One of the most amazing parts of parenting is watching your baby go from babbling incoherently to actually communicating. Today, for example, Annie was heading out the door with Heather when she turned around and said, “Daddy. You come too!” When I told her I would be staying behind she said, “No, Daddy. You come too. Come on. Let’s go!” I couldn’t help but laugh – it was the kind of conversation I’d imagined having with a much older kid, but here I was having it with my two year old. As cool as it is to hear Annie talk though, it isn’t without its drawbacks. What do you do when your kid says something you don’t like?
Among Annie’s adorable statements like “I love you, Dadda” and “Dadda, want to dance?” is a single word statement that is driving me nuts: “Help!” I don’t know when or where she picked it up, but she is milking it for all it worth.
“HELP, DADA!!!!” I will hear her tiny voice scream from the other room. “HELP!!!”
I leap up from whatever I’m doing and sprint to her side only to find her jutting her sippy cup at me.
“More milk, Dada?”
This, as you can imagine, is not cute. After a month of this I now just sigh and stroll over to see what is up, but that is not good. What if she’s actually in jeopardy and I’m taking my sweet time getting to her because she has “cried wolf” so many times?
I finally lost it and sternly told her that yelling “help” is not funny, and that it is a very serious word. Of course she just giggled over the fact she was getting a reaction out of me.
“Dada! Help! Look at my doll!”
Someone told me not to worry, that she will learn her lesson one day when she needs help and everyone is slow respond, but that hardly put me at ease. In fact, that is, um, THE LAST THING I want to happen. I want people to help her when she yells help.
Another bit of advice I received is to yell “Stop!” whenever she misuses the word, but that didn’t sit right with me either. Would it condition her to freeze up and not ask for “help” when she really needs it?
Ideally I would like to find some way to teach her the gravity of the word “help” and how it is to only be used when you are in trouble, but at her age it seems like that might be a conversation a bit beyond her understanding.
Is there anything I can do? Or will I be stuck running around after the girl who cried help until she is old enough to know better?
Can you literally read her the picture book of The Boy Who Cries Wolf during dedicated reading time and use that as an opportunity to have a convo, rather than after she’s happy with herself because she’s getting a reaction/attention? Good luck! I remember my dad having this convo with me after I got in the habit of yelling help any time someone sounded like they were opening/knocking on the bathroom door when I was in it (i was older and more able to get convos – also, weird kid!)
It’s worse than you think. I will soon be 41 years old. This evening I sat on my bedroom floor, trying to get a new computer together. I screamed for help from my dad and he finally showed up. Yeah, I live with my parents at the age of 40. I’ve tried the married thing, the living on my own single thing. Not for my family, we need each other and we would’t have it any other way. I hope to still be yelling help when I am 60 and that my dad will still show up.
Lol Meesh. I’m 44, live by myself with my kids, but the toilet sprung a leak & who do I call. “Dad, I need help”. Same with the sliding door lock that broke & my outside antenna. My Dad is 71, hope I get to cry for his help for ages yet.
But as for you, Mike. Ha ha. I think she’s got your number. She’s far too adorable to have to deal with bothersome stuff like real life & waiting. I think you’ll be whipped for a few more years yet – if you’re lucky
1) If you see her when she is doing it & she isn’t in dire need of help, just ignore it. Then give her an example of a more appropriate way to ask for help (which leads you to my 2nd suggestion).
2) Have you ever tried teaching her a different phrase like, “Can you come here daddy”? Or even when she wants your help if you teach her to say “Help Please Daddy”. If she’s in a dire situation, she’ll automatically just yell HELP (she’ll panic & forget the please so that’s how you’ll know).
I get it Mike! My daughter was very advice with her expressive language as well. The thing we all struggled with was remembering she was only 2. Sometimes people would try to place unrealistic expectations on her b/c they thought she was older. It’s hard…I know.
