Not so long ago you had a helpless baby, who relied on you to take care of her every need. Now you have a can-do kid who wants to try everything for herself: from mimicking you using the phone to colouring her face in lipstick. In reality, your toddler cant really do much for herself successfully but her eagerness to try makes this a great time to introduce some big concepts like responsibility, independence and decision making. By offering little lessons that emphasise positive behaviour now, you can help your toddler develop habits that will guide her through childhood and beyond.
“The toddler stage marks a quite dramatic change from babyhood to childhood, and from the age of 18 months onwards you’ll really notice this transformation, especially in manipulative skills”, says Dr Miriam Stoppard, author of You and Your Toddler (DK). “Your toddler will get more independent as she learns to dress herself and to manage increasingly difficult fine movements. Her creative skills will also come to the fore at this stage as her building-block houses get more complicated and her drawing skills more recognizable”.
You have probably noticed that your 1 year old thinks that she is the centre of the universe. It will be a couple of years before she fully grasps the fact that she is part of a family unit that works together, and is not in fact a little dictator that everyone waits on hand and foot. It will be easier to help her feel responsible for herself and others when she is older, if you involve her in small ways now. This is not as difficult as you may think; just allow her to follow your lead. Toddlers are fantastic mimics, so if she sees Mummy and Daddy putting toys in to the toy box, they will eventually want to try this out to, particularly if you make it look fun.
Try finding age-appropriate tasks, like helping you sort clothes from the laundry. She can help you sort and pair all the socks, much like she would sort different coloured toy bricks into different piles. If you make a game out of a task and then lavish praise on her when she gets it right, she will soon feel good about doing things for herself.
While you should give your 1 year old a small job every day as part of her routine, such as putting her bath toys on the side of the bath or putting her toys back in the toy box, don’t expect her to be consistent about doing it at first. “Often a previously learned skill may appear to be forgotten while your toddler is concentrating on learning a new one, but it will reappear when the new one is successfully learnt”, says Dr Stoppard. The point is not for your tot to do the task perfectly, but for her to learn the process. All young children learn through repetition so doing something over and over again will give her skills and boost her confidence.
Now that your toddler is having fun mimicking your every move, she would enjoy herself spending every minute of the day with you. But now that she is beginning to understand that she can do things for herself, it’s a good time to show her that can entertain and make herself happy. Encourage her to explore her environment and to use her imagination. If she has become particularly engrossed in a drawing for example, back of and let her play independently. Don’t go too far, it’s important to keep an eye on her and to comment every now and again on what a great job she is doing. Be sure to let her run the show though. Toddlers have notoriously short attention spans though, so don’t try and force it. If she is beginning to get bored or restless, time to move on to something else.
At some point, your toddler will begin to express opinions: She prefers this toy over that, wants to wear this skirt and not that one. “The gradual insight you gain in to your baby’s personality is like watching a thrilling film in slow motion.”, says Dr Stoppard, “All her preferences, the things that make her laugh and cry, the foods she likes, her favourite toys, come together to create her unique personality”.
Of course, this can also be a very frustrating time for you, as your child gets more forceful in asserting these opinions. Whilst a little freedom is a good thing, too much can be overwhelming and it is up to you to set the parameters. Instead of asking her what she would like to wear, give her the choice of two different dresses. Instead of asking her what she would like to eat, offer her the banana slices or carrot sticks. When she makes a decision, respond with a similar phrase each time: “Oh, that’s your choice? Banana? That’s a great choice”. She will soon understand that choice is something positive.
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