The Sophisticated Toddler

Four ways adults act like toddlers without realizing it.

When it comes to our self-concept of maturity, most adults view themselves as far superior in comparison to toddlers and babies. In many ways they are right; for example, most toddlers can’t solve algebraic equations or drive large cars on windy roads. But in many other ways, adults–myself included– act merely as “slightly sophisticated toddlers.” Below I will outline our top four toddler tendencies, as well as provide action steps to overcome them.

1) You get “Hangry” Toddlers notoriously meltdown under low blood sugar. A three-year-old could arrive at the park in good spirits, but an hour later (just before lunch) leave writhing in an inconsolable car seat rage. To our credit, us grownups don’t usually break down into such full-scale tantrums if the meeting runs late into lunch. But we do still get “hangry,” which is the  combination of hunger and anger, with the former leading to the latter. I personally experience something more akin to “hadness,” as in hunger and sadness, but regardless, no one of any age functions well in this state. I once met up with my brother for sushi on a day that he had nothing to eat except coffee. From the moment we sat down, something was off. Everything I said came across as offensive, which concerned me because it was highly unusual for us. When the appetizers arrived, he promptly face planted into a large bowl of steaming white rice. After several minutes, his face resurfaced looking as though he saw the world as a brighter place, almost like he had undergone some type of deep internal healing. “You know what?” he said, “I’m doing great. And you’re great too. I think I just needed carbs.”  I cracked a smile and shook my head. “Well, I’m glad we got that squared away. Now can you pass the spicy tuna plate, please.”

Don’t be a baby: Recognize your internal hunger cues, and pack a snack.

2)  You Lack “Object Permanence”

“Object Permanence” by definition, is an understanding that an object or person is still present after it moves out of sight. An infant’s lack of object permanence is part of what causes separation anxiety when their parents leave. But it also makes a simple game of “peekaboo” a thrill. One moment they believe you have left forever, and then out of nowhere you appear again, with a new facial expression.

Adults demonstrate a lack of object permanence anytime they fail to see the big picture. However, the communication medium of text messaging, especially among new couples, steals away rationality and object permanence at the most rapid rate. Everything seems just fine, and then one day the person doesn’t respond for a few hours and you begin pacing around, fretting about if you will ever see them again, and wondering if you have any friends at all. Eventually, your separation anxiety leads you to conclude that they probably disappeared altogether and that you are all alone in the world.  In reality, their battery probably just died or their boss held them up at work.  Or perhaps, they are like me, and periodically switch to airplane mode to enjoy a few quiet moments of uninterrupted introversion.

Don’t be a baby: First zoom out to look at the big picture. For example, one bad day at work does not doom you to a lifetime of career failures. And in regards to the texting: relationships rooted in trust rather than fear will expel the compulsive need for constant reassurance of their existence. If you must repeatedly ask yourself whether your significant other is a disappearing hologram, then perhaps consider couples counseling.

3. You Skip Swimming Lessons

Over several consecutive summers of babysitting, I began to notice a very specific pattern when it came to the poolside manner of children. Often little kids will act out a full-scale protest before their swimming lessons; they complain the water will be cold, that their teacher is mean, and that swimming really is just for “babies.” But inevitably, after they take the plunge, they will leave the pool deck smiling with a popsicle in hand, and raving about the frog paddle relay with their new best friend.

While most adults have long since learned how to swim, we all have something in our lives like the swim lessons that we repeatedly forget brings us joy. For example, let’s say you have an outdoor Zumba class scheduled every Friday at 6:00am. Statistically speaking, there is a direct correlation between you showing up, and you feeling fantastic after. Except every time the alarm rings at 5:30am, you think to yourself  “it will be cold outside; my Zumba instructor is mean, and working out is really just for babies.” However, on the days that you do force yourself to show up, by 8 am you leave the park smiling, swollen in musculature, and surging with the endorphins you need to tackle the day.   

Don’t be a baby: Figure out what makes you tick, and jump in the water.

My nephew, Miles, gearing up for swimming lessons.

4. You Can’t Communicate Your Needs Clearly

While I’m not a parenting expert, I have a personal suspicion, that the number one cause of toddler tantrums stems mostly from their lack of verbal fluency in communicating their needs. As adults, we catch glimpses of a toddler’s frustration when we get upset, but we can neither understand nor convey to others as to why. Unsure of how to help, well-meaning people will offer irrelevant suggestions, which only exacerbates the problem.

But sometimes I wonder what would it look like if a two-year-old possessed a superpower of the ability to translate and verbalize their needs to their parents. When discomfort strikes, instead of breaking down, the child would look their parents calmly in the eye and say something like:

“Uh guys, can I have your attention, please? Right now, I’m hangry, make a note to pack me an extra snack next time. If you could please feed me some dino bite chicken nuggets ASAP, that would really help to stabilize my plummeting blood sugar. Also, I’d like to eat alone on the couch today: not at the table with the rest of you. Because ever since my you brought my baby sister home, I’ve experienced a catastrophic sense of rejection. But you know what else gets me mad? My motor skills, or lack thereof. I know, I know, I should be grateful I’ve learned how to walk and all, but I’m so jealous over the monkey bar abilities of the kindergarteners that I can hardly even walk past the playground without burning in humiliation. Oh, and to make matters worse, I am down right exhausted right now. If you could only understand the draining process of internally knowing what you want, without being able to convey it to the world, let alone my own caretakers. But of course you don’t understand, and no one does, because my vocabulary is just that limited. Whatever. If someone could please tuck me into bed before I work myself up into a second wind of frustration and can’t even sleep at all, I’d really appreciate it. And by the way, my body is too warm, and my feet are too cold. So how about tonight, just socks no swaddle? I’ve outgrown that anyway and it’s embarrassing. Thanks.”

Moral of the story? If you want to join me on the journey from sophisticated toddlerhood into adulthood,  pack a snack, go swimming, think of the big picture, and try your best to communicate your needs.

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