We have made it through the sleepless nights of infancy, the milestones of crawling and first steps, and now, just as we have a nap schedule in place and a plan of attack for errands, the toddler stage begins! I know I needed a crash course in child development toddlers edition during the years of parenting toddlers.
This was my least favorite age when I was taking care of other people’s children, but surprisingly it has become a really fun stage with my own children.
I promise that no matter the struggle you are facing with your toddler, this crash course in child development toddlers will help clarify WHY toddlers seem so tricky and the suggestions will at least help you adjust to life with a toddler in this developmental stage.
Remember, this too shall pass…
This crash course in child development toddlers edition will help you navigate the ages from 14 months to 3 years old.
Crash Course in Child Development: Toddlers
Toddlers are egocentric (p. 40). In their minds, (based on their psychological abilities), the world revolves around them. They think if they see it and they want it, they can have it and it belongs to them. This is a product of their developing a sense of self and self esteem. This is the meltdown and tantrum stage.
Toddlers feel small when they look at how big the world is around them (p. 32). This sense of size and scale breeds their feelings of separation anxiety. Children from 1-to-2, or 3 years old can have difficulty separating from you. This is normal for many toddlers. It is also essential that we make sure they know that we are available for them when they feel this emotional reaction to our leaving.
Toddlers are well within the sensorimotor stage of child development (using their senses to explore their world) explored by psychologist, Jean Piaget (p. 33). This is why their favorite word is ‘no’! (They have learned that they can act and speak, and they are willing to assert some independence!) They are asserting their sense of self based on their explorations and your boundaries.
Toddlers act as explorers “grappling with growing up” (p. 33) and developing a sense of independence as they move into the next stage of development called the preoperational stage. They are moving to the first levels of symbolic thought (using words and mental images to remember and think about their world), but it is a work in progress.
Through their explorations, toddlers observe others as well. Bad habits can form when toddlers begin learning from other children. (This is why the idea that toddlers need to “socialize” away from you in order to develop friendships is misguided.)
I had to actually stop attending a playgroup when my son was about 18 months old because he kept copying undesirable behaviors of the older children and I wanted to pull him back and allow him to develop his sense of right and wrong a bit more before exposing him to large groups of children again. One of the perks of staying home is that you can be with your child as they begin to socialize with other children and nip bad behaviors in the bud. You also have immediate ability to identify which children are beneficial ‘friends’ and which are just showing a poor example.
Your reinforcement or correction of behaviors is forming their understanding now of what behavior is acceptable and what is not. Don’t underestimate these little munchkins: they are soaking up everything!
A couple of these ‘bad behaviors’ that toddlers commonly exert are biting and hitting. Children in this age group need a lot of supervision. The ratio in day care centers is 8:1 (in the centers where I worked). Could you imagine supervising 8 toddlers by yourself in your home all day? I am the mom of twins, so I have had 2 toddlers at once-and that is crazy at time!
Toddlers are so fast, so curious, and NEED limits, thus they need constant supervision.
Biting and hitting are a means of communication that a toddler may use when they do not fully grasp how to say what they feel. They do not generally have the language abilities required to talk their way out of a problem. They resort to defending themselves and what they perceive to be their stuff. Whatever they can see and touch they think belongs to them.
Positive emotional development of a toddler requires immediate intervention by an adult. They are still concrete thinkers (they can only think it or know it if they can see it), so talking about what happened NOW is necessary. They will not be able to recall an issue from an hour ago, because they are not fully using memory to process their experiences yet.
Because toddlers feel emotions, but do not use a wide range of language to express their thoughts, we have to repeatedly teach them what to say. Do you feel like a broken record at times? Have you said these things 100 times today?
“Use your words,”
“Say, ‘please may I have the toy’,”
“Let’s share it. Take a turn and then we’ll switch.”
By age 2, a toddler’s vocabulary contains 50-60 words (p.36). Between 2-3 years old, the vocabulary expands to 200-1,000 words.
There is variation from child-to-child and this range can mean ‘understood words’ and not necessarily ‘spoken words’ if your child is not talking yet. No child is the same, so be patient as your toddler develops the use of language: model, model, model! They learn what they see and hear.
“[…] Toddlers learn about how to relate to other people through daily interactions with their families […],” (p.35) and “they learn how to treat others by experiencing how they are treated,” (p. 35).
By controlling the exposures and the people in their daily interactions, you will best guide the development of your toddler. VERY do-able for us Stay-at-Home Moms since we can make our schedule and interactions flexible.
I did not find the toddler stage to be a good time for a lot of separation for extended periods of time. Toddlers need immediate guidance, a bunch of communication, and loads of consistency!
The key tips for toddlers are: 1) impose limits, 2) present guidance (of behavior, language use, emotions) and, 3) instigate their curiosity.
1) Limits-Watch how they play and tell them when they need to stop, share, give back, etc. when an issue occurs. Don’t wait until later to save your child from embarrassment. They will have forgotten about the issue.
2) Guidance-Use language to teach your toddler how to navigate through communication whether telling another child to give back the toy that was taken, expressing that they are mad with words rather than biting, or asking for their cup.
3) Instigate-Present them with activities and opportunities to explore like those on the Toddler Activities page on this blog. Plenty of gross motor movement is essential as well. These developing walkers and runners need to burn off that extra energy.
This ‘tricky,’ misunderstood age group does not have to require complicated interventions. They need consistency, active adult presence, guidance, and interesting, developmentally appropriate activities to explore. I also use a developmental checklist found here.
Cherish this time because you are influencing and teaching your tricky toddler!
How have the toddler years been in your home?
Reference: The Creative Curriculum for Infants and Toddlers
This post was featured in A Complete Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms: Parenting Tips. View all of the parenting resources and tips HERE.
Hi there! Welcome to my little corner of the internet. My name is Jaimi, and I am a mom who loves to encourage other mothers in the season of raising children, making a home, and staying focused on the end goals of motherhood.