The Magic of Toddlers

Family in autumn

Stacy Hladek, Families First

August is not only the month that most children return to school, but it is also unofficially National Toddler Month.  So it seemed appropriate to blog on something related to toddlers this month.  Toddlers are defined as children between the ages of one to three.  This is my favorite age group.  They are those magical creatures that find awe in everything!  Everything is new and exciting to them.  They are working on figuring out how to assert their independence, but also want to know that they can come back at a seconds notice to the security of their adults.  This time is fleeting, in about two short years your cute little toddler will turn into a preschooler.  How do you capitalize on and enjoy those magical years of toddlerhood?

  •       Let them ask questions.  Lots of question.  No question is small or silly.  It may feel overwhelming to hear questions all day, but this is the time when they truly are receptive to adult answers.  We have more influence over our children in the early years than any other time of their life.
  •        Have fun with them.  House cleaning and chores will always be there, but your toddler will not always be a toddler.  This is the time that we as adults can get away with playing on the play ground, getting our hands dirty with arts and crafts, and engaging in imaginative play again.  There are tons of great sites online that will give you fun things to do with your toddlers that are free or low cost.
  •       Read with them.  Most toddlers love to hear stories and look at pictures.  This is a wonderful way to bond with your child while instilling a life-long love of reading.  Children that are read to have greater success in school.
  •        Snuggle, snuggle, snuggle.  They are little and easy to scoop up in your arms.  Take advantage of this time.  Touch is one of the basic needs of all humans.  Make sure this is fun and includes eye contact.  Again, the internet has great ideas to make snuggle time fun and beneficial.
  •         Remember that toddlers are not “terrible”, they are terrific!  Tantrums are a normal part of this stage of life, but can be minimized by adults.  Tantrums are typically due to frustration over not being able to express what they need or want.  They understand way more than they can verbalize at this age.  One of the best tools to decrease tantrums is to reflect their feelings to them.  “Wow, you are really upset that I don’t understand what you are asking for, can you show me?”  “It is hard when you don’t get what you want”.
  •          The second thing that you can do to minimize tantrums is to allow the child to make loads of choices during the day.  These choices should be small choices that make no difference to anyone else except the child.  “Do you want milk or juice?” “Are you going to wear your green shirt or your blue shirt?”  “Will you put your shoes on first or your jacket on first?”  When we allow children to make lots of small choices they feel they have some control and it makes it easier for them to accept the fact that sometimes the adults must make the choices and be in control.
  •         Whenever possible, use time-in, instead of time-out.  Believe me, this is hard for me to say!  I was the time-out queen when my children were little.  I did not want to spank my children, so I used time-out.  Time-out was a better alternative to physical correction, but it was not the best technique and often led to more power struggles.  It made me feel sad and like an angry mom and it clearly made my children feel sad.  Time-in is a much better technique.  Time-in is where you pull the child in closer to you when they are struggling, instead of separating them from others.  The intent of time-in is to help the child feel supported, help the child learn how to regulate emotions and to learn right from wrong.
  •         Whenever you are deciding on a tool/reaction/consequence to a child’s behavior, consider the intent behind your reaction.  Positive Parenting put it this way, “punitive discipline is not only the way in which they are presented to the child but also the intent (non punitive) and aim of the parents in using the tools.”  If as adults we are using the tool to “get back at the child” or “show them” than we are probably being punitive, regardless of what tool we are using.  It is so important to make sure that we are not just giving consequences, but are also teaching the child what to do the next time around as well as supporting them emotionally.
  •         Find a social group that will benefit you and your child.  There are lots of great mommy and me groups.  This will give you a time to be with other adults and compare toddler notes, while your child starts to learn how to interact with other children their age.

These are just a few suggestions from a mom that wishes she had the chance to do the toddler years over.  I am hopeful my wish will be granted in the next decade from the perspective of grandma.  Enjoy those toddlers!

For more suggestions on ways to enjoy your toddler, deal with tantrums, time-in techniques, additional ways to support your family and for other great parenting tips call the Family Support Line at 1-800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373) OR 1-866-Las-Familias (866-527-3264) for Spanish speakers. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns.