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September 24, 2010 8:24 AM   Subscribe

A Dialogue With Sarah, Aged 3: In which it is shown that if your dad is a chemistry professor, asking "why" can be dangerous
posted by bayani (78 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
Love it! I have the same sorts of conversations with my daughter about medicine and biology.
posted by TedW at 8:29 AM on September 24, 2010


This, right here, is why every professor's kid is a little torqued.

Try "why is the sky blue" sometime.
posted by poe at 8:30 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


To date, he has been interviewed on the radio four times: twice he was talking about chemistry, and twice he was talking about pirates. His favourite element is the element of surprise.

This guy, I like him.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:30 AM on September 24, 2010 [19 favorites]


I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest it might just be possible that this conversation never actually took place.
posted by FfejL at 8:31 AM on September 24, 2010 [11 favorites]


That kid's trolling career is going to go far.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:33 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


FfejL, I have a friend who has similar conversation with his curious daughter all the time. I totally believe it.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:34 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest it might just be possible that this conversation never actually took place.

Aidrofawwic
posted by bayani at 8:34 AM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


My 4 year old once asked what happened to the water when she flushed the toilet, 6 hours later we has constructed a model sewage treatment plant and she proudly explained to mom (upon her return from a day out) how the entire water and sewer system worked. With out Google and wikipedia I would have just had to go with a story about a giant monster that swallows it all.
posted by humanfont at 8:34 AM on September 24, 2010 [55 favorites]


A little too much C7H5NO3S.
posted by applemeat at 8:35 AM on September 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


This, right here, is why every professor's kid is a little torqued.

As the child of an eighth-grade dropout dad who would sooner smack me in the face than engage in anything close to this dialogue with me, I'd say those professors' kids are pretty fucking privileged.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:36 AM on September 24, 2010 [12 favorites]


I have a professor's kid who asked me, at age two, why water made plants go up and fires go down, and at age 5 what the difference was between an application and an operating system.

Don't worry about messing up the kid's head. They're way ahead of us.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:38 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's like every single conversation I ever had with my father at that age. Wow.
posted by zarq at 8:41 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, my daughter has stopped asking me "why" questions. Her mom, she of the business degrees, gets them now.
posted by oddman at 8:45 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I grew up without a dad, but always available on the other end of the phoneline, in the Baltimore suburbs, there was always Uncle Boris. Uncle Boris was a chemist by trade, but knew everything about everything and given the chance would tell you every detail about any subject you wanted to know, along with every detail you did not need to know and had no use for. Usually, "we can always call Uncle Boris" was mom's way of telling me she had no idea what I was asking her and that I needed to do my research a little harder on my own. There were, however, times to call Uncle Boris and one evening in 9th grade I learned more about the concept of "Democrats" and "Republicans" over 300 years of American History than I ever wanted or needed to. Seriously. All I needed to know was why the founding fathers called themselves "Democratic-Republicans" when holding the executive office.

Nowadays, Uncle Boris and I get into heated fiscal arguments, as he emigrated from the Soviet Union at 40 and quickly after became a free market evangelist. While I strongly disagree with his views on the market, I still think Uncle Boris is damn awesome and realize that I've long been taking after him as far as my hobbies of autodidacticism and pedagogery are concerned.
posted by griphus at 8:45 AM on September 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


Aw.

When my kids ask me questions like this, I think to myself "What would Calvin's Dad do?" and respond accordingly.

My older daughter just Googles stuff now.
posted by padraigin at 8:50 AM on September 24, 2010 [11 favorites]


I apologize in advance for posting such a long quote/coment, but it's really, really appropriate. This is one of my all time favorite passages from the very beginning of the book "Green Mars" by Kim Stanley Robinson:
About a year later Nirgal and the other children began to figure out how to deal with the days when they were taught by Sax. He would start at the blackboard, sounding like a particularly characterless Al, and behind his back they would roll their eyes and make faces as he droned on about partial pressures or infrared rays. Then one of them would see an opening and begin the game. He was helpless before it. He would say something like, "In nonshivering thermogenesis the body produces heat using futile cycles," and one of them would raise a hand and say, "But why, Sax?" and everyone would stare hard at their lectern and not look at each other, while Sax would frown as if this had never happened before, and say, "Well, it creates heat without using as much energy as shivering does. The muscle proteins contract, but instead of grabbing they just slide over each other, and that creates the heat." Jackie, so sincerely the whole class nearly lost it: "But how?" He was blinking now, so fast they almost exploded watching him. "Well, the amino acids in the proteins have broken covalent bonds, and the breaks release what is called bond dissociation energy."

