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Toddlers: When You Need to Read Between the Lines

When what he says isn’t necessarily what he means…  Gosh!  This almost sounds like the beginning of an article about understanding men – but no, we’re talking about toddlers here…

Since Gavin was little, I have discovered that there is sometimes a need to read between the lines when Gavin throws a tantrum.

For instance, when Gavin started protesting about wearing his school uniform, I suspected that it was going to be a difficult day getting him to school.  It wasn’t so much the school uniform that he didn’t want to wear.  It was school that he didn’t want to attend – although he never actually said it until it was quite clear that with or without his school uniform, he was still going to school.

I’ve been pondering about the workings of a toddler’s mind and wonder if all toddlers do this.  Evidently, Gavin knew that I would still insist he go to school even if he told me he didn’t want to go.  So instead of protesting against going to school, he protested against wearing his uniform.  I believe his rationale behind this thinking is that if he isn’t wearing his school uniform, he won’t have to go to school.

I remember doing something similar when I was a child.  My Dad would often send my brother and me to school.  On occasion, we would have breakfast at a nearby mamak stall before heading to school.  What I loved about going to the mamak stall for breakfast was the promise of sweets afterward.  At the paying counter there are several large jars of sweets and my Dad would usually buy a few for my brother and me to share.

One morning, after expecting to go to breakfast at the mamak stall, I was rather dismayed to discover we were heading straight to school.  In the car, I kept insisting that I wanted to eat at the mamak stall.  Now that I am older, I can understand why my Dad couldn’t accommodate my request – it was late and we didn’t have time to go.  Nevertheless, I refused to go to class and threw a hissy fit in class.  My Dad stayed at my school for as long as he was able before he had to rush off to work.

I can still remember exactly why I wanted to go to the mamak stall – I wanted the sweets after breakfast, but the reason I gave my father was that I wanted to eat there.  I was in kindergarten and must have been about four or five years old.  To this day I don’t know why I couldn’t just come out and tell my Dad what I really wanted – sweets – although I do speculate that perhaps my child’s mind thought that if I had said I wanted sweets, my father would have refused my request.

We have had other similar incidences with Gavin as well.  One occurred when he was quite young but still able to communicate.  Whenever we head out in the car, we usually take him to a shopping mall.  One day we went out to pick up something from a shop.  When we got home, Gavin insisted he wanted to nurse “in the car”.  I told him he could nurse again when we got into the house, but he threw a tantrum and kept insisting that he had to nurse “in the car”.  When I finally guessed his true desire – that was to go shopping – I told my MIL and we headed back out to a nearby mall.  There was no further fuss after that.

I am still not exactly sure why Gavin felt a need to beat around the bush about what he really wanted – especially in the latter case when we would happily have given him what he wanted.

Has your child ever done something similar?  As in told you he wanted B when in reality his true desire was A?


Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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