This simple approach transformed a toddler meltdown into a bonding experience. Check out these great positive parenting tips from our family expert and mom, Sally Schmidt (MS, CCC-SLP), based on the Pete the Cat Series by Eric Litwin.
In the series, Pete the Cat is a mellow guy. He wears his favorite shoes on an adventure. Along the way though, he steps in all kinds of messy stuff. The stuff turns his shoes colors. With each misstep, it’s clear he could be disappointed. But instead, he chooses to keep on singing and change the words.
First, he sings, “I love my new shoes. I love my new shoes; I love my new-ew-ew-ew-ewww,ewwww shoes.” But when stepping in a pile of strawberries turns them red, the narrator asks “Did Pete cry?! And then comes the enthusiastic answer “Goodness, No!” Instead, Pete sings, “I love my red shoes. I love my red shoes, I love my re-eh-eh-eh-ehhh-ed shoes.
Pete concludes his book with a mellow but confident declaration, “It’s all good.” We read this line with a low, gravelly Marlon Brando whisper-drawl,
“It’s awllllll goooooooooooood.”
Pete the Cat is a well-known guy around our house lately. Eric Litwin’s character has been a staple in the bedtime books rotation in recent months. So this week, after an afternoon at the pool that inadvertently dragged on just a little too long, tipping just off that razor-thin edge between “happily tired out” and “exhausted whiney mess” Pete made a timely appearance in… of all places, the locker room.
My cold, wet, whiny, slippery, tired, child was shivering, and whimpering, one degree away from a full-on completely helpless, wet-noodle stance, but still allowing me to dress her until it came to socks. Which, for some reason, known only in her mind, represent her crowning achievement, the task she Must Complete Herself, the Stamp and Seal of her growing Independence.
She gave a shriek and pulled them fiercely away from me, “Me do it mine-VELF!”
She wrestled with the first sock, then turned to the other. Pulling it up and adjusting it just so, she was milliseconds from giving me a full-faced Grin of Victory when she stepped, newly stocking-footed, in a wet puddle on the floor. The water seeped slowly into her sock as I watched the shadow of realization, then disappointed horror, sweep over her face. I watched her wind up a big breath for an impending wail in the echo-chamber of the locker room. I had a luxurious stop-motion millisecond to react.
And, … cue Pete. Maybe it’s the ridiculously repetitive rhythm. Maybe it’s the totally addictive ear worm of a tune. Maybe there was a parenting angel whispering in my ear. But for whatever reason, this is what came out of my mouth next:
“Oh No! Pete stepped in a HUGE puddle! Did Pete cry? Goodness no! He just kept swimmin’ along and singing his song…I’m changin’ in my dry jammies, changin’ in my dry jammies, changin’ in my dry ja-a-a-a-aaa-aaa-meeeees.”
Readers of all kinds will need to forgive the grammatical and musical liberties I took in the moment to make the tune fit our current plight; but parents of any young, exhausted child will know that the magic of a familiar song is never in its grammatical structure, but it’s familiarity….with just enough non-sequitur to stop a tired, whiny child in her tracks.
I got it. I got the corner of her mouth to raise just enough. 2 millimeters. And then a slight, very slight grin. And then the trembling lower lip slowly, very slowly retreated. I sang some more: “I’m packing up my swim bag, I’m packing up my swim bag, I’m packing up my swi-ih ih ih ihm bag.”
“I’m picking out my car keys; I’m picking out my car keys, I’m picking out my ca-ah-ah-ahr keys.”
And then I went for the cheap laugh: “I’m putting on my winter hat (as I placed her wet swim bottoms over my head).
My daughters and I left the locker room and giggled our overtired selves to the car and home into bed, where we promptly read 3 of Pete’s adventures.
But had that song not popped into my head, the scene could have (and indeed, it has, on other occasions) ended badly; too tired toddlers + impatient parents = at least one of us ends up in tears.
- I could have lectured: don’t cry, you’ll upset the other kids
- I could have reasoned: you don’t need to cry about it, you can get some dry socks as soon as we get home, it’s a short car ride
- I could have pleaded: don’t cry, mommy will dry them off
Any way you spin it, it would have ended in tears.
But when we reference our kids’ favorite familiar stories and characters, we have an option: Validate our child’s experience and draw them into connection with us, and with that character.
Suddenly, the problem isn’t “don’t cry.” Now, the problem is “me and mommy and Pete encounter the Problem of the Wet Socks” And because we have read it over, and over, (and over, and over, and over, and over) again, my child can automatically know how Pete’s problem, and by extension, our Wet Sock Problem, ends.
And, guess what? ….. “It’s all good.”
Since that moment, we’ve used the phrase “Did Pete cry? Goodness no!” hundreds of times, as a kind of “emotional shorthand” for one another. In that short refrain, we give one another a frame of reference for all kinds of minor disappointments. So much so, in fact, that the other day when I accidentally dumped, instead of drained, a pot of pasta down the sink, and began to rant, my daughter said to me, with one eye brow raised, “Uh-oh, Mom. Did Pete cry?” Through my exasperation, I laughed, and together we said, “Goodness, no!”
And guess what?... We ate cereal for dinner instead. And it was “alllll goooood.”
I’d love to hear which characters and titles have become part of your family’s “emotional shorthand.”
Meet Sally Schmidt MS, CCC-SLP
Sally is a parent of two spunky girls who continually challenge her to improve her parenting skills. When she's off-duty parenting, she works full time supporting children and multi-risk families with Autism and related communication disorders as a Speech Language Pathologist. She is also a licensed PLAY Project Home Consultant currently working toward full certification.
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