Kids, parents apparently fight every now and again, say most bored scientists ever

Island Packet Parents and their toddlers argue an average of 20 or 25 times per hour, according to a recent study published in Child Development magazine and held by scientists who spent time in a confined space with arguing parents and toddlers (just stop and think about the next time you’re complaining about how lousy your job is). As the father of a 4-year-old, I take this as an unnerving figure, because it means that the boy and I are SO ABOVE THE NATIONAL AVERAGE I think we’re going to have a cupcake party to celebrate.

Indeed, the boy and I argue more at the rate of 300 to 5 million times per hour, although that rate increases if any of these issues are on the table:

  1. The self-application of any clothing item (specifically, pants).
  2. The frequency and volume levels involved with watching “The Polar Express,” which is creepy and also terrible.
  3. The consumption, or potential consumption, of food. For example:

Son: “I don’t want to eat carrots.” (replaces the carrots from his plate back in the Large Bowl of Carrots, which is sitting on the table and is now at least partly befouled by sticky apple-juice residue and at least one booger.)
Me: “Son, just eat three carrots and then you can go.”
Jake: “Two carrots.”
Me: “Three carrots.”
Jake: “One carrot.” (Jake is either spectacularly bad at math, or spectacularly good at negotiations).
Me: “Three carrots, for the sweet bleeding love of all that is holy and true!”
Jake: “But I don’t WAAAAAANT to.” (unleashes a morbid caterwauling sound that you might expect from a caribou who is giving birth to triplets inside an Airstream trailer.)

It goes on like this, and frequently does, and it usually culminates in a timeout or two, as well as my eating a whole lot of carrots, but I am heartened to see that this is not an unusual episode. In fact, as is often the case when I see studies like this, I am less inclined to read about the actual findings than I am to think, “Wait, everyone else who consented to have children is going through the same thing?” And then I uncork a mighty “Hallelujah!” and pour myself a nice glass of at least three beers.

Let’s do the math on this. Conservatively speaking, arguing 20 to 25 times per hour means you are arguing about every three minutes. This is extremely difficult to do, and if you don’t believe me, try it yourself: Locate the person sitting next to you, set a three-minute timer on your computer and every time it goes off, tell them they’re an idiot and that they smell like very damp cabbage. EVERY THREE MINUTES. After about three or four installments, they’re going to just give up and probably agree, fine, you know what, I smell like cabbage, and can you just get back to work already?

But toddlers, sadly, are not blessed with the ability to give up, nor the capacity to automatically walk away when bored by something stupid. They will dig in. I refer you to the curious instance of my son’s three kitties. The three stuffed kitties are regular bedtime needs — despite their looking as though they’ve spent the last few weeks being mauled by raccoons and, as they spend their nights in my son’s bed, smell a lot like pee — but regardless of how funky they might be, they are needed, each and every night, no matter how much you, say, might have left them at the day care because you left in a hurry and because frankly the idea of not having the urine-soaked fluff toys in your house for a day isn’t exactly one that filled you with a sense of unfulfilled longing.

But the problem is Jake’s position is one in which he’s basically wondering why you’re not in the car obtaining the kitties already, so the fight starts immediately. If you’ll indulge another script-based detour:

Jake: “Can I have my kitties?”
Me: “No, Jake, the kitties are at school.”
Jake: “Can I have my kitties?”
Me: “Jake, I told you, they’re not here.”
Jake: “Can I have my kitties?”
Me: “Jake, they’re 10 miles away. And it’s cold, and ‘House’ is on, and …”
Jake: “Can I have my kitties?”

And the thing is, this counts as ONE ARGUMENT.

The study, it should be noted, is set up to encourage conflict and only counts those periods when moms and tots are likely to argue; it does not count every hour. But it still makes me feel better that Jake’s aggressive insubordination is something that is apparently perfectly normal, which is something I’ll ponder happily the next time I’m wandering the yard, in the dark, looking for kitties.


About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

5 responses to “Kids, parents apparently fight every now and again, say most bored scientists ever

  • Belle

    Aah, yes. I most definitely remember those days of the toddler logic. Good times! I swore our daughter would grow up to be a lawyer because she just plain wore me out with her arguments, and that was at age 3!

    Love your take on things and am enjoying your column in our local paper. I laugh out loud at least twice and for me, that’s saying something! Keep up the good work!


  • Mom

    OK. I remember driving from Upland to Mishawaka to get Duck, which was inadvertently left at the new house. And climbing the hill in the backyard in the dark to locate said duck.

    It’s genetic:)


  • Ninja Mom

    I have solved all of these problems with super glue. I glue indispensable items (like mauled kitties) to my children’s persons.

    Should they argue that this is uncomfortable or possibly illegal, I pour the glue in my own ears and deafness ensues. I hear no evil, friend. Nor do I hear “House” re-runs.


  • kelleysbreakroom

    I’m cracking up at “Can I have my kitties?” asked over and over again. That is awesome and so recognizable. Kids definitely don’t give up! Thanks for linking up with #findingthefunny!


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