Being a toddler is exhilarating. The world to a toddler looks like a huge playground to explore. Their appetite for fun and discovery is almost insatiable.
Alongside the exciting discovery of movement and play, toddlers are starting to develop an understanding of themselves, what they can do and what makes them who they are.
They begin to discover their inner strength and autonomy, and their early rehearsals of self-assertion – often saying “no!” – represent one of the most important developmental milestones of emotional intelligence.
With this in mind, we’ve dedicated this season’s newsletter to toddlers and positively guiding toddler behaviour. I hope you enjoy reading it!
Belinda Ludlow CEO
What characterises the toddler years?
The toddler years often have an unfavourable reputation. It’s been given a name, the ‘terrible twos’. Such a name can provoke feelings and expectations for this life stage.
These negative views of toddlerhood may arise from unrealistic expectations and a difficulty in understanding the complexity and characteristics of the development and learning of toddlers.
It is really helpful to bear in mind the rapid growth and development taking place in toddlers’ bodies, minds and emotions and how they are using these new attributes in their exploration and learning about themselves, other people and their world.
Their fluctuation between enjoying the excitement and achievements of exploration and learning and seeking the security of babyhood should come as no surprise.
Understanding your toddler’s development
Knowing about your toddler’s development and their behaviour can help you to see your toddler for who they are in the here and now and to understand and value them for their communication, behaviour and personality.
Generally, your toddler may:
Show a gradually increasing understanding of who they are,
Become frustrated at times because they are unable to do what they want to do or express what they want to say, which may result in − expressions of overwhelming feelings which they cannot other way,
Be anxious and distressed about separating from parents or a trusted carer.
Have conflicts with other children,
Show an increasing awareness of their separateness and as part of this adopt the word „No” (which they often use even when they mean „Yes”).
Think magically – their reality is about what they wish or feel rather than what is, and they may believe that adults are all powerful and can do anything they want to,
Want to touch and explore everything and do it now, with much repetition, experimentation, mastery and little focus on the end result.
These situations aren’t toddlers being naughty (although it may feel like that at times!) They’re actually opportunities to try to understand what a toddler is saying or feeling, keep them safe and stay with them to work out their difficulty and their emotions.
As adults, when we become frustrated, we have a muscular system that helps us to contain a strong emotional charge so we can measure our outbursts. We also have a neural system that helps us regulate strong emotional charges so we can feel frustrated or angry, yet choose not to strike out and instead channel our angry energies constructively.
What can you do to support your toddler?
Having realistic expectations can help you be comfortable with your toddler’s behaviour, rather than being anxious or frustated by them. Circle of Security, an intervention program for children and their parents, suggests that toddlers need their parents to be a secure base and safe haven by:
It’s during tough emotional outburst that your toddler will need your compassion the most. You might give your toddler a hug, sit beside them on a sofa, hold their hand or sit nearby while they cry. While doing this, you could say, „I understand that you’re upset/sad/angry. I’ll be here for you until you feel better. I’m sorry that you’re feeling so awful. I’m here for you.”
Being responsive and using face-to-face, eye-to-eye communication helps to show your toddler that you are concentrating on them and are engaged with them − listening, watching for and naming non-verbal signs, sharing words and thoughts.
During meltdowns, your toddler can become frightened by their own feelings. As toddlers are not yet able to separate their own feelings from yours, when they are angry, they may be fearful that you are angry too, and this may be frightening for them. By showing your toddler that their anger won’t overwhelm you, and that anger can be managed, they are encouraged to feel safe.
Keeping them safe and staying with them to help work out the difficulty and their emotions. You could say, „Take your time. I’m here, no matter what.”
Being responsive to toddlers
At Explore & Develop, we are guided by how toddlers think, play and learn. Respect for toddlers as individual people with rights underpins our daily programs, with teaching and learning opportunities working on their natural drive for exploration and mastery. This philosophy impacts directly on activities and play, two-way conversations with toddlers, parents, carers and educators.
Explore & Develop has created purposeful environments that maximise toddlers’ opportunities to explore. Our environments have been purpose built for them, with spaces designed and furnished with equipment and materials chosen to allow toddlers to be comfortable being themselves and where toddler-led interests and activity choice can flourish.
Tuning in to Toddlers’, by Margaret Young, an Early Childhood Australia publication.
‘Heart to Heart Parenting’ by Robin Grille, Psychologist and Parenting Educator.
‘Children’s Behaviour: A guiding approach’ by Louise Porter, an Early Childhood Australia publication.
‘Self Regulation of Emotions’ by Leonie Arthur, an Early Childhood Australia publication.
‘Circle of Security – Parent Attending To The Child’s Needs’ graphic