The steepest learning curve, however, occurred when I stayed with Alexander (then aged 20 months) and his parents, Mummy and Daddy, for three weeks.
At 20 months old (I started to count out my age in months and quit when I got to 500), Alexander looked like this:
Yes, I completely agree. He is adorable.
And these are the invaluable lessons I learned about being an aunty to a toddler:
Lesson One: The Third Person
It is remarkable how quickly Aunty Sandy adapted to speaking about herself in the third person. After only hours in the house, I was saying things like, “Aunty Sandy is eating her breakfast too, Alexander,” and “Aunty Sandy is going upstairs. She’ll be right back,” and “Aunty Sandy loves you, darling.” Aunty Sandy noticed that Mummy and Daddy both referred to themselves in the third person too.
Lesson Two: Narrate Everything
No task action or task should be carried out unless accompanied by a toddler-appropriate commentary. “It’s dinner time! (be very enthusiastic about everything – see below) Let’s get you into your high chair. Tuck your feet in. Good boy! (praise often – see below). Let’s get your bib on, so you don’t get food all over your clothes. Here’s your dinner. Would you like Aunty Sandy to help feed you?”
Tone is very important, as toddlers do not fully understand all the words yet.
Lesson Three: Everything is Amazing
In the world of a toddler, everything is amazing. They are little people who get quite chuffed when they walk from the couch to the table without falling down, and think that choosing their own socks is an incredible honour. As an adult in close proximity to a toddler, everything should likewise be amazing. This manifests as enthusiasm for things you otherwise would not find that amazing. Example: “Yay, Alexander, it’s time to watch Peppa Pig!”
This is Peppa, by the way. If you can draw a whistle, you could probably draw Peppa.
That said, Peppa is an inquisitive little thing, giggles a lot, and the show follows Lesson Two: Narrate Everything. Alexander loved it so much that he started saying “Peppa Pig” long before he could say ‘pease’. Ahem, I mean, ‘please’.
Lesson Four: Praise Often
The ratio for praising appropriate behaviour to correcting inappropriate behaviour of a toddler is about 20 to 1, which is the exact opposite to what most adults experience in their everyday lives. It means that you spend a lot of time seeking out ways to ‘catch them being good’. So, “Great job eating all your peas!” rather than “Well, it took you 45 minutes to eat your peas and more of them ended up on the floor than in your mouth, so work on that, will you?”
A toddler loves praise, so will actively seek out ways to earn more. This can backfire a little when they are super funny or cute while they are doing something you would rather they didn’t – and they know you are laughing at them. They will see the laughter as praise and keep doing whatever it is that you want them to stop doing. If in this situation, put your hand over your mouth, turn your head or leave the room. But even then, they tend to know when they are being hilarious. Clever little buggers.
Lesson Five: You will be surprised by how much you can love a small human
I was completely blown away by how much two Vegemite-covered hands reaching for me tugged at my heart. I love this little boy more than I ever thought it possible to love another human – never doubt an aunty’s love.
While I was staying with them, Alexander started saying ‘please’, although for some time it was more like, “Peeeeeeeeease,” with a long drawn out ‘eee’ sound. He worked out pretty quickly that ‘pease’ is a magic word, because Aunty Sandy gave him everything he asked for when he used his manners. Just call me a smitten kitten.
Watch the Mamamia team try and discover the perfect way to soothe a crying baby. Post continues below.
When I gush about Alexander, people will often say, “Oh you just love being an aunty because you can hand him back.” This is not true. I reply that I am a full-service, hands-on aunty. I do cranky toddler. I do potty visits. I do runny nose and chapped bum. I do three Peppa Pigs in a row. And because he lives across the world, I do lengthy Facetime sessions where he shows me every Octonaut he owns and tells me all about each one.
So, Alexander, when you are old enough to read this, which will be soon, just know that I love you (always).
Sandy Barker was one of the short-listed writers on MWN and HarperCollinsPublishing’s 2015 Writers’ Competition.
Sandy Barker is a traveller, writer, teacher and proud aunty. She spent 14 years as a High School English and Drama teacher and in recent years worked in the online and publishing worlds as a writer, blogger, editor, playwright and community manager. She now works in adult education and continues to write and travel voraciously. She has finished her first novel, You Might Just Meet Someone, and is working on the sequel The Vacationship.