Understanding the needs of toddlers takes up much of the parent’s mind space in the early years. In all of this, sometimes our focus shifts to minor worries, for eg. When will my child sit through one entire book reading? or when will he stop making messes when he eats? when will he like vegetables? when will he be potty trained? etc. etc.
In time I have realized that there is no quote that holds truer about a parent’s life than this one;
Raise Yourself, before you Raise Your Children.
How the parents conduct life at home is ultimately how children will grow up to be. It is rarely the child’s “problem”. But mostly just a response, by a highly intelligent being to his surroundings.
So you ask,
WHAT DOES MY TODDLER (OR YOUNG CHILD) NEED FROM ME?
These provide structure and a sense of safety to the child. A way for him to make sense of the world he lives in. All of life is about rhythms and children are already attuned to these. I did not set our routine (tweaked it here and there, yes) I just followed our son’s needs and body rhythms from the very beginning. This helped us create a beautiful family routine. When you accept and respect your child’s needs and open your life to these changes a lot can be created from this. Mostly for the good of everyone in the family.
Children need guidance too and this guidance comes through consistent efforts on the parent’s part. Not punishments, rewards, or manipulation. Yes, these give you results in the short term. But these parenting strategies cannot internally motivate your child to be independent, responsible, and driven to work for himself. Find out here how you can raise internally motivated children.
Love & Empathy
Of course, we all love our children, but many times in moments of bad behavior or during busy routines our children are seeking our love and attention. It is hard to give this kind of focused attention at all times. Even so, it does the toddler a great deal of good if the parent is one who understands his child’s needs and tantrums are all a part of toddler development.
Your child’s actions do not make you a good or bad parent. Your child is his own being and sometimes he needs your help in understanding himself and the world a little better. These corrections don’t require punishments.
Having dealt with our own fair share of aggressive toddler behavior I can tell you that a gentle discipline method works. It takes the child’s needs into consideration and sets age-appropriate limits and behaviors in place.
Lots of conversation
Young children need adults and caretakers who are interested in them and want to teach them about the world they live in. Language development, for example, can only happen when you talk, talk, talk with your child.
One of my favorite quotes by John Holt is “Any child who can spend an hour or two a day, or more if he wants, with adults that he likes, who are interested in the world and like to talk about it, will on most days learn far more from their talk than he would learn in a week of school.”
And how true this is. Some of my favorite subjects in school were Geography and History and this was because I had grandfathers who took the time to sit with me and tell me stories from their childhood and the history of our ancestors. Both of them were nature lovers and all of their stories were about nature, forests, and explorers of the World.
Our children need to hear stories from people who are passionate about how they live and what they do. These living stories have a far better impact on learning than learning apps and books.
Also, give your child a chance to express and narrate stories. Use conversation cards or ask him to tell you about his day. Such practices encourage children to speak and not only improve their language, and imagination but help in moments of distress so they can communicate their needs better.
Age appropriate expectations
All the frustrations parents feel mostly stem from incorrect expectations from young children. Get reading about what to expect at each stage of development and parent considering the child’s point of view and stage of development.
Help understanding feelings
Toddlers are beginning to experience a variety of emotions and these years can be overwhelming for them. Start with labeling emotions for the child during a tantrum, for example, “I see you are feeling bad your sister took away your blocks”. Include books on emotions and feelings in your daily reading time. These stories around emotions help the child relate and understand his own emotions better.
Instead of shutting down the child and saying. “Stop crying”, try and help the child find ways in which he can help himself.
Let’s take the example of the toddler crying because he wants a toy that another child is playing with. You can say, “ I see you feel bad that you have to wait to get your turn”. Then offer him a solution” Let us play with this yellow truck until we wait our turn.”
Here is a great post on phrases you can use to get your toddler to listen.
Books & Stories
Read a variety of books to your child. One mom tip I can give you here, that has helped a lot as I parent our child is that I try and find books that match our son’s current interests and books on topics around issues and challenges we face at the time.
Using books as a way to start a conversation around the topic I feel we need to discuss helps a lot. They provide my son a view of the world and give me an effective way to communicate my expectations from him without being preachy.
Want to discuss empathy, sharing or kindness with your young child. Find good books that can pass on the message effectively.
Here is a post I wrote recently about books on kindness for kids. Through stories, we can bring the world to our children. Use stories in your parenting. It makes parenting more playful and enjoyable.
Open ended toys and time for free play
Young children need a lot of time to explore. Give them this opportunity to engage with their environments and watch how their creativity comes through. Design safe indoor play spaces and buy toys that are open-ended in nature so the child can use these in different pretend play games.
Some of our favorite open-ended toys are magnetic tiles, wooden rainbow stackers, and blocks.
Division of Responsibility at the table
The first rule you need at mealtimes to avoid any picky eating patterns is Division of responsibility. DOR simply means the parent is in control of what is on the plate and the child in control of how much and what he eats from the plate.
Which brings me to the most important point on what a toddler needs from you, trust. Trust in the process. Parent the child that’s in front of you. Stop comparing and labeling young children.
My hope with these posts are to create gentle reminders to show up for our kids and stop expecting our children to be perfect all the time.
What are some of the challenges you face with raising toddlers? Let me know in the comments below, I am happy to help any way I can.