Baby Talk: Monkey see, monkey do

The power of peer pressure on even very young children cannot be underestimated.

potty training image 88 (photo credit: )
potty training image 88
(photo credit: )
Kinneret looked up at me with her melting chocolate-brown puppy-dog eyes. Entreatingly, she pointed toward a naked Ya'ir, seated on his morning potty/throne watching his favorite BBC children's program, Big Cook, Little Cook. Enunciating each syllable clearly, she said in her sweet baby voice, "Ka-ki." "Yes, Ya'ir is making kaki. You're right," I said, humoring her. Undeterred by my utter ignorance, my 19 month old took my hand and led me to the secondary orange plastic potty. (In our desperation to get Ya'ir potty trained, we purchased or were given almost all the available apparatus on the market.) Pointing at it, tugging at her diaper, she said again, slowly for her idiot mother, "Ka-ki." "Do you mean you want to make kaki?!!" I asked incredulously. I mean, come on, we had waited more than three years until Ya'ir was ready to take off his nappy. And then it was only under brainwashing and bribery. I took off her diaper and she sat herself down. And then stood up and proudly said, "Ka-ki" again to the imaginary product. The next day she again asked me to take off her diaper and let her sit on the low potty next to her big brother Ya'ir. I figured what the hell, two of them will be out of my hair for a few minutes instead of "helping" me make my lunch. The next thing I knew she was back in the kitchen, just like the previous day, proudly repeating her favorite word. She dragged me over to the potty - and lo and behold! A little brown miracle! She has repeated this performance every morning since to greater and lesser success, aptly aping her older brother. As my husband wryly says, "Ya'ir was potty trained at Pessah and Kinneret at Shavuot." (Well not quite; maybe by next Shavuot.) The power of peer pressure on even very young children cannot be underestimated. Kids learn through mimicry and modeling, of parents and peers alike. And often the herd mentality can work out to a parent's advantage as a contrary child who had previously snubbed (or for the twins, thrown) a green invader suddenly loves to eat broccoli after all his friends at day care wolf it down. In our house Kinneret is her twin brother Yaron's royal taster. Whatever she consumes is deigned edible. Recently, my determined husband again offered the pair egg for the zillionth time. Kinneret popped a piece in her mouth, tasted it, then took it out and gave it to Yaron. Thus they consumed the better part of the egg. But had my husband offered it to Yaron first, it would likely have been yet another failed attempt. ABOUT 10 years ago, controversial independent researcher and author Judith Rich Harris came out with a revolutionary - and somewhat troubling - idea that (roughly) children are much more influenced, and in a way reared, by their peers than by their parents. Defending herself in a 2006 response to that year's Edge Foundation question, "What is your dangerous idea?" Harris wrote, "Is it dangerous to claim that parents have no power at all (other than genetic) to shape their child's personality, intelligence, or the way he or she behaves outside the family home?" Obviously her claim flies in the face of the well-established ideal of the omnipotent parent who molds his young charge. Harris continued, "I've never condoned child abuse or neglect; I've never believed that parents don't matter. The relationship between a parent and a child is an important one, but it's important in the same way as the relationship between married partners. A good relationship is one in which each party cares about the other and derives happiness from making the other happy. A good relationship is not one in which one party's central goal is to modify the other's personality. "I think what's really dangerous - perhaps a better word is tragic - is the establishment's idea of the all-powerful, and hence all-blamable, parent." It is difficult to contextualize her theory into the Dan Family, where one of my main roles is as cop, uttering phrases I never imagined would fly out with such ease like, "Don't pee on your sister" and "Stop playing with knives!" So I presented Harris's argument to a much wiser colleague and father of three older children this week, telling him how relieved I would be were she right. He agreed that peers are extremely influential in determining a child's behavior, but on the non-culpability of parents he said, "You know that it is complete bollocks, don't you." Driving his point home, he said that parents can definitely ruin their children's lives, mentioning the obvious sad cases of abuse. It is a parent's job, he said, to try to put his child in an environment where he will make friends with peers who will influence him positively. Moreover, it a parent's imperative to facilitate his child's life-changing decisions by grooming him toward the ability to choose wisely. Now back to Babyville. I was recently dismayed to see 19-month-old Yaron pick up a stick and pretend it is a gun, making "Piu, piu" sounds and shooting at us. As this is something Ya'ir has never done, I can only assume Yaron acquired it from his peers at day care. While this is all very innocent play, it makes me all too aware that my precious bundles of joy are their own masters, very much molding themselves. The writer is the mother of twin toddlers and a three-year-old. Any advice is appreciated.