It’s easy to fall into a pattern of routines with toddlers. For me, I bathe my son, put on his pajamas, let him play for a while, provide him with a bedtime snack, brush his teeth, and put him to bed.
In the process of our nightly routine, my son has his own routines:
- Bath: Create self-generated water-jet bubbles.
- Play: Hide behind the curtain and pop out to repeatedly “surprise” my wife and I.
- Snack: Protest eating his bedtime snack until he hears, “Okay, time for bed,” at which point, he asserts his need for a snack.
- Brush teeth: Attempt to throw his toothbrush in the toilet.
- Put to bed: Put on a nightly show for his stuffed animals.
Since I know my son’s routines, it’s easy to sometimes pass off his behavior or communication as simply a part of his typical routine. He recently taught me, however, to take all of his communication seriously.
Here’s how I learned:
“Okay, son, arms first.”
“One foot. Other foot.”
He points to his feet, “Soa, soa!”
“Your feet are sore?”
I think to myself, “Always cold or sore. Every night the same thing.” Regardless, I adjust his feet so the elastics are positioned differently.
He keeps pointing to his feet, “Soa, Soa.”
“You’re okay, son. Let’s got downstairs.”
I take him downstairs and put him down. He immediately starts high-stepping like he’s in a harlem shake video.
I readjust his feet.
“You’re okay son. There’s nothing wrong with your feet.”
I put him back down and watch him proceed to audition the national school of ballet. He’s on his tiptoes. One leg up. One leg down. Spin… and yes… he’s pointing to his feet once more.
“Alright come here. Let me check your feet again.”
I feel his left foot. I’m thunderstruck. What is THAT?? It’s small. It’s circular. It has a rough texture. It’s moveable. I quickly unzip his pajamas and shake the left leg like a kid eager to find the prize in a box of cereal. Ironically, there’s no prize. But… there IS cereal! Out falls a single Cheerio.
“A Cheerio!? What!? How did you get a Cheerio in there!?” I question loudly with wonderment.
“Hahaha, dada!! Dada!!”
He cackling like a hyena thinking it’s the funniest thing since the time he almost crapped on my foot. Now he’s pointing emphatically to his right foot.
I’m convinced he’s just wanting me to shout out loudly for a second time so that he can laugh some more. I humor him and I check his right foot. My mind has just been blown. Out falls a second Cheerio. Now he’s in hysterics.
I stand there scratching my head completely puzzled. He hasn’t eaten Cheerios in days and when he eats them he’s not typically in his pajamas. I can’t figure out how they got in there. And what are the chances of a Cheerio in each foot? Somewhere above my head I hear a mashup version of “The Twilight Zone” vs “The One and Only Cheerios” playing.
Routines are dangerous because they are routinely broken by the complexity of our children’s simplicity (and the crack marketing team over at General Mills). You never know if your child’s dancing is just another routine or if it is in fact due to the texture of his favorite cereal digging into his feet. Either way, it’s important to acknowledge and respond to your children’s communicative attempts. You might even be rewarded (as I was) with a couple of Cheerios to give you the energy and nourishment you need to finish putting your toddler to sleep.