(This article publishes in the Press Democrat on August 24, 2012.)
Raising a toddler is much like going the opposite direction on an escalator – you have to work twice as hard to get to your destination or you’ll never reach the top. Between coaxing them to get a move on and pleading with them to behave, it’s tempting to rush whenever possible. But in the busy world of raising a toddler, there are some things you shouldn’t forget to tell your child along the way.
“Crying is not just for babies.” Kids of all ages should be given room to cry if that’s the emotion that needs to come out. When you try to bottle up her tears, you’re skipping over a teachable moment of helping her to name her feelings. Of course, it can be admittedly frustrating to handle the constant tears of a hypersensitive child, especially when you’re in a hurry. The number one key is to stay calm. If she’s more prone to tears, refrain from being overly sympathetic, but remain understanding. If you keep your cool, it gives her an anchor to pull out of the tears and move on with her day.
“It’s ok if we go slow.” You’ve got things to do. The laundry isn’t going to fold itself. The groceries are still sitting on the shelves at the store. There are bills to pay, places to be, people to see… But your toddler has his own agenda planned for the day. There’s the insistence that he can dress himself. There’s that exact moment in the day that’s perfect for running around in circles just out of your reach. The groceries on the shelves look perfect for knocking down, and the stroller isn’t as much fun to ride in as walking is – even if it’s much slower. I know you’re in a hurry. But isn’t life going fast enough? Take a few moments to go slow with your toddler and see the world at his level. You might be amazed at how much you can learn from a two-year-old.
“You can do it.” Most toddlers insist they are more than capable of doing everything on their own, asserting their own independence by attempting things just out of their reach. As tempting as it might be, practice restraint whenever you can and let your child do it on her own. If she gets frustrated, encourage her that she really can do it, only taking over when it’s absolutely necessary. Not only will her newfound freedom head off some of her stubbornness, it will also place healthy habits in both of you when teaching lifelong independence years down the road. When she’s a teenager and capable of cooking and cleaning on her own, you can look back on her toddler years and know you were on the right track.
“Everyone makes mistakes.” Jessica Snowden, a local mom of an autistic child, knows all too well the frustration that young children feel when they don’t get it right the first time. “Because my son is still ‘toddler-esque’, I tend to have to do things step by step and say ‘Everyone makes mistakes…that’s how we learn.’”
“I love you because…” Of course you love your toddler. And like most parents, you tell her this every day. But just as important as sharing your love with your child is to point out the things you love about her. ‘I admire the way you share with your friends.’ ‘I love how kind you are with animals.’ ‘You are so helpful when you pick up your toys!’ By pointing out all the things she does positively, it encourages her to keep up the good behavior.
“What do YOU want to do?” It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own agenda. But have you thought about asking him what HE wants to do? Even if he isn’t at an age when decision-making comes easily, it’s still a good practice to get him to think about his likes and dislikes, and what kinds of activities he prefers. Plus, this is another step towards encouraging his independence.
Most important is what your child SEES you doing rather than what they HEAR you say. “I believe the number one thing any parent can do, regardless of the age of a child, is to listen to them,” local mom Christina shared with me. “Talk to them in a reasonable tone. Use your eyes to express your love. Be patient and help them understand how they are feeling and teach them how to express how they feel.” And when it comes to acting out negatively, Christina urges parent to label the behavior rather than criticize the child. “Tell them that behavior is not acceptable and changes need to be made, but show them what is acceptable and show them by example.”