If all else fails remember this too shall pass and sooner or later she WILL learn the difference of a Help Please vrs a HELP!!! Good luck friend….you really are an excellent dada & Annie is very lucky to call both of you her parents!
I agree! My niece was doing the same thing as the same age… Where do they learn this?!?! Oh! From us asking, “Do you need help?” They take in the word “help” and use it.
We taught my niece to say, “I need help with…” or “Could you help me with…” or if it was juice or milk or food, it became, ” I would like more X please.”
Now when she calls “Help!!” We know she actually needs HELP. Sometimes it’s not a dire emergency, but at least it isn’t a drink of water that’s needed!
Like Annie, Teagan began talking/expressing herself early, so explaining a few extra words for her to (please!!!) use was fine. She learned please early one (and would surprise waiters when she would order for herself at age 1 1/2!–avacadie, please)
Also, we told her that when she needed things like a drink refill or some such thing, she should take her cup to the adult, not the other way around…in other words, we weren’t waiting on her (LOL) but neither was she yelling for help out of thirst or hunger!
I get your concern. But I also think that you are in tune enough with Annie that you would recognize true panic in her voice if she were truly in need of help.
Isn’t parenting a funny thing?! We are all so different….I taught my (now 2 years 5 months) daughter to say ‘Help me Mummy’ early on instead of having her throwing a wobbly every time she couldn’t put her coat on/put her shoes on/find something because I was getting tired of the emotional out bursts. Now she will regularly say ‘Mummy can you help me please’….or just ‘Help!’ if she is quite frustrated. I find when she really does need help, she doesn’t think of saying ‘Help!’ because she associates the word with me helping her out rather than a word to use in an emergency. Instead she cries or screams, that kind of cry and scream where you KNOW something is wrong and rush to them immediately.
I guess it’s all a matter of preference and the way you look at things. I love it when you throw something like this out there for us all to consider. Very though provoking! Looking forward to the other comments.
Here are my thoughts: Your Annie, like my own second child, likes to get a reaction and thinks of extreme things to say in order to get it. She’s found one that works with you and is milking it for all its worth. Cup half full..be glad it is “Help” and not something worse. We’ve spent months trying to figure out how to handle it when our Miss M says something like “I hate you” or “I love Mommy more than Daddy. I want Daddy to go away.” All of this is said with a smirk because she knows that these phrases have POWER. So we don’t know whether to remain calm or be punitive…or just cry because it’s so stinkin’ mean and wrong for someone who is normally sweet to do this. I don’t want to malign my own kid to the world here…she really is sweet. Between my two girls she is the most affectionate and the best cuddler, but she can REALLY push our buttons.
Mary @ Parenthood says:
We had a similar problem (mostly resolved). If our three year old doesn’t use the right words (eg “please may I have the milk” instead of “Get it NoooooooW!”) we ask her to repeat.
So if she yelled “help” from another room, I would go, but as soon as I realized she actually wanted company because she’s lonely I’d require her to rephrase “properly”. It helped us to start by modeling the actions and phrases we expected her to use in a given situation.
We haven’t required her to distinguish between emergency and a need for assistance though. Not sure if that’s a reasonable expectation at the age. Even adults have trouble with that
My 6-year-old was a notorious wolf-crier. She likes drama, and her Daddy is a favorite victim. What we did is tell her to use her words, persistently. In your case, it would be: “Annie, help is for when you are hurt. Just say ‘Daddy, I want more milk please.'” Or whatever it may be. But try to do so with as little emotion as possible. She is a smart girl, she’ll get it.
My 3 year old daughter has been doing this the last few months, too. I’ve never really thought of it like you have, until now… As of now I still rush to her side and am relieved when I get there and she just wants a glass of milk or a book… But you are so right… What happens when I no longer take her pleas for help seriously. Thanks for bringing this up, Mike! The feedback from other posters is helping me as well
Melissa above nailed it. That’s exactly how we handled it in our home!! Annie seems like a pretty smart cookie, she’ll learn the concept quickly I am sure!
