things through a toddler’s eyes. I’m a better person for that. Simple things have such unique value that it’s easy to miss in the rush of being a mom. My iPhone aside–because he loves watching videos of his siblings and father–what Graham values to “TRADE” has nothing to do with the material cost or societal value. Look closely at the graphic above. Graham looks like he won the lottery when, in fact, he has just traded my phone for a teabag. “TRADE” has opened my senses to find value in the simplest things. A teabag is a valuable trade because of the crinkly sound the wrapper makes. A stick has value because it makes for a great microphone to sing into. An ordinary kitchen bowl has value because it makes a fantastic hat. “TRADE” has not only brought me joy because it means fewer fights with a toddler, but it has made me more imaginative, less materialistic, and more in touch with my son.
There absolutely is a time and place for children to be told a firm “NO!” “NO, we do not hit.” “NO, you can’t climb out of your car seat.” And “NO, don’t poop in the tub,” for starters. When given a choice, however, try a “TRADE.”