Pen Elaine, 13 months, came cheerily chattering into the kitchen, naked as a jay-bird, carrying her poopy diaper neatly in her hand. It was a magic moment.
Then, I realized that she had poopy smears all over her body and probably tracked it all across the floor, and now, I needed to get her cleaned up without making a bigger mess of things. After wipes, bathtime, fresh clothes, carpet cleaner, anti-bacterial kitchen cleaner, fans, and a candle, it really wasn’t a big deal…especially with the help of a little pacifier and p.b.s. to keep her occupied while I finished the cleanup.
As a developmental psychologist, I knew that how I responded to her was important. She was just being a toddler, so it was important to respond with warmth to her bids for attention, especially in this case where it was almost as if she was bringing me a gift, ha! Here is an article about some of the long-term effects of “positive parenting.” The last author was a member on my dissertation committee! Our verbal and nonverbal communication to our kids, especially in resonse to their own forms of communication, builds their expectations and representations of who we are, as their parents and their friends. Our parental responses, “averaged” over time, also have an effect on their ability to form future relationships and how they handle stress and problems that they face in their day-to-day of childhood and into adolescence…
Anyhow, I enjoyed sharing the escapade with anyone who would listen. My mom told me to write down the sweet story in her memory book and what an interesting side of my little girl’s personality that it revealed; a mom of school-age kids told me it probably meant she was ready for potty training (too bad I’m not). A mom of an older toddler recounted another mom who’s bitty son was into peeing all over her couches, so I’m glad we’re getting started with a daughter.
After a day of reveling in the ridiculous, I can ponder what was going on in her little head when she seemed so happy to be bringing me her stinky diaper. Was she trying to be helpful? Was she trying to simply do what was necessary in getting rid of her dirty diaper? Did she want to show me her accomplishment? I can see more and more how she tries to communicate with me in any way she is able. The evening of the dirty diaper morning, she brought me her bib from her high chair to let me know she wanted me to put it on her so she
could eat some dinner. I was so impressed with her nonverbal communication! Even so, I’m continually thankful that we, as adults, have the gift of language as I watch her efforts to let me and her daddy know what she wants, using grunts and pleas and points and smiles and happy dances.