"But why?"

Blinking ever harder: "Well, that's just a matter of physics." He diagrammed vigorously on the blackboard: "Covalent bonds are formed when two atomic orbitals merge to form a single bond orbital, occupied by electrons from both atoms. Breaking the bond releases thirty to a hundred kcals of stored energy."

Several of them asked, in chorus, "But why?"

This got him into subatomic physics, where the chain of whys and becauses could go on for a half hour without him ever once saying something they could understand. Finally they would sense they were near the end game. "But why?"

"Well," going cross-eyed as he tried to backtrack, "atoms want to get to their stable number of electrons, and they'll share electrons when they have to."

"But why?"

Now he was looking trapped. "That's just the way atoms bond. One of the ways."

"But WHY?"

A shrug. "That's how the atomic force works. That's how things came out-"

And they all would shout, "in the Big Bang."

They would howl with glee, and Sax's forehead would knot up as he realized that they had done it to him again. He would sigh, and go back to where he had been when the game began. But every time they started it again, he never seemed to remember, as long as the initial why was plausible enough. And even when he did recognize what was happening, he seemed helpless to stop it. His only defense was to say, with a little frown, "Why what?" That slowed the game for a while; but then Nirgal and Jackie got clever at guessing what in any statement most deserved a why, and as long as they could do that, Sax seemed to feel it was his job to continue answering, right on up the chains of because to the Big Bang, or, every once in a while, to a muttered "We don't know."

"We don't know!" the class would exclaim in mock dismay. "Why not?"

"It's not explained," he would say, frowning. "Not yet."

And so the good mornings with Sax would pass; and both he and the kids seemed to agree that these were better than the bad mornings, when he would drone on uninterrupted, and protest "This is really a very important matter" as he turned from the blackboard and saw a crop of heads laid out snoring on the desktops.

posted by zarq at 8:51 AM on September 24, 2010 [25 favorites]


Well he certainly seemed to fare better than this guy

(someone was gonna link it. May as well have bee me)
posted by jadayne at 8:52 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Chemists ... figures. Richard Feynman would make a 4 year old cry for asking, Why?

Interviewer: How are they doing that? Why are they are they doing that? (Why do magnets repel each other?)

Richard Feymnan: How does a person answer why something happens? For example, Aunt Minnie is in the hospital. Why? Because she went out on the ice and slipped and broke her hip. That satisfies people. But it wouldn't satisfy someone who came from another planet and knew nothing about things... When you explain a why, you have to be in some framework that you've allowed something to be true. Otherwise you're perpetually asking why... You go deeper and deeper in various directions.

Why did she slip on the ice? Well, ice is slippery. Everybody knows that-no problem. But you ask why the ice is slippery... And then you're involved with something, because there aren't many things slippery as ice... A solid that's so slippery?

Because it is in the case of ice that when you stand on it, they say, momentarily the pressure melts the ice a little bit so that you've got an instantaneous water surface on which you're slipping. Why on ice and not on other things? Because water expands when it freezes. So the pressure tries to undo the expansion and melts it...

I'm not answering your question, but I'm telling you how difficult a why question is. You have to know what it is permitted to understand... and what it is you're not.

You'll notice in this example that the more I ask why, it gets interesting after a while. That's my idea, that the deeper a thing is, the more interesting...
posted by geoff. at 8:52 AM on September 24, 2010 [24 favorites]


Post: OK
humanfont's comment: Priceless. Made my morning.
posted by cccorlew at 8:56 AM on September 24, 2010


When I was a brand new father, I was really looking forward to questions from a ravenously curious toddler's mind. Questions such as "Why is the sky blue?" I know the answer to that question!

Instead, I got, "Daddy? Why are there so many Ewoks in Star Wars?"

:\
posted by Xoebe at 9:01 AM on September 24, 2010 [27 favorites]


My father is a chemistry professor. That post accurately sums up much of my childhood interaction with him.

