It snowed a few weeks ago; a beautiful dusting that covered everything with an inch of wet snow.
As I walked my son to preschool, I noticed something that made me smile. The sidewalks had been cleared, and yet every stretch of snow remaining on the edges had tracks of footprints. Made by child-sized feet. I watched, smiling, as my son did what the toddler before him had done…march boldly in the fresh blankets of snow.
There was a wide swath of cleared pavement to choose from. He didn’t need to walk in the snow. Nor did the child who walked before him. But walking in the snow is part of what it means to be a toddler – exploring the world for the first time.
Our trip that morning, unsurprisingly, took an extra long time.
The toddler years bring challenges. Often, we find ourselves at odds with their developing agency and persistence. They take such a long time to do the things that we could do quickly and efficiently – looking for lost shoes, zipping up coats, cleaning up their toys.
Navigating these years is easier with understanding and perspective, and it is easier if we can cultivate ways to work with our toddlers rather than against them. There are many reasons why we might find ourselves at odds with toddlers, but there are simple tools to prevent some of the frustrations from building.
1. Toddlers need more time.
Scarcity breeds fear and anxiety. If young children feel rushed, their hands won’t relax to pull up their socks or they will lose the persistence to look for that lost shoe. Whenever possible, see that you are providing enough time, and then provide more. Getting dressed takes time. Eating breakfast takes time. Putting on shoes takes time. Enjoying a book or building a block tower or racing a car…it all takes time.
2. Toddlers need the right resources.
Making sure the environment is full of developmentally appropriate materials is critical. Toddlers want to do things independently. Here are some resources that support developing independence:
- Velcro shoes rather than lace-up
- Loose fitting pants with elastic waists
- Serving utensils that are lightweight and easy to maneuver
- See-through plastic pitchers
- Open toy storage housed low in the environment
- Mittens in cold weather rather than gloves
- Towels and a small hand-held broom and dustpan so toddlers can clean up spills
3. Toddlers crave undivided attention.
Children (adults, too) need to know they are important. When toddlers are in competition with technology, other children, other adults, pets, house care, personal care, etc., they will work hard to get the attention back from the ones they love.
- Set careful limits about multitasking.
- Turn off notifications on smartphones/laptops whenever possible and try to block out time to devote your full attention to your children for extended periods each day.
- Speaking clearly about when children can and cannot have your attention is respectful. “I’m tying your sister’s shoes right now. I will give you my attention when I’m done.” or “I have to respond to a message from work, so I can’t give you my attention right now. When I’m finished, then I will be able to give you my attention.” They will likely still fight for your attention, but through practice and consistency, they will learn to trust the process.
My son and I left the house fifteen minutes early. He stomped in the snow, found sticks to trail behind him as he walked, and collected snow off of any horizontal surface and ate it. Fortunately for us on this morning, I was able to make adjustments to protect some extra time.
Conflict in the toddler years is an important vehicle for learning about limits, flexibility, negotiation, and compromise. At the same time, we don’t need to engineer extra conflict. As parents and care givers, we can set an overall structure that provides as many opportunities for toddlers to work within their developmental strengths as much as possible.
May your week be filled with joyful toddler moments.