Thursday, July 31, 2008

Our little terrorist understands threats

Recall how, in places like Israel, the cardinal rule is never to negotiate with terrorists? Well, except in dire cases clearly marked off as exceptions? It seems this harsh principle of communication works with Sonny, too (though he's a mite younger than our typical terrorist, at just about 14-odd weeks old).

As chronicled in 'Training our one-armed baby', our son had developed the annoying habit of sucking his thumb - or, at a pinch, any combination of fingers. Since our original post, he had even learned to be ambidextrous about it. Our response had been to use a cloth nappy to bind his arm; at one point, we were restraining both arms at once.

But we didn't just leave it at that. After all, terrorist groups are seldom defeated simply through force of arms: There must be some talking done too. So we would explain to Sonny in a firm but uncompromising tone that he was not to suck his digits, that he should be following his parents' instructions but also that there were sound hygiene reasons for them. The routine, then, became this: Pa would say sharply, "Sonny, no! Put it down, now!", repeating it two or three times to give our youngster a chance to process the threat. If the warning was ignored, perhaps with even a complacent smile, there would be a sudden flurry of cloth and baby. Then the young fella would be left to contemplate his suddenly limb-tied existence. He might work himself free of his bonds, but if he tried to resume the forbidden activity, Pa would swoop down again.

Vicious? After several days of this, amazingly, comprehension took hold. At Pa's threatening "Sonny, down!", there would be a moment of wavering suspense - and then the little arm would creep downward again. This seems to vindicate the claim that even very young babies are clever things who understand far more than they are given credit for.

A few limitations have been noticed, however. First, Sonny will try to resume finger-mouthing after a minute or two, necessitating another round of warnings. Second, he completely ignored Mum's efforts to replicate Pa's success; she is still trying to perfect the right tone of command, but may also have to tie Sonny up a time or two to earn credibility. Third, our success was achieved over the weekend, when we had time to spend rehashing the warning cycle. After a few days back at the child care centre (where the administrator told us that "Sucking is natural, part of the child's exploration"), Sonny again needed to be reminded of the consequences of ignoring instructions.

Still, there's no doubt that communication of sorts has been established with our little insurgent. Tomorrow, we begin a two-part report on some of the research Mum did into an early freeing of Sonny from his diapers. Don't miss it - though that's just a suggestion, not a terrorist's threat.