At the checkout counter in the hardware store, when there's a impulse-purchase display of keyring Mace sprayers:

Me: Dad, what's Mace?
Dad: (flips over his credit card receipt, draws a molecular structure) That's mace.
Me: Why does the hexagon have a circle in the middle of it?
Dad: Because it's an aromatic compound.
Me: What does that mean?
Dad: It means that it disperses easily into the air.
Me: Is that why it's so good for spraying at people?
Dad: Partly. . .
Cashier: Uh, my line is backing up?

To be fair, I was seven or eight there, not three. But, yeah, this was pretty dead accurate.
posted by KathrynT at 9:03 AM on September 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


His favourite element is the element of surprise.

HAHA! I see what you did there.
posted by wayofthedodo at 9:03 AM on September 24, 2010


A chemist by trade and a lover of learning things from first principles, I both think that my eventual kids are both going to love and hate me when they ask the inevitable "Why?" I enjoy explaining things down to first principles and I am a little bit worried when my kids will head off to grade school and are used to me explaining things, and looking things up and they get to a teacher who will just say, it is that way because I said so. I hope I can instill the thinking that that is just a wrong thing to say in them by that time that they would respond to such a statement with something like:

If you don't know it is OK to say that you do not know. Just don't say that something is the way it is because you say so. Your saying so is not a valid argument.
posted by koolkat at 9:04 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Son: I'm going to feed the cat a carrot!
Me: Mnno, he'll probably lick the salt off it, but won't eat it.
Son: He will. I will make him eat the carrot.
Me: He doesn't want to eat the carrot, and it might make him feel a little sick.
Son: He'd get throw ups?
Me: Exactly. And nobody likes cat throw ups.
Son: So if he eats carrots he gets sick.
Me: Yup.
Son: Why.
Me: Cats pretty much just eat meat. They're what's called "obligate carnivores". Can you say "obligate carnivores"?
Son: oblibate carry furs.
Me: "Obligate... Carnivores"
Son: ( worried look towards mother )
Wife: Stop tormenting the boy.
Son: oblibate carnie furs. (nods)
posted by boo_radley at 9:15 AM on September 24, 2010 [28 favorites]


In my case, my father was a humanist and agnostic, so on the one hand, scientific questions got a response of "you could look it up," while philosophical/religious questions (my mom was Irish Catholic) got a lot of ruminating, hesitant pauses, and "well, we just don't know." On the other hand, he had a masterful recall of inane/insane ditties.

My kids got a lot of the "first principles" on engineering things that I understood, and b/c of my background, and my humanities orientation, they still got a lot of ruminating, hesitant pauses, but I don't think I've ever been guilty of saying "we just don't know." In fact, Mrs. Bubba has always claimed that if I didn't know, I would make up an answer with a vague attribution that (pre-internet) was unverifiable. She's probably right.

Just so you know (those who know him), klang's a hell of a lot smarter than I am.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:21 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


My uncle always used to call my mom if he had a question or a bit of trivia he couldn't place, because my mom owns that shit (watch for her on Jeopardy! in the coming months, fingers crossed). We'd usually get the calls around dinner time, when he'd get into an argument with someone he was eating with about the name of the Civil War general who did such-and-such or the year that so-and-so invented the whatsit. On those rare occasions she couldn't come up with the answer, she'd ask me, and I'd usually know. Eventually my uncle just started calling me directly.

He has an iPhone now.

The salad days for trivia nerds are over. We've been replaced by the google.
Fucking google, making me obsolete, grumble, grumble, grumble.
posted by phunniemee at 9:21 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


McSweeney's for Canadian nerds.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:23 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


IT'S TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN
posted by Rumple at 9:23 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Looks like they're not really publishing anymore...
posted by Mister_A at 9:25 AM on September 24, 2010


Feynman on "Why" (and also, Fucking Magnets, How They Work)
posted by empath at 9:27 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fuck, someone got there first.
posted by empath at 9:28 AM on September 24, 2010


Son: ( worried look towards mother )
Er... Yeah. I expect to be the cause of a lot of these.
posted by LD Feral at 9:28 AM on September 24, 2010


I was in a park with my five year old son, when he felt he needed to pull down his pants and start peeing against a tree. He looked at me grinning and said "This is what scientists call marking your scent."