I think it’s just a part of her linguistic and cognitive development. First, she has a fairly limited number of words to communicate she wants. Second, she has recognized the cause-effect relationship between yelling “Help” and getting a reaction. Besides being annoying, I don’t think it’s a huge problem. As she continues to develop her vocabulary, she’ll find different, more subtle ways, of asking for what she wants.
And I guarantee you’ll be able to tell the difference between a “HELP!” because her leg is pinned under the dresser and “HELP!” because she wants more milk. When she’s really in distress, you’ll know!
Samantha F in St. Paul says:
With my 5 year old when she went through this stage, I would just correct her in how she asked. For example-if she yelled “HELP! I need more milk” I would correct her and ask her to say “Mommy more milk please” and I wouldn’t give it to her until she asked the correct way. That way she wasn’t getting the “reward” for yelling help.
I have a feeling my brother and I used to do this too because for as.long as I can remember, my parents would reply, “what’s wrong?” When we’d yell for help.
You don’t want to yell the word “STOP” at her – soon she will be yelling “STOP” right back at you.
Maybe do some playacting with her dolls and/or princesses and have them be in situations where they really need help and when they just need their dads.
In my experience, with a 3 year old Diva, I can almost tell by her voice whether or not she really needs me or if she just wants her chocolate milk – shaken, not stirred. Over time, it’s almost like your ability to know when your child is hurt, and you can immediately tell by the cry whether or not it’s a small boo-boo or something that needs your attention right away. I do agree with Melissa, telling her that “help” is for when you are hurt is probably the easiest way to explain, but it may take a little time for her to break her habbit. I give Annie credit, she definitely knows how to get your attention! Smart girl!
Find a copy of the story Of the Boy Who Cried Wolf and read it to her, then explain. She’s a smart girl, she will get it figured out soon enough.
Heather P says:
I think that it is safe to assume that if a two year old is really in peril, she will most likely just scream or cry… she would not specifically cry “help”. So if she is yelling help, you can probably assume it is for something minor. You tend to learn your own child’s cues and sounds, so use your judgement on this one, but I really think that her yelling “help” is mostly for amusement.
Hope this “helps”
I think she’s at the point now where she associates ‘help’ as the word that makes daddy come, and not one with our associations of dire need. I wonder if a gentle correction would help, still go to her, but ask her to either say help please, or please come (or whatever your prefer).
The other bit I’m thinking is that since she is so comfortable with this phrase, it probably won’t be the one you hear if she is in trouble…or the tone will be different and panicky.
Wow that’s a tough one. I think you have to respond if she’s not in your sight, but then if you see it’s just about needing more milk etc., you should refuse to give her what she asks for and teach her a different phrase like commenters mentioned above (“Come here please”). And then, walk away. If screaming “HELP!” doesn’t work to get her mundane things, or attention from you, she won’t do it as a form of play.
Kristen @ The Chronicles of Dutch says:
No idea what you should do but I’m going to troll the comments & I hope to remember the tips when my 6 month old starts that in a few years
I’m glad you asked about this… I’ve been wondering the same thing and got some good tips from your readers!
I never experienced this with my own kids, so this is a total random suggestion…
Maybe when she yells for help, and you go in to see her, if it’s not truly and emergency, don’t pay attention to whatever she is trying to show you. Instead try and tell her , I am going to walk back out and you need to say, ” Dada please come here” and if she says it walk back in and then pay attention to what she has to say. Then if she does it again, stop in front of her door, and ask ” Annie are you hurt?” if she says no, ask her if she wants “Dada to please come here”
Of course I have no idea if Annie will comply but just my 2 cents Good luck!
What I did with my kids…..I just called out “Is this a pretend help or a help where you are in pain or trouble” We of course did a lot of talking about pretending help and real help.
