The toddler years can be some of the most rewarding—and challenging—years of your child’s life. There are many opinions pushing what a toddler “needs” and how to parent these tiny, spirited, curious people. The truth is, what they need is consistent love and patience as their growing minds and bodies explore the world at large. Here are eight common mistakes parents should avoid with toddlers.
We live in a world of hurry. Busy is the hub of the wheel that spins mainstream culture. Whether the motives for our rushed society stems from commitments, work, or equating our sense of worth and importance with a sense of busyness, it’s all unhealthy for the young child. As the world pushes us, we push them. To be potty trained faster, to tie their shoes quicker, to speed through to the next thing. Waiting is not a virtue strived for in drive-thru, fast-paced, double-booked America. But in the hustle, a child’s natural sense of wonder can be ignored and squashed. In his book, “The Hurried Child,” David Elkind examines the effects of rushing children with chilling results, including wiring our kids for inborn stress and anxiety. Rushing toddlers comes with a price.
It’s hard to believe that a 2 or 3 year old can have an overbooked schedule, but unfortunately it’s a trend in today’s culture. With the push for earlier and earlier preschool, organized tumble times and playdates… today’s toddlers don’t have a moment to find a natural pace. Don’t make the mistake of overextending their days. Leaving more white space on the calendar each week actually helps them grow better. “No authority in the field of child psychology, pediatrics, or child psychiatry advocates the formal instruction, in any domain, of infants and young children. In fact, the weight of solid professional opinion opposes it and advocates providing young children with a rich and stimulating environment that is, at the same time, warm, loving, and supportive of the child's own learning priorities and pacing,” according to Elkind. “It is within this supportive, non-pressured environment that infants and young children acquire a solid sense of security, positive self-esteem, and a long- term enthusiasm for learning.”
Parents often make the mistake of hovering too much over toddlers. Our overprotective nature and nurturing can actually be a hindrance to a toddler’s growing sense of independence and confidence. We often wrap them in invisible bubble wrap, afraid to let them skin their knee or fail to match their socks or learn to share. Toddlers need loving guidance at every turn, certainly, but not to the extent that parents today tend to hover. This sends your child the unhealthy message that they can’t be trusted to explore, discover and try new things.
Even though Dora and Daniel Tiger may give parents the illusion that “educational” television can be justified as beneficial… screen time is still screen time. Sure, the occasional educationally-minded program can be a fun and useful tool in the handbag of how to occupy an attention-demanding toddler, but it should never be the primary focus of your youngster’s time. Toddlers need to be engaging in the world and learning through hands-on play. Even their quiet time should ideally be occupied with stories from a book not an electronic device. Countless studies show that these precious primary years wire our children’s brain for creative thought and activity. Don’t let the TV do the babysitting.
When was the last time you really listened to your child and thoughtfully responded? Don’t make the mistake of ignoring your little one—engage with your toddler! You will be surprised by the creativity and imagination that a 2 or 3 year old is capable of. Spend time enjoying this time before it slips by. Their questions may be relentless, but their curiosity can be contagious. The more of a habit you make giving them your full, undivided focus at this tender age, the better relationship you will have with them as they grow. Put in the time to bond and care about them early on. You’ll never regret time spent with your toddler.
Too many options
Many parents today want to encourage toddlers to make their own decisions, even when they are not developmentally prepared to handle it. It overwhelms a toddler to have too many choices. They have a growing sense of independence, mixed with a ceaseless need for dependence. It is a stressful state of emotion, which lends way to the well-known phrases of “terrible twos and terrible threes.” Your toddler doesn’t know how to handle the lack of control they have in the world, while struggling to find individualism. Instead of giving them 10 food options for lunch, or asking what cup they want, try narrowing it down. Ask things like, “do you want pears or carrots?” and “Would you like the blue cup or the orange cup today?” This decreases control battles and meltdowns while building their budding confidence in decision making skills.
Too often in our culture the excuse of “picky eaters” gives free reign to thinking toddlers won’t eat healthy whole foods or can’t try new things. Don’t give in to the idea that your little one is better off with chocolate milk than no milk at all, or if they didn’t like green beans last week then they never will. Keep trying to reintroduce things to your finicky eater. It’s true, some tastes and textures for toddlers are just too much for them to stomach, but that doesn’t mean you should give up entirely. There are so many creative ways to sneak healthy nutrition into their homemade favorites without their knowing. And, if you keep reintroducing the foods, their tastes can and will slowly adapt to tolerating other foods.
Treating them as mini-adults
Spending countless hours with toddlers can sometimes find us in fault of forgetting how little they really are. They are not mini-adults. The more they grow and learn, the easier it is to expect much more than they are developmentally ready to handle. There is so much in this big world that they have to understand, learn and re-learn. That takes time and patience. Rules need to be repetitiously repeated, and they will still be forgotten, misunderstood or ignored. When they are, remember to demonstrate loving respect as you correct. Toddlers take time. Remember they are little, and this is the time they have to be little. It is common, yet unfortunate, when the world tries to rush children to grow up.