I am so proud.
posted by Toubab at 9:33 AM on September 24, 2010 [31 favorites]


I've been that kid and have been that uncle to my neices and nephews.

One of my fondest memories of my dad is the afternoon he spent teaching us point group theory when we were very young, 6 or so. Group theory is one of the key models of geometric shape used to understand molecular spectroscopy and reaction kinetics. It's about the symmetry and handed-ness of things.

It was a slow-burning fuse: point groups were a curiosity for me for 15 years. I'd look for axes of inversion, reflection and rotation everywhere and classify objects into their point groups (and argue about the point group taxonomy with dad). But this was all abstract, just some neat math thing that we shared.

Then I took second year quantum chemistry myself and suddenly everything was familiar. It was like opening a door to a new house and finding that my dad had been there for years and painted it for me.
posted by bonehead at 9:36 AM on September 24, 2010 [21 favorites]


Richard Feynman would make a 4 year old cry for asking, Why?

Christ, I love that man.
posted by Skot at 9:36 AM on September 24, 2010


SARAH: I don’t get it.

DAD: That’s OK. Neither do most of my students.


:)
posted by caddis at 9:56 AM on September 24, 2010


I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest it might just be possible that this conversation never actually took place.

Or the opposite: it happens all the time, though not to the same self-involved level of detail.

I have a 2yo who learned to talk very early and wants to know lots of stuff. It's a fun challenge figuring out where the explanation best stops.

In this case, for me (perhaps mostly because it's near the limit of my knowledge) it probably would have been after explaining how soap breaks down dirt and makes it easier to wash off, etc. (If the kid is really quick or older, you could get into chemical elements and stuff a little.)

Conversing with little kids can be a lot of fun. You don't have to be a jackass and talk about hydrophilia/hydrophobia and electronegativity (unless, of course, the kid is a genius/prodigy and can understand that stuff.)

(Making yourself feel smarter than a 3yo seems equivalent to playing basketball with first graders. Sure, it can be fun blocking a 7yo's jump shot into next week, but think about it for a sec.)

When I was a brand new father, I was really looking forward to questions from a ravenously curious toddler's mind. Questions such as "Why is the sky blue?" I know the answer to that question!

Instead, I got, "Daddy? Why are there so many Ewoks in Star Wars?"

:\


I don't think ANY kid asks "why is the sky blue?" That's urban legend or Mark-Twain-sanfranciscosummerism or something. (99.99% of kids younger than 5yo aren't going to consider that the sky could be any color BUT blue.)

I know you're just joking, but if you're upset that your kid is more into Star Wars than nature, don't blame him or her. It's not his or her fault. (Just coming off a frustrating conversation with a mom complaining about her son's hyperactiveness and bad sleep ... when she lets him "watch Elmo" every night before bed. A 2yo!)
posted by mrgrimm at 9:57 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Tell me why the stars do shine,
Tell me why the ivy twines,
Tell me what makes skies so blue,
And I'll tell you why I love you.

Nuclear fusion makes stars to shine,
Tropisms make the ivy twine,
Raleigh scattering make skies so blue,
Testicular hormones are why I love you.

-Isaac Asimov
posted by Daily Alice at 10:03 AM on September 24, 2010 [26 favorites]


Instead, I got, "Daddy? Why are there so many Ewoks in Star Wars?"

To sell toys, darling. To sell toys.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:13 AM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Mr. Sonika is an electrical engineer and we're expecting a baby in March. Reading this is like reading my future.
posted by sonika at 10:15 AM on September 24, 2010


You don't have to be a jackass and talk about hydrophilia/hydrophobia and electronegativity

I so totally didn't see it as jackassery. He answered every question to the extent of his knowledge, and only stopped when he ran out of knowledge.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:16 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I never thought my dad was jackassed for giving me straight-up information, even if it was over my head, any more than I thought the dictionary was jackassed for using words I didn't understand in definitions. You can always ask more questions.
posted by KathrynT at 10:32 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mr. Grimm: ... when she lets him "watch Elmo" every night before bed. A 2yo!

Why is that such a problem?

