Understanding Your Toddler


Life with a toddler can be the most rewarding time in your life, while being the most tiresome and frustrating.  Toddlers are busy people, they love to explore the world around them, they have very little fear.  Toddlers have so much energy, they discover something new continually, leaving many parents tired and praying for naptime or bedtime.  Also, toddlers are very inquisitive, they have not developed reasoning skills, but are well-equipped with determination, many times having a difficult time with the word “no”.  I cannot end this description without expressing, toddlers are trusting, loving, caring, compassionate people. I have a hard time finding anything that feels as good as the hug from a toddler.  In their eyes, their parents are superheroes.  They have all the power of the universe, and they are the most intelligent people to ever walk.  

Toddlers are the blank canvas for parents.  This is the time to mold them, to shape them, and to influence them for the future and the life God has in store for them.  Often, we forget our children belong to God, they are ours for only a short time.  We are training them up in the way of the Lord.

When toddlers seem to be difficult, they usually are just trying to practice being separate from their parents.  They are trying to be their own individual.  In the book, Your Child’s Self-Esteem: The Key to Life by Dorothy Corkille Briggs she states, “Only by practicing separateness can the child capture the feeling of autonomy. It is as if the two says, ‘To find me, I must defy you. I have to prove my realness.’” She goes on to state, “A child’s capacity to respect others later on is measured by his capacity to respect himself now. During the second year of life the child’s primary psychological assignment is to forge a sense of self.”

Children need to be able to assert their separateness without feeling guilty. Try to avoid confrontations when it appears, they are being defiant, but to find ways to accept their independence.  If children are made to feel guilty, they will learn being separate does not make you happy, they will give up and become what you want. Keep in mind, this does not mean to give in to breaking rules. Try to find ways for children to assert their independence and still follow the rules.  Give them choices if possible, like which shirt do they want to wear, or do they want mom or dad to read a bedtime story. 

In his book, Mister Rogers Talks With Parents, Fred Rogers states, “If you think about a time like that, you’re likely to remember feelings of frustration and itchiness at best, and, at worst, a good deal of anger and rebelliousness or despair and depression.  We all need to feel that we are, to some degree, in charge of our lives. We need structure and limits and purposes, too; but, like everything, we need a healthy balance. It’s that balance that we need to try to provide for our two-year-olds.”

This is not to say toddlers should be allowed to run the house, and not follow the rules.  This is a great time for toddlers to start learning responsibility and consequences.  When they make a mistake, children should be required to take responsibility for their mistake.  Several years ago, there was a toddler visiting our home, she was playing and broke a lamp. This was a perfect time for her parents to teach the child to apologize for her actions and for the parents to take responsibility for the broken object. Children must learn there are consequences to their actions, and by teaching children to take responsibility, parents are teaching them how to make good decisions as they grow up.

However, this article is focusing on the times when it is acceptable for children to make decisions, and to live with their choices.  For example, a toddler may love a special pair of shoes and want to wear them every day or want to wear oddly matched clothing. This is a perfect opportunity to allow him to be independent of you.  The clothing is probably not what you would have chosen, but if it does not pose a health risk, such as being inappropriate for the weather, this is a chance for him to assert that separateness.

In the end, it is parents who must decide if their child is breaking a rule, or if it is just a case of trying to be separate.  When we think about the future, we want our children to feel confident in themselves, in making decisions, while living by the rules or laws surrounding them.  Even more, we should desire that they will decide to take a stand for Christ, because they know it is right for them, not because they are afraid of disappointing parents. 


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