Toddlers can be hard work, they are emotional, and they do not always listen to us. They get called “the terrible twos”. They start to walk, they start to explore, they’re only just learning to communicate with words, and they don’t have a whole lot of impulse control. They can’t sit still easily in cafes and restaurants, they see an open space and start running, they have tantrums (often at the most inconvenient times and in the most inconvenient places), and they touch anything that looks interesting.
Toddlers are misunderstood humans. People see toddlers as difficult. There are not many good examples of how to be with toddlers in a loving, patient, supportive way.
We want to paint a new picture of the toddler.
Toddlers live in the present moment.
Walking down the street with a toddler can be a delight. While we make lists in our heads of the errands we need to run and what we need to cook for dinner, they remain present and spot the weeds growing up from a crack in the pavement.
When we spend time with a toddler, they show us how to be present. They are focused on the here and now.
Toddlers pick things up effortlessly.
Dr. Montessori observed that children under 6 years old take in everything without effort, just as a sponge soaks up water. She referred to this as the absorbent mind.
We don’t have to sit down with a 1-year-old and teach them grammar or sentence structure. By the age of 3 they already have an amazing vocabulary and are learning how to construct simple sentences (and, for some, complicated paragraphs). Compare this with learning a language as an adult it takes a lot of effort and work.
Toddlers are enormously capable.
Often it is not until we have our own child that we realize how enormously capable they are from such a young age. As they approach 18 months old, they might start to notice that we are heading to Grandma’s house well before we are there, by recognizing things along the route. When they see a cow on the road, they’ll run over to find a toy cow in their basket.
When we set up our homes to make them more accessible to our young children, they take on tasks with eagerness, capability, and delight. They wipe up spills, fetch a diaper for the baby, put their trash in the wastebasket, help us make food, and like to dress themselves.
Toddlers are innocent.
I don’t think any toddler has a mean bone in their body. If they see someone playing with a toy, they may simply think, I’d like to play with that toy, right now and take it from the other child. They may do something to get a reaction (Let me drop this cup and see my parent’s reaction) as a way to understand that they make an impact on their parents or environment.
But they are not mean-spirited, spiteful, or vengeful. They are simply impulsive, following their every urge.
Toddlers do not hold grudges.
Picture a toddler who wants to stay at the park when it’s time to leave. They melt down. The tantrum may even last half an hour. But once they calm down (sometimes with help), they go back to being their cheerful, curious selves-unlike adults, who can wake up on the wrong side of the bed and be cranky all day.
Toddlers are also amazingly forgiving.
Sometimes we do the wrong thing -we lose our temper, we forget a promise we made, or we just feel a bit out of sorts. When we apologize to our toddler, we are modeling how to make amends with someone, and they are quite likely to give us a big hug or surprise us with an especially kind word. When we have that solid base with our children, they look after us, just as we look after them.
Toddlers are authentic.
I love spending time with toddlers because they are direct and honest. Their authenticity is infectious. They say what they mean. They wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Everyone who has spent time with a toddler knows they will point to someone on the bus and say loudly, “That person has no hair.” We may sink down in our seat while our child shows no signs of embarrassment.
That same directness makes them very easy to be around. There are no mind games being played, no underlying motives, no politics at play.
They know how to be themselves. They don’t doubt themselves. They do not judge others.
We would do well to learn from them.