Also can you recommend some good books on 2 yo's??
posted by Skygazer at 10:37 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and yeah, getting my (just turned) 2yo to do anything, eat dinner or take a bath and get ready for bed, after watching Elmo can he hellish, so any thoughts or suggestions (from anyone) would be deeply appreciated.
posted by Skygazer at 10:43 AM on September 24, 2010


Oh, and yeah, getting my (just turned) 2yo to do anything, eat dinner or take a bath and get ready for bed, after watching Elmo can he hellish, so any thoughts or suggestions (from anyone) would be deeply appreciated.

First thing that comes to mind is to sing what you want her to do to the tune of Elmo's Song. "Taking a bath! lalala Bath time song! La la la la la la Bath time song! I love the bubbles, I love the tub! That's bath time song!"

Not that I spend all my time with 2 year olds or anything. Feel free to MeMail me if you want more suggestions. I could probably come up with a couple thousand.

posted by sonika at 10:45 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think scientists like to answer kids' "why" questions because deep down inside, scientists are those little kids, still asking "why?" And when the scientist reaches a point where no one has an answer to his "why" other than "we don't know," the scientist says, "OK then, I'll find out."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:48 AM on September 24, 2010 [17 favorites]


When I was a brand new father, I was really looking forward to questions from a ravenously curious toddler's mind. Questions such as "Why is the sky blue?" I know the answer to that question!

Instead, I got, "Daddy? Why are there so many Ewoks in Star Wars?"


I get both sorts of questions from mine. I can usually fake my way through "Why is there a rainbow in that puddle?" but "Why doesn't Darth Vader ever change his clothes?" will always be answered by "ask your father."
posted by Dojie at 10:54 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, and yeah, getting my (just turned) 2yo to do anything, eat dinner or take a bath and get ready for bed, after watching Elmo can he hellish, so any thoughts or suggestions (from anyone) would be deeply appreciated.

Dad of two 2.5 year olds here.

We've established set times for television, and give our kids a very wide range of shows to watch. Elmo is only a small part of their viewing library.

When we want our children to be calm, we let them watch calming shows that encourage sedentary, quiet behavior.

So we don't show them them Yo Gabba Gabba before bed because the last five minutes of that show have wild colors and dancing. We don't show them Elmo's World before bed, but they may watch Sesame Street. EW stirs them up and makes them really hyper, and I suspect that's because it doesn't usually end on a calm note. Watch the segments to see how much activity is happening onscreen when they end. Often there's a tremendous amount of movement: the window shade is flapping, Mr. Noodle is doing something, drawers are opening and closing and furniture is dancing around. It's chaotic, and that translates into chaotic behavior.

Shows they may watch before bed:
Backyardigans (it ends with a theme song, which helps them recognize that the show is over. The pace is generally pretty relaxed too.)
Classical Baby.
Jack's Big Music Show (Rarely. Ends with Jack walking slowly away from the clubhouse.)
Some *older* Sesame Street episodes that don't involve Murray or the fast paced cutaways between segments.
Olivia (rarely)

There are probably other shows that aren't occurring to me at the moment.

But they don't go from TV straight into bed. They go upstairs, sometimes we change them into PJ's -- we always change their diapers before bed -- we read them at least one story (right now it's Llama, Llama Mad at Mama, and then we tuck them in with a song. (Right now its "You are my sunshine.")

The idea is that we ramp them down from the day to watching a relatively calming television show, to being changed for bed, to a story, to a song to good night. It's an ongoing routine which helps them get to sleep more quickly. Establish routines and stick to them when you can. It's extremely helpful. From the moment my kids were born, we've tried very hard to keep them on a set schedule -- by necessity. If you don't do that with twins you'll never sleep.

Sonika's absolutely right about singing to them and encouraging behavior through song. Very effective.
posted by zarq at 11:06 AM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Conversations with my three year-old go more like this (from yesterday morning):

S: Daddy, can we play chest?
[He means chess. His older brother is learning chess. He must do everything his older brother does.]
Me: No, not today.
[I'm not up for teaching him chess today. Plus I suck at chess.]
S: Why?
Me: We don't have the stuff.
S: We have the pieces.
Me: Yes.
S: And the board.
Me: Yes.
S: Is it 'cause we don't have the bat?
Me: Yes. That's right. It's because we don't have the chess bat.

