Emotional Safety and Media for Toddlers

I was reminded today about how much influence something as simple as a nursery rhyme has on emotional development. My son loves listening to music on Spotify and watching their accompanying videos on YouTube. We have playlists for Blippi, CoComelon, Bluey, and more!

I recently noticed that my son has learned full verses for some of the songs we listen to and watch depictions of on TV. I only found this out by overhearing him sing them while he was playing or in the backseat. This week we've heard Jingle Bells (like what?? He hasn't heard that since December), Baa Baa Black Sheep, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and Three Little Kittens (the ones with the mittens).

He's recently started internalizing some of the messages.... and here's how I learned that:

Today we had the music playing and I was cleaning the house. My son loves to clean and joins me with his Melissa & Doug cleaning set. Best gift ever from his Aunt Teri. We finished up cleaning and I started making lunch.

I had seen him recently putting his socks on his hands, but hadn't thought much about it. I announced it was time to wash hands for lunch and he ran into the kitchen crying with one sock on his hand. I couldn't figure out what was wrong. He was crying and saying "No sock! I want sammich Mommy! No sammich JT (his first and middle name)! Find sock." and holding up his 'unsocked' hand. I was baffled to say the least. I said "You are so sad! I'm sorry you're sad. Do you want a hug?" He gave me a hug. I gave him his "sammich". End of story...I thought.

Later we were watching Three Little Kittens on YouTube and he again approached me with the one sock and pointed at the screen. That's when it hit me that he was talking about how the three little kittens lost their mittens (socks) and they can have no pie! And then they cry, "Meow, meow, meow, meow, now we can have no pie." I realized my son had watched that and because he had lost his "mitten" he didn't think I was going to give him food!

I realized my son had watched that and because he had lost his "mitten" he didn't think I was going to give him food! I thought to myself "He is so dang smart!" And then I reflected. This didn't happen because he's 'smart'. He's a learning toddler who mimics what he sees. He learns from his environment about expectations. Three Little Kittens had taught an expectation. He had decided to use socks as mittens and pretend play, and when he lost one, which we eventually found under the couch, he generalized what happened on TV to his own life.

Because I study and teach child safety, I'm always evaluating the content we expose him to and how we speak to him. I want to provide the most emotionally safe environment possible, but I've realized that I can't catch everything. What matters is how I responded in the moment and the affirmation I gave him after I figured it out. "You will always have food." It's a little thing, but over time I believe little moments like this create emotional safety. What matters is how I responded in the moment and the affirmation I gave him after I figured it out.

Have you ever experienced something like this with a little one?