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On Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

Teachings of a Three Year Old

Robert Manni - Wednesday, October 05, 2016


I foolishly thought that raising a little boy would become much easier after the terrible twos had run their course. Boy, was I in for a surprise.  The third year brings new layers of complexity to a child’s growth. Witnessing this phenomenon can be exhilarating, eye opening, and downright confounding. As toddlers grow they become more grounded, layered, interesting, and unique. Just like little people!

Here are some personal observations and what I’m learning as my son enters the second half of his third year.

The transition from age two to three - When kids are one or two, they are the ones being jostled and pushed on the playground, but things change when the kid turns three. Toddlers stand firmer as they develop a sense of ego and self. By the time they’re three, the roles change and parents now need to watch that their kids are nice to the other kids. That means “kind hands and feet”.  I think the transition is easier when a child receives lots of love at home. Another thing that stands out for three year olds is how the mental and verbal skills begin to sync up as the kids talk more freely and start communicating using more expressive language. As this occurs we hear random, unrelated comments and answers to the many questions we ask them. Over time, kids pull it together, but what stands out for me is how much they hear and already comprehend regardless of how challenging it is for them to verbalize what they’re thinking and feeling.

Pre K3 - The goal for our son in school this year was socialization. There are a lot of “only” kids in NYC, so during the many transitions it’s been comforting to know that we are not alone. Many other parents face the same challenges when socializing their kids. That said, for a confident kid with an outgoing personality, Pre K3 can be a bitch. For all of our direction and talk about “kind hands and kind feet” the transition from a small, intimate daycare environment to joining a group of twenty new kids can be challenging. My son has a confident, friendly personality. When I’ve dropped him off at school he goes up to almost every kid in his class while we are waiting outside. He always has a big smile and does his best to engage with all the other kids. Unfortunately, although he eventually finds another kid to hold hands with and walk up the stairs together, some kids are shy and they hide behind their Moms and Dads when my son approaches. I just hope he does not get discouraged and always maintains his confidence and friendly ways when he grows up. The world can always use more loving, positive personalities.

Still cleaning up – One glaring routine about parenting that is rarely discussed the amount of time parents spend cleaning crap up. Little kids are so random and sloppy. Anyone who has kids has spent a number of years of their adult lives bent over picking up toys and assorted items that their kids tossed aside. Sure, this comes with the territory, but had I never realized how much actually time I would spend picking up after the little one. No wonder so many parents are tired. Speaking of… 

Relentless energy – This was another major surprise for me. My son is up at 6am and keeps rocking non-stop until 8pm. In fact, he would play and entertain himself until he passed out if we didn’t set a bedtime routine for him. Thankfully, he loves his bath and bedtime story, and most nights he sleeps like a rock until morning. 

Tantrums – Another surprise. As the little guy gets a better sense of his personal power, he occasionally throws a major fit over seemingly insignificant issues. My son’s pet peeves are centered on our traveling around the city. For some reason he strongly prefers the B train over the C train and he insists on sitting by the smallest window on the train and the bus. “The little window” is mission critical for him so I frequently have to scramble onto the train or bus while moving at breakneck speed so I can claim our magical seat by the “little window”. My son has had a few major-league meltdowns on NYC’s crowded trains and buses, so if you’ve heard a toddler screaming bloody murder on the C train it may have been us weaving down the aisle in search of the right seat. Sorry about that. Now I know what other parents go through.

Consequences – If all this sounds like my three-year old has been running a game on me, it might be true in some instances, but I have a weapon. A strong, powerful psychological weapon called “consequences”.  It’s when parents take something away from the kid when he’s acting up. If he throws a tantrum on the train, there are consequences. No Thomas the Train video. No ice cream. No pizza. No play date with his homey. You get the picture. And, “consequences” work like a charm. As soon as my boy hears the word, he immediately pays attention and behaves. But, he’s no dummy. Now he asks for what he calls a “positive consequence” when he does something right. Fair enough. So if he follows direction and does something right, he might get a positive consequence. This might come after the successful completion of…

Potty time – How long should it take for little people to learn how to pee or poop? A pony doesn’t need instructions. Neither does a duck, a goose, or a turtle, but humans are slow to learn in this area. So parents develop patience and also frequently clean up some more. By now my son has good aim though. I can’t tell you how many times I have held my son up over the toilet in a public bathroom, but I am eagerly waiting for him to grow tall enough to be able to pee into the bowl on his own. Patience, Dad, patience.

Unconditional love and trust – Beyond the grousing I do about parenting and the investment of time spent paying constant attention every minute we are together, there is something my son has taught me that is more valuable than gold. It’s his unconditional love. No matter how a bad day he’s had or if Mommy or Daddy or his teacher chewed him out, he always, always, always wakes up in the morning in a great mood. He never stays pissed off or holds a grudge. Every morning he is filled with smiles and brimming with love and affection for my wife and me. He is one happy kid. Thank you, son, for teaching me the importance of forgiveness, gratitude, and unconditional love. What more can I ask for?

This week’s GUY”S GUY of the WEEK is my son, Sky Manni. He is my teacher and I thank him for all of the lessons he has and will bestow on me. As we say to each other every night before I lay him down, “I love you, Sky.” “I love you Daddy”.

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