Someday I hope he will teach me to play chess. The kind with the bat.
posted by The Bellman at 11:24 AM on September 24, 2010 [40 favorites]


You don't have to be a jackass and talk about hydrophilia/hydrophobia and electronegativity (unless, of course, the kid is a genius/prodigy and can understand that stuff.)

I don't see this as being a jackass, either. It's not a horrible thing to tell a kid "well, that's really complicated" or "you'll learn about that when you're older," but I also don't mind giving answers that my kids aren't ready to process yet (probably) because I think it sends a message that I'll keep explaining this stuff for as long as you want to try to grasp it. Preschoolers hear words every single day that they've never heard before--it's how they learn.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:28 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you wanted it to be completely accurate, it should have ended:

DAD: *walks over to bookshelf and starts handing the kid books* "There is actually a very good discussion of this in Israellachvilli ... oh, and you probably want to read Hiemenz, and ... ah, Feynman has a very accessible discussion on the structure of the atom."
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:29 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Why doesn't Darth Vader ever change his clothes?" will always be answered by "ask your father."

Because he's a bad man and nobody loves him enough to get him more clothes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:32 AM on September 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


I answer all my 5-year-old daughter's questions like this, or I give her the straight answer and then follow up with more details. I am convinced that just doing this is making her smarter. I wasn't able to afford Montessori school or anything, but I spend a lot of time randomly explaining stuff like this. I know I'm doing well when she says stuff like "Yeah, yeah, I already know. Everything is made of elements."
posted by freecellwizard at 11:38 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Somewhat similar is the relationship between math majors and their children. Ask for help with one math problem, get an extra hour of analyzing the problem ... even after the problem has been solved.
posted by Xere at 12:12 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought I was the only one in this situation, until I went to college and met other kids of math majors. We laughed and agreed: As much as possible, avoid asking Math Degree Parent a math question.
posted by Xere at 12:14 PM on September 24, 2010


freecellwizard, i agree with you, and i should have taken "jackass" out of my comment. it sounds much harsher than i mean (i am very often a jackass myself.)

I agree that detailed (and truthful) explanations to children are very valuable. I just think once you pass the child's boundaries of understanding (or interest) you run the risk of teaching your child to tune you out (and then the corollary of not asking you any more question ... but all this is just nitpicking--the most important thing is teaching your kid ANYTHING AT ALL.)

A 2yo!

Why is that such a problem?


Children under 2 years old aren't supposed to watch any television at all (per AAP, fwiw). So, I'm thinking at 2-3 years old, TV use should probably be minimal, i.e. not every day. Justmy2c. YMMV and all. (Did Australia make it illegal for under 2's?)

Oh, and yeah, getting my (just turned) 2yo to do anything, eat dinner or take a bath and get ready for bed, after watching Elmo can he hellish, so any thoughts or suggestions (from anyone) would be deeply appreciated.

I'm with you, man. I've been dealing with a few straight months of "don't like it," "don't want it," and "no, no, NO, NO!"

I haven't read many toddler books (yet), but I like Dr. Greene and Dr. Karp (he has a counterpart Happiest Toddler book). We are also extremely lucky to have a great pediatrician who provides the most straightforward and logical (and inspiring) advice.

A paraphrase:

"This time is one of your child's oppositional phases. She's just doing her job. It's her role to push against whatever boundaries exist to learn the rules of living with her family and living in the world. It's YOUR job to be consistent with those boundaries.

She's like a first-time driver on one of those Disneyland car rides. You are the big metal block down the middle that makes sure the car doesn't run off the road and kill anyone. Don't be surprised if she tries to jump off the track over and over (and over and over)."

Especially if she's anything like her daddy. :(
posted by mrgrimm at 12:14 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm with you, man. I've been dealing with a few straight months of "don't like it," "don't want it," and "no, no, NO, NO!"

Yes, that is it exactly, and she's already learned I'm Mr Fun Guy Softie, and mom is the disciplinarian, and how to play that angle.

I haven't read many toddler books (yet), but I like Dr. Greene and Dr. Karp (he has a counterpart Happiest Toddler book). We are also extremely lucky to have a great pediatrician who provides the most straightforward and logical (and inspiring) advice.

The Karp book for when she was newborn was excellent (Swaddle, Shhhhing, bouncing on the knee etc), and I have the one for toddlers around here...(can't find anything to save my life these days...).

