The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

July 26, 2013

How to properly argue with a toddler

By Scott Levine
Herald Associate Editor

---- — Do you remember the game show “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” It featured adults answering questions that a “typical” fifth grader would know.

Usually the “typical” fifth-grader was on the way to being a Rhodes Scholar in some categories, making the contestants feel inadequate.

Lately, around my house, I may have discovered a new concept for a game show — “Are you arguing with a 3-year-old?”

The basic premise would be for the host to present a situation to an adult and have him or her try to win an argument with a 3-year-old. In the end, their intelligence would be no match for the supreme confidence of a toddler.

One month ago today, my daughter officially became a big sister. That distinction has made her “the boss” and a “genius” in her own mind.

If we need a burp rag, she’s on it. If we need an extra hand on burping, she’s slapping away. If we need a glass of water, she’s lightning fast with a plastic cup.

But those added responsibilities may be going to her head.

Regular readers of my column know about the recent struggles that bed time has caused. It’s gotten better, but just the other night, I was attempting to wrangle her down to brush her teeth and go to the bathroom one last time before bed.

In my attempts to pry her away from her brother, she scoffed at my feeble grabs, officially declaring herself as the head of the household.

“I make the rules around here and you need to brush your teeth,” I said, trying to pull her away from the recliner.

“But Dad, I’m the boss,” she said, not cracking a smile.

That’s interesting. I knew that I didn’t pull much weight around the house anymore, but in her mind, she’s taken over. Luckily I have my wife, who still pulls a little rank around the home, and she reminded my daughter that she wasn’t the boss.

That distinction likely goes to my son, who sets much of the daily schedule around the house.

My daughter doesn’t only think she rules the roost, she believes that she’s miraculously become a genius.

While swinging on our porch this week, I was in the middle of reading one of my favorite books, “The Cat in the Hat.” She sat, listening to the poetic rhymes of Dr. Seuss, until we got to the part about “how that bump made us jump.”

On the page, in big bold letters, is the word, “Bump!”

Since we’ve been working with letters for awhile, she stopped me after I read the page, and proceeded to spell out bump! — B-U-M-P-I.

I applauded her effort, but she technically wasn’t right.

“That’s actually an exclamation point on the end, not an ‘I”’ I said.

You know that look someone gives you when they believe you’ve said something really stupid? Magnify that by 10, and it’s what was on my daughter’s face.

“It’s an ‘I,’” she said, as confident as Michael Jordan hitting a game-winning jump shot.

I proceeded to explain that it was an upside-down lowercase “I,” but in reality, it was punctuation. Before I could explain punctuation, she dismissed my retort.

“It’s an ‘I,’” she said, not backing down.

A college degree in journalism meant nothing to her. In her mind, it was an “I.”

But I’m stubborn. I kept hammering home my explanation and she stayed staunch in her argument. Even though she was wrong, I admired her determination.

However, no matter how well I spelled out my argument, there was no changing her mind. I figure if I keep mentioning punctuation, it will eventually sink in.

And soon, I’ll have these same discussions with my son. Unfortunately at that point, I will likely be outnumbered.

Scott Levine is the Associate Editor of the Clinton Herald. He can be reached at