I wouldn’t worry about it too much Trust me- when she really needs your help she’ll give that scream that lets you know they are in trouble.
Ditto Tamara. I wouldn’t overthink this. She’s only 2. She learned a new word, it’s super effective, and she’s using it. She’ll figure out a new awesome word like “Oh crap!” and move on to that soon I think she’s too young to understand the larger issue of crying wolf. If it’s still happening in another year or two, you can worry.
Expat Mom says:
Some good tips here. I would play a game with her, role playing different situations. “Oh, my leg hurts, HELP!” or “I need more milk, Dada, more milk, please!”
You will also notice that when she REALLY needs help, it will be a different tone. my sons ask for my help all the time, but when they are really in trouble, there’s no mistaking it.
I’m far from an expert with young kids, but my guess would be that she says “help” because that’s the most effective word she has in her vocabulary to communicate a need, and she’ll eventually learn to articulate her needs better, and grow out of yelling “help!”
Maybe rather than going in whatever room she’s in, you could stop right outside the door and ask very clearly “Annie, what do you need?”, then once she communicates her need, enter the room and say “Oh, you need [more milk in your sippy/a toy you can’t find/etc.]! Why didn’t you say so?”. You can even take your time retrieving whatever it is, whereas once she starts saying “Daddy, I need help with X”, you try to co omething specific, they should say “I need X” to get speedier results.
Lesson of the day: don’t post comments with a toddler in your lap. She might just erase half your text when you hit “Submit”.
The second part of that should have read: “…whereas once she starts saying “Daddy, I need help with X”, you try to come in the room with that object at the ready. That’s what I used to do with kids when I worked pre-K and K. That would teach most kids fairly quickly that if they wanted something specific, they should say “I need X” to get speedier results.”
Mike, I haven’t read the other responses so forgive me if I’m repeating something someone else has said.
What if you just correct her when she calls for “help” and perhaps she’ll eventually get the difference? For example, when she calls for “help” for more juice you can say to her – “Oh gosh! I thought you were in trouble because you yelled ‘help’! I thought it was an emergency! But I see that you really just want more juice but that you are fine. Thank goodness!” Or maybe even approach her when she’s yelled, “help” in a very concerned manner. “Annie, are you OK?! What’s wrong?!” and then explain to her that when someone calls for help you think they are in danger. I don’t know – I’m just thinking out loud here. Because she does seem to understand the word – she needs help getting some juice. It’s the gravity of the need she’s not getting.
She’s adorable, by the way.
I second what everyone else said about giving her the language that you want her to use. “I need more milk please,” or “look at my dolly.” You can also give her examples of what help should be used for when you go to check on her. “Oh, Annie needs help. Are you bleeding? Did you bump your head? No? Oh, you don’t need help. You need more milk. Say “more milk please!”” Then she’ll also remember when it’s appropriate to yell “help.”
Teach her another word to use. “I need you” or “Please come” etc. This too will pass as she learns more language.
My son did that for a while (he’s not really into the drama though, he just has a limited vocabulary) and whenever he would do that I would tell him to ask nicely, and then make him repeat “help please.” It sort of worked, now whenever he wants something, he says “help PWEEEEZE!” It’s so cute But yeah, if he were actually in need of “help” I’m pretty sure he would scream hysterically before he called to me in words!
I can’t believe how many behavioral problems your child has. You’re raising a real brat.
Is this comment a joke? Do you have kids? If you think Annie is such a brat and have no respect for Mike and Heather’s parenting, why are you reading their blog and actually taking the time to comment on it?? The fact that Mike cares enough to share his struggle with his readers and try to get some advice shows that he is a caring dad who isn’t afraid to admit vulnerability and keep an open mind. Two year olds are tough and they certainly have their moments, but Annie is not a brat. It’a amazing to me how brave people are with their comments when they are huddled in the darkess, tucked safely away behind their keyboards. Shame on you.