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You Gotta Laugh

Working your sense of humor is a must when there’s a toddler in the house. Just ask Alyson Hannigan, star of How I Met Your Mother.

By Sarah Jane Brian | April , 2011

Alyson Hannigan is a master of her craft: being funny. She won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite TV Comedy Actress last year for her role as Lily on the hit show How I Met Your Mother. At home, the 37-year-old actress and her husband, actor Alexis Denisof, apply a healthy dose of humor to their parenting style with daughter Satyana (“Sati”), 2. “You never know what’s going to get a big laugh from Sati,” Hannigan confesses. “But when something works, it’s a great payoff.” The couple’s goal is to use a lighthearted approach while encouraging their daughter to learn by trying things independently. Here, this funny mom shares her toddler-rearing revelations.

Parent & Child: Some toddlers can be stubborn, some more mellow. How would you describe your 2-year-old?
Alyson Hannigan:
Sati is hilarious all the time. She has a great sense of humor. She knows she’s funny, too. Like whenever she does something cute, she gets this smile on her face and announces, “Funny baby!”

P&C: How does your sense of humor come into play when you’re toddler wrangling?
Right before bed, when it’s been a long day and Sati is overly tired, putting on pajamas can be tough! I say something like, “We’ll play this little piggy, but not until this little piggy is in these little pjs.” Lately she’s really into doing somersaults at bedtime, and that makes it even harder. I have to think, “Well, maybe while you’re in this half headstand, if you could just lift your leg, so I can . . .” You know. One step at a time.

P&C: So you find silly ways to distract her when she doesn’t want to do something you need her to do?
Exactly. Funny voices help, but she’s smart, so I have to constantly come up with new ones. It takes a really funny voice to keep her from doing somersaults.

P&C: What else makes her laugh?
If she’s in a giggly mood, and she often is, just the word “twig” can have her going for 15 minutes.

P&C: You grew up an only child in Atlanta, GA, and later, in Los Angeles, CA. How did humor factor in?
I hated being an only child because it was lonely and boring. But it also helped my imagination, because I had to entertain myself. Whenever I got in trouble, I always knew that if I could make my mom laugh, it would be better for me — it was a way to ease problems. My dad was very funny. I have memories of driving in the car with him and I would say, “OK, Daddy, be funny.” And he would crack me up on command.

P&C: Are there things that you do now, since becoming a parent, that you never thought you’d do?
There are so many things I’m unfazed by now that would have grossed me out before. Like finishing food Sati has been chewing because I don’t have a place to throw it away. Or wiping her face with my spit because I don’t have any water or towels. I’ll cut that out right before she goes to college.

P&C: Is there one word you could use to describe your parenting style?
I’d have to say “respect.” My husband and I respect Satyana the way we respect each other, the way we like to be respected. We took parenting classes that really resonated with us. The idea is to let her develop skills on her own. So if two kids are having a conflict over a toy, we don’t want to step in and solve it for them. Obviously we’re there to make sure that nobody’s going to hit each other. But in my experience, if you let the kids take care of things, they figure it out quickly. Often it’s the parents that have the problem.

P&C: You mean the parents get too involved in the fracas?
Yes. I’d like to have a sign for the playground that says, “It’s OK if your kid takes my kid’s toy. Don’t freak out.” It’s to be expected. My kid’s going to take any toy she can take, too. Developmentally, she doesn’t understand yet what’s mine and what’s yours.

P&C: How do you and Alexis divide parenting duties?
We’re both very hands-on. I’m really lucky that my schedule is not too demanding, and Alexis was able to put his career on hold for a while so he could spend more time with Satyana. There’s also a nursery on set, so sometimes when we’re both working, Sati goes there.

P&C: That nursery must come in handy — a lot of the How I Met Your Mother cast have kids now.
It’s a very familial set. Cobie [Smulders who plays Robin] brings Shaelyn, who is 7 weeks younger than Satyana. And Neil [Patrick Harris] has twins — Gideon and Harper [5 months old]. We love talking about babies!

P&C: Is it true that Neil used to sing to Satyana?
Yes — he wrote a song about pajamas. It’s so catchy. Neil needs to do a kid’s album. I can’t sing it, because there’s a mouth trumpet involved. Jason Segel [Marshal, Lily’s husband] is great, too — he plays the ukulele and Sati loves it.

P&C: Did you give Neil any parenting advice before his twins arrived?
I waited until he asked. My advice was just to sleep. Sleep now while you can! But he actually doesn’t have that problem. He told me he can sleep through anything. It’s not fair!

P&C: Are you thinking of having another child?
I’m conflicted. I want to so that Satyana won’t feel the way I did as an only child, but I don’t want to have to share my attention. If I had another child I’m sure I would fall in love with him or her immediately. But I’m worried. We hit the jackpot with the first one. If you win the lottery, do you keep buying lottery tickets? Or just enjoy the lottery you won?

It's Toddler Time!
Your tiny tot’s demands, desires, and demeanor can be perplexing. Here’s what’s going on inside that little head.

Uh oh — I’m losing control! Tantrums often happen because 2-year-olds don’t have coping skills and can’t calm themselves down once they start getting worked up. Knowing your child’s stress threshold and when to step in to prevent a tantrum from starting is key. Quietly offer a snuggle after a tantrum to reassure him of how much you love him.

I do it! Toddlers experience frustration because their physical and verbal abilities have not yet caught up with their brains —  they can’t always express themselves or take part in “big kid” activities the way they want to. Help your child work through a rough patch by asking, “It seems like you’re angry — how can I help?”

My way or the highway. At this age, kids realize that they’re individuals and want to prove it, so yours may start demanding or refusing certain foods, outfits, and more. He may also start refusing your help with things like completing puzzles. He still needs your help though, which causes a conflict within him between wanting your assistance and wanting to grow up. Try to empathize with his struggle. Offer help when he seems like he needs it, but try not to push it too hard.

I’m still your baby. Just as children strive for autonomy, the idea of doing things on their own can be scary. Your toddler may try to behave like a baby by reverting to habits such as drinking from a bottle to avoid new responsibilities. As you encourage him to try things on his own, lay on the love and attention so your child knows that you’re always there to support him.

No! Your toddler probably says “No!” just about as often as he says “Me!” He’s recently realized that he can test your authority. Avoid this issue by offering limited, appropriate choices and giving fewer direct commands. Also, try to limit your own use of the word “No.”

Sources: Michelle Borba, Ed.D., Alice Sterling Honig, Ph.D., Susan A. Miller, Ed.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

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