Everywhere you look, the message about toddlers is that they are “terrible,” that their favorite word is NO, and that they’re using all of their energy to become independence from us. However, this cultural paradigm has gotten it all wrong! Toddlers and parents are not going from connection to independence. Rather, they are transitioning from one-sided relationships (where children make demands and parents respond) to mutually responsive relationships. Making this paradigm shift smoothly can affect both our everyday lives and our children’s futures.
Being responsive is different from being permissive. Being responsive requires only two things: responding quickly and positively. This is important especially when you can’t or won’t do what the other person wants! It is a skill that we can cultivate in ourselves, and we can support our children in learning to respond quickly and positively to us, as well.
When we change our view of toddlerhood from one of striving toward independence to one of learning about what it means to be in relationship with another person, this can result in some really significant changes:
We can see a child’s NO as a request for connection
This is why turning our demands into a game tends to melt little Aiden’s “no” away. Not because we’re tricking him, or making him forget his need for individuality, but because we’re responding to his request for connection. When we’re responsive to children’s needs, they are better able to be responsive to us in return.
We can avoid power struggles where one person wins and the other loses
By helping Ruby do what we ask, we are actually supporting her as she develops that tough skill of being responsive. It also supports her in learning self-regulation, another skill with lifelong benefits. This change in viewpoint allows us to maintain high levels of warmth while enforcing those high expectations, and this is the secret to “authoritative” parenting as described in many academic studies. Authoritative parenting leads to happy, curious, well-adjusted children.
Finally, we can set up ways for even very young children to contribute in meaningful ways
There has been loads of research on the benefits people get when help others, but very young children are rarely given opportunities to help in ways that they can see are making a difference to those they love. Even 18-month-olds can help unload the silverware, or tear lettuce for the salad. Two-year-olds can help set and clear the table, put away clean laundry, or chop vegetables that have been sliced into thin slices. Three-year-olds can help make beds, collect dirty laundry from around the house, rinse dishes at the sink, and much, much more. These are all activities that we should allow them to do WITH us, while we slow down and make it an enjoyable, connecting experience for them. They will know that they are helping with real work, and a few years down the road they will be truly competent in these areas.
When we change our cultural paradigm of what the toddler years are all about, we can strengthen our relationships with the young children in our lives. We increase our day-to-day enjoyment of one another, and we set them up with a strong foundation of what healthy relationships feel like.
Warmly, ~Faith Collins
Want to learn more about HOW to avoid power struggles and set children up for successful helping? Order my book, Joyful Toddlers & Preschoolers: Create A Life that You and Your Child Both Love. (And please leave a review on Amazon once you’ve read it! Please and Thank You)