Saturday, 3 May 2014

Toddlerhood, the misunderstood age

As I observe Isaac, I could really understand why toddlerhood is highly misunderstood. It is called the age of "terrible two", and that's all purely due to the lack of understanding about toddlers!

They are so often deemed as being naughty, manipulative and full of mischiefs. If we take time to observe them and understand their actions or behaviors, we will realize that these behaviors happen for reasons. 

For instance, I saw Isaac throwing out clothes from a box I packed for donation. My first reaction was to stop him. While packing the items back busily, I asked him why he did so. Naturally, he couldn't explain, except "throw and pour". Wouldn't you agree that at this point, we would have thought he was being mischievous or just curious? 

When we were exiting the room, I remembered he was holding a toy spoon when he entered. So I asked him about it. He ran back to the box, peered in and told me "throw and pour". Then I understood what had happened.

He dropped the spoon into the box and he wanted to retrieve it. He thought if he threw or poured out the content, he could get the spoon back. I apologized for misunderstanding him and then taught him how to communicate. I also commended him on his desire to problem solve and explain the box was too big and deep, perhaps help was needed.

That same evening, I put him in the bath so I could do the dishes and watch him. He suddenly stood up when I was just starting, and poured away the water. He said "I don't want already.". So, I went in and asked if he really didn't want to bathe. If so, I'll give him a quick shower. He asked me for a bottle he often plays with. I gave it to him and he told me he wanted to go back to the bath tub.

How confusing huh? I laughed a little and explained that it takes a lot of water to fill a tub. Perhaps, we would do that again the next day. He understood and agreed to shower. At home, we talk about water conservation a lot and we practise turning off the tap while soaping. So, there wasn't a fight to put up with.

Of course, it is not always so easy. Every time I talk to or manage a toddler, I have to prepare myself for a surprise.

Another one often takes place at meal times, to which I regularly observe how care givers react.

Isaac sometimes picks food out from his bowl or pours the content onto the table. Have you wonder why children would do that? How about the fact that they do not want certain ingredients, gravy or that they saw another option and wanted that? Or how about, they just dislike that dish? 

Instead of asking for help, they decide to problem solve by imitating what they see. We spit out unwanted food (but they spit out directly on their clothes - so, wear a bib and tell them to spit out somewhere on the table), pick out food just like we do and pour unwanted contents into the bin (but they understand pouring unwanted contents). It's their food afterall.

I call this problem solving skills with the inability to communicate properly. They are really not that refined yet. 

If adults also have food we pick on, what's more a child with heightened senses. They explore the world with all of their senses anyway. And it's literally so!

How about another example? Bringing a child out and a child gets stuck at one position, refusing to move. So, we do what seems logical. Get down, scoop child and go away with a wailing child. How about, get down to his eye level, see what he sees and then be in the moment with him? You will be amazed at what you will learn about your surroundings and your child's intelligence and the development of his thinking. 

If you are in a rush, talk to the child, agree on a time such as 5 minutes. And even after that, you leave with a wailing child, you can explain and remind him about the agreement. Then, divert his attention. This helps to calm him down faster. 

And, always give ample time when you bring a toddler out. Give yourself more than enough time to discover the surroundings.

Of course, the list goes on. The point of this piece is to tell you, my readers, that toddlerhood is highly misunderstood.

While they learn about the world and learn to speak, they are attracted by many things around them to explore. They are also learning to be more independent and solve problems.

I always tell my friends, we were born very clever. But with too many "nos", "cannots" and conflicting signals, we become less innovative and confident than we should have been. What do I mean by this?

If a child tries to problem solve but ends up in a mess, how would you react? I'll praise him for his desire to solve problems. And I'll show him alternatives.

If a child cannot communicate and ends up in tears due to frustration, how would you react? I'll try to understand his frustrations and teach him to talk - giving him vocabulary to express himself. I'll sing songs with him, read books about feelings so he understood them and learn to tell us. Be mindful it is a long process. Don't expect immediate results.

If a child needs a space to just meltdown and let out his feelings, what would you do? I'll find a place that's safe for him to let out. And I'll tell him that I understand he is feeling upset, I cannot understand what causes it because he hasn't told me and the only way I could help him is to let him vent. This is simply respecting his feelings. Don't we have moments we just want to let out our feelings? 

There are times, I explain he can't have everything he wants. That's the real world. And we will learn to cope with disappointments.

Lastly, don't assume what a toddler wants. It's good to provide options and ask the child. Listen and trust the child's decision. We want to have children who can make decisions, don't we? 

Toddlerhood is perhaps the most intelligent age. This is the age where children are getting connected to the world. We do have the ability to build or crush them. 

Sometimes, all it takes is, step back, observe, ask questions and respond. Truly, parents and teachers are human too. We just have to hold back a little sometimes.

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