Why We Love Our Toddlers
Getting down to the H-E-A-R-T of the matter
Most parents would agree that the comedy stylings of a toddler are difficult to top. Whether giggling as they run away on uncertain steps or acting as your sous chef and inadvertently spilling half the ingredients, there’s no shortage of ways 1- and 2-year-olds crack us up.
“Where do I even start?” says Canadian mom Jennifer Zelovitsky. “My 2-year-old daughter, Madeline, does a hundred funny things, but my favorite is when she ‘tricks’ me into giving her something—like when she says, ‘Mommy, I want a cookie,’ to which I reply, ‘You want a cookie?’ and she immediately says, ‘Oh … OK!’ It’s so sweet and funny how clever she finds herself.”
One has to be careful, of course, with a toddler’s emerging linguistic experiments, which often produce unusually creative results. “When he was just getting his words, my son, Marcus, used to call his work bench a … well, the technical name for a female dog,” says Toronto mom Francine Gerstein. “He would hammer away on it and say, ‘Mommy and Daddy, I’m banging on my [blank] and he’d say that word, with great emphasis. I’m just glad we were the only ones who heard it.”
The energy of a toddler is both amazing, even with the built-in challenge of having to time naps properly to avoid fatigue-induced meltdowns. Though toddlers always seem to have gas in their tanks, it’s still up to you to help direct that energy into secure activities.
“Try to provide your toddler with contained environments in which they can exert their energy and explore activities appropriate to their developmental range,” says Stephanie Gerstein, a child psychologist from Toronto, Canada. “It’s even OK to encourage them to push their limits a bit, to try to go one step beyond what they think they can do, but not to the point where their safety is compromised. Creating those possibilities lets your toddler have plenty of fun, use his imagination, and gain a sense of confidence and purpose, but still saves you from worrying about him wreaking havoc.”
As adults, we’re spoiled by how much we know and how much we’ve experienced. To be in a toddler’s shoes is to experience an astonishing universe of endless curiosity and constant discovery, whether it’s learning how a flashlight works, or seeing how many cookies can be stuffed into the VCR. And, of course, when your toddler makes one of his incredible discoveries, the first thing she wants to do is show it off to you. If she can’t get your attention one way, she’ll try it another.
“Toddlers are divas,” says Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Toddler Books. “Give them an audience and they’re almost guaranteed to become the center of attention in 15 seconds flat. After all, there’s nothing worse to a toddler than becoming invisible in a room full of people—talk about an opportunity lost. If you want to preempt whining, crying, or tantrums thrown for the purpose of getting everyone in the room to pay attention, give your toddler some dedicated one-on-one time before everyone else arrives. You may find she’ll be less inclined to pull out the diva moves.”
“Among the most effective steps you can take as a parent is something quite simple,” Gerstein says. “Give attention—lots of attention—for desirable behaviors, and don’t give attention to undesirable ones. Your toddler will learn fast that the effort required for a tantrum just isn’t worth it.”
And jumping. And tumbling. And endless games of chasing around the house. Few things are more heartwarming than observing a toddler’s discovery of his own physical abilities, from those first tentative steps to the humor of her sprinting around the house like a drunk who can barely stay upright.
Should you let your toddler run wild, or is it more appropriate to institute a no-running-in-the-house-at-any-time rule? “Somewhere in between,” Gerstein says. “On those days where it’s hard to be outdoors, it’s always nice to give your child opportunities to let off some steam, but doing major gross motor activities—big, broad movements—in the house isn’t necessarily advisable, given natural obstacles like table corners and slippery floors. Help him release some energy with creative games or pretend-play activities, allowing him to explore his physical world while keeping him protected.”
Nothing toddlers do brings home the essence of parenting more than their constant demonstrations of how much they depend on you for safety, comfort, guidance, and love. To your toddler, you know how everything works, what everything means, and why everything happens—an absolute, unconditional type of trust that makes you feel 10 feet tall and reminds you of the completeness of your responsibility.
Remember that the trust your toddler places in you includes a need to know the rules of the big, complicated world around her, even if it does often seem she’d rather resist those rules with every iota of her being.
“Your toddler may protest at top volume when you attempt to channel her passion for life in safer or more appropriate ways,” Douglas says. “Don’t let that protest cry deter you. She’s secretly counting on you to teach her what she needs to know in order to stay safe and thrive in the world. Unless you fill her in on the rules, she’ll have no way of knowing that strangers in restaurants don’t want to share their meals—or their laps.”
In the end, you’ll be rewarded for keeping those boundaries firm and making your little one feel he’s in good hands no matter what. Heather Janes from Toronto, Canada, and mom to 2-year-old Tyler, sums it up best: “Sometimes, Ty will just shuffle toward me, get right up close to my face and say, ‘I wuv you, Mom.’ What an indescribable feeling.”
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