A toddler’s life is full of wonder and awe. Many toddlers are fearless explorers and just want freedom to do things for themselves. For someone so young they can be very sure of what they want and making plans on how to get it. For parents the wonder is usually how they are still alive at the end of everyday with the things you catch them doing or trying to do – Jumping off steps and window ledges, climbing trees, eating dirt, scaling shelves, dancing on the kitchen table and drinking from the toilet are just some of the many daily behaviours of a toddler.
How can we avoid the battle of wills and allow our toddlers some freedom and still kiss them goodnight safely tucked up in bed? It is hard, but not impossible. Allowing children of this age freedom to explore is very challenging for parents. Our job is to keep them safe, but preventing them from doing things can cause even greater challenges in the form of tantrums – a fight for independence!
- The first step is to know that your child is keen to explore, they want to try things for themselves. We won’t know what they are capable of unless we let them try. They won’t know what they are capable of unless you allow them to try. Confident children are those who have been allowed to try, try and try again.
- Stay calm when you see your toddler climbing a tree in the back garden. Admire their ability and determination to succeed. Try coming close, saying nothing and watching them. Know that you are ready to catch them if they fall or to offer admiration when they succeed. Shouting in their direction may scare them and cause a fall. Supporting them to explore helps to develop their confidence and competency.
- The question is how you can allow them climb safely. What can you construct in your garden to keep them safe and allow them climb. Our fear comes out of safety for the child. So if you can create safety then you don’t have to be so fearful.
- Watch them grow. At times we forget we are parenting a child – someone who is growing stronger everyday and more capable every day. We forget to grow with them. Reflect on how much you do for your child that really they are capable of doing for themselves. How many parents are still spoon feeding a 2 year old, how many have 2 year olds in cots? What are you really doing for your child in this case?
- For toddlers you have to be able to allow them grow. Give them opportunities to do things for themselves – give them the spoon, it will be a longer and messier process, but it will pay off in the end. Responsibilities enable children to become more capable and most importantly develop their self esteem.
- Allow your toddler to make choices. You may think that asking a 2 year old what they want to wear or eat is looking for trouble or plain silly. However, when you offer a choice you will learn very quickly that they know exactly what they want. Offer small choices, such as this tracksuit or these jeans, not the whole wardrobe. Ask them would they like yogurt or fruit, milk or water. By starting at an early age you are telling your child that you know they are they have power within the family and that their voice is valued in this home. If you wait until they are older you may have many challenges along the way and it can be very difficult to change long learned behaviours.
- Manage your stress. Often when parents are feeling very stressed about work, life, relationships and the responsibility of parenting it can cause us to parent in ways we had hoped not to. Become aware of the triggers and try not to let it influence your parenting. We usually parent in a less democratic way when you are stressed. Identifying stressors and putting measures in place to deal with them helps to notice that you don’t get as flustered or overwhelmed.
- Try to say ‘yes’ to toddlers instead of a stream of ‘no’. Think about how often you say No to your toddler and then explore ways in which you can give more Yes answers to them. This is not about toddlers getting their own way, but there is only so much they can understand, so allowing them to do more things can be the best way for them to learn about the world.
- Have some fun. When you have a toddler you will most likely have survived at least two years of parenting. You had wished for the day they could walk and talk. Your child will not be a toddler for long, so treasure this time. If you can put yourself in their shoes it will help you see that they just want to explore the world.
- Remember. Toddlers are not aiming to drive parents wild; we do that to ourselves. If we allow them the space they need to grow soon they will have passed another stage with great success and you will start to see the real character of your child. This character is formed at toddler stage, so trying to stop areas developing usually will not work; it is more about sanding off the rough edges and giving them guidance.
Next you might like to read: 10 Ways to Parent Through Stressful Times
LIVE Facebook Q&A with Geraldine on this topic Tuesday 18 August from 11am-12pm in our NEW One Family Parenting Group which is a closed Facebook group (meaning that only members can read posts) that anyone can join. Post your questions and share your experiences.
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This ’10 Ways to’ article is by One Family’s Director of Children & Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly, as part of our weekly ’10 Ways to’ series of parenting tips. You can read the full series here.