Asking A Toddler Why They Did Something Wrong
2 years, 2 months.
Today when I picked you up from KinderCare, your teacher gave me an incident report to sign:
“Jack threw a toy at a friend, hitting them in the face. Left a good sized mark. Separated them. Had time to himself and we talked about being nice to friends and using words when upset.”
It’s so natural for me to respond by asking you, “Jack… why did you do that? Why did you throw a toy at your friend?”
I realize now that by asking you that, I’m asking you a question you yourself don’t know the answer to.
In fact, you’re sort of relying on me to explain why you did it.
After all, while you can now easily and quickly piece together sentences to communicate things you observe, you’re not really able to communicate to me how you feel unless you are either very happy or very sad. Therefore, asking you to explain why you feel the way you do is even more confusing for you.
Right now Mommy and I are working on teaching you different emotions to describe how you feel. While you don’t quite yet understand “angry,” you do understand “sad.”
So I guess the best way to help you understand why you threw a toy at your friend and hit them in the face is maybe something like this:
“Jack, today you hurt your friend when you threw your toy at them. I think you might have felt angry when you did it. That made your friend sad. Jack, please say you’re sorry to them tomorrow. We hand our toys to our friends instead of throwing them; even if they do something we don’t like.”
You had to go to bed without your usual playtime at your train table, plus you didn’t get to take any of your trains to bed. That’s pretty weird for me… the thought of you going to bed without your little talking die-cast trains.
Ultimately, why you threw a toy at your friend doesn’t change the fact that I need to teach you to not throw a toy at a friend… for any reason.
So now, I don’t care about the why. I care about the how: How can I teach you that what you did was not nice?
By trying to help you use words to describe how you feel, asking you to apologize to your friend, and then by taking away your favorite toys for the night.
(There may be a better way. If there is, I’m open to suggestions from anyone else who happens to be reading this letter.)