The Dr. Greene site looks very good too.

"This time is one of your child's oppositional phases. She's just doing her job. It's her role to push against whatever boundaries exist to learn the rules of living with her family and living in the world. It's YOUR job to be consistent with those boundaries."

Yeah, even that is really helpful, I need as much reinforcement as possible or I completely give in to her, especially if there's waterworks.

Thanks for the tips Sonika, Zarq and Dr. Grimm.
posted by Skygazer at 12:52 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm told I asked "why" a lot.
Many of my dad's replies were like this one.
I love that he did stuff like that, it taught me how to think outside the box.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:42 PM on September 24, 2010


"Playing a record? I'll show you something interesting...."


From Ask Dad. (Honorable Mention)
posted by zarq at 1:50 PM on September 24, 2010


DAD: That is an EXCELLENT question.

Both of my parents are professors. I quickly learned that asking what they thought of as excellent questions usually resulted in boring and confusing answers.
posted by clorox at 1:52 PM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


As much as possible, avoid asking Math Degree Parent a math question.

Consider the prime numbers. Let's take 39 as an example...
posted by atrazine at 1:54 PM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


As the child of an eighth-grade dropout dad who would sooner smack me in the face than engage in anything close to this dialogue with me, I'd say those professors' kids are pretty fucking privileged.

Wow, ethnomethodologist, that's harsh. And disturbing. Your father was a dropout child-beater, and you think these kids are "privileged" (a loaded, derogatory word)?

Nope, they're "lucky". They have good dads. They have responsible, caring, nurturing dads.

You got a shit deal. Sorry to hear about it. Don't resent those who had better luck.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:05 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The salad days for trivia nerds are over. We've been replaced by the google.

I dunno. Earlier this week I did pub quiz with my friends. One of the other teams was blatantly looking answers up on an iPhone. We didn't look anything up anywhere and won the whole thing quite convincingly. Partly good teamwork, partly playing our joker rounds well, but clearly our brains had more answers than google that evening at least.
posted by shelleycat at 3:06 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was that kid. And if I ever grow up, I'll probably be that parent.

And yes, it's not bad for kids to hear big words. Eventually if they hear the same big words over and over again they'll go find out what they mean.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:11 PM on September 24, 2010


When we want our children to be calm, we let them watch calming shows that encourage sedentary, quiet behavior.

Give them a few tablespoons of brandy instead. That way, they'll learn the important skill of outdrinking their peers by junior high.
posted by anniecat at 4:00 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I teach college undergrads, it takes so much effort to get them to ask why just once. Somewhere between 3 and 19, they have lost the need to ask it, and it really bothers me. So, I spend every semester trying to get them to ask why, and then I try to be that parent who answers the question just enough to get them to ask again.

It works on about 10% of them. And even with that few, I am really happy.

Why? Because I never stopped asking why, I just got a lot better at finding out the answers for myself. And that is the process it should be, rather than just stopping asking.
posted by strixus at 4:46 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Give them a few tablespoons of brandy instead. That way, they'll learn the important skill of outdrinking their peers by junior high

What, and take their crack pipe nebulizers away?
posted by zarq at 4:51 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your father was a dropout child-beater, and you think these kids are "privileged" (a loaded, derogatory word)?

In what sense is "privileged" a derogatory word? I mean, I know egalitarianism is A Thing on metafilter, but really?
posted by atrazine at 5:25 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


awwwwwwwwwwwwww! i miss those days.

now the questions i get from both THING1&2 (preteen and noobie teen boys), are more like: "so which part exactly is the vulva?"

fun times.
posted by liza at 8:40 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The salad days for trivia nerds are over. We've been replaced by the google.
I dunno. Earlier this week I did pub quiz with my friends. One of the other teams was blatantly looking answers up on an iPhone. We didn't look anything up anywhere and won the whole thing quite convincingly. Partly good teamwork, partly playing our joker rounds well, but clearly our brains had more answers than google that evening at least.

The thing with trivia isn't just knowing everything, it's recognition and pattern recognition. You can't just throw things into a search engine and always get back the exact response as the first hit. Trivia questions aren't always straightforward things; often they're puzzles.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:15 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Consider the prime numbers. Let's take 39 as an example...

You mean the 39 that's 3 x 13? That 39?
posted by Grangousier at 1:16 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Bellman: "Yes. That's right. It's because we don't have the chess bat."

Perhaps its a new variant of Chess Boxing?
posted by memebake at 4:49 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, as for Google, I have to say that watching poorly educated people use search engines is instructive. Knowing how to search for information means knowing the structures with which that information might be associated, how ideas and facts are organized within those structures, etc. I can find things on Google that my students can't, because *I know the context* of the fact I am seeking, and my goal as a teacher is to teach such contexts, not to teach mere facts. Google is cool, but it isn't intelligent, as good a job as they do of faking artificial intelligence with their algorithms. Of course, then Google gets to decide what the context is for the fact you're seeking, which is not always a good thing.

A big thing with students, for me, is convincing them that merely having access to all the facts in the world (as if the internet even approached that) is not a substitute for learning as such, but entails a greater commitment to learning abstract concepts to be useful. We used to have to teach batches of facts from esoteric sources in order to teach concepts, but the point has always been to teach the concepts that turn inert facts into examples of something.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:09 AM on September 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


You mean the 39 that's 3 x 13? That 39?

There's a story told about a famous mathematician known for his extremely abstract work (I've heard the exact same story about two or three people) that goes something like this:
The mathematician is lecturing to a small group of post-graduates on some work he has been doing on prime numbers. One of the post-grads asks for an example, the mathematician looks a little nonplussed and says, "Alright, take 39".

The joke of course is that obviously that is not prime, but this guy is so absorbed into the deep structure of prime numbers that the very idea of an actual numerical example is puzzling, and the first number he thinks of isn't prime at all.
posted by atrazine at 6:26 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Someone actually had an AskMe question about the story in atrazine's comment: often the mathematician in this story is Grothendieck.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:37 AM on September 25, 2010


I have a 2.5 year old son. Our endless question conversations tend to be a mix of technical & philosophical:

Son: Darth Vader is a robot?
Me: Well, he's a man but with some robot parts.
Son: Where he get robot parts?
Me: Probably at the robot store.
Son: Okay. (pauses) Which robot store?
Me: I don't know, but it was in a galaxy far far away.
Son: He use screwdriver to make robot?
Me: Maybe. He probably used a lot of tools.
Son: Why Darth Vader a robot?
Me: Well, he's really a man with some robot parts. Are you asking why he has robot parts?
Son: Yes.
Me: I don't know exactly, but he decided to add some robot parts to himself.
Son: Okay. (pauses) Darth Vader can walk?
Me: Yes.
Son: Need to push buttons?
Me: Does he need to push buttons to walk?
Son: Yes.
Me: I don't think so. He can just walk.
Son: He need remote control?
Me: No.
Son: Okay. (pauses) Darth Vader is nice?
Me: No, not really. He's kind of mean.
Son: Why Darth Vader is mean?
Me: Well, he's not a nice man.
Son: Why?
Me: Probably because he has a lot of pain.
Son: Darth Vader has pain?
Me: Yes, when people are in pain they're often angry and mean.
Son: Why?
Me: You know when you're in pain and frustrated, sometimes you yell or hit mommy or daddy?
Son: Yes.
Me: Well, it's a normal reaction. One of my jobs is to help you find a better way to express your pain and frustration. Probably Darth Vader never had anyone to help him.
Son: Darth Vader never have anyone?
Me: No, he didn't.
Son: Darth Vader is sad?
Me: Yeah, he's in a lot of pain.

This was 2 months ago. He's still constantly talking about how Darth Vader has a lot of pain.

(For the record, he's never seen Star Wars - we're waiting til he's a bit older. But Star Wars merchandise is so ubiquitous that he knows the names of all the major characters. He's mostly interested in R2, C3PO, and Darth Vader)
posted by rbellon at 7:54 AM on September 25, 2010 [11 favorites]


There's a story told about a famous mathematician...

Ah, so I look a bit foolish and petty. Hum. Obviously a joke now I think about it.

That's the problem with The Snark - it feels so good until it snaps back and hits you in the face.
posted by Grangousier at 4:18 PM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Professor/academic parents are also busy, depending on the career stage.

My time with my kid is precious.
posted by k8t at 9:36 PM on September 25, 2010


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