It feels like only yesterday when you came home from the hospital with your precious baby. You were tired and a bit overwhelmed, yet determined to capture and enjoy those fleeting moments of babyhood. Then it happened: sometime in the middle of the night, someone switched out your tiny, compliant infant for a much larger and strongly opinionated toddler! Now you realize that your previous circumstance with sleepless nights and numerous feedings were a walk in the park compared to this. Who is this little person yearning for independence and leaping from dangerously large structures while gulping down fistfuls of Arrowroot cookies? Don't worry — it's not all terrible twos.
Toddlers, aged 18-36 months, are busy people. During this stage they will hit many developmental milestones:
- Walking and running
- Developing writing and coloring skills
- Dressing themselves
- Naming their own body parts
- Eating with little or no assistance
- Potty training
- Riding a tricycle or a bicycle with training wheels
- Playing games like ball or hide-and-seek
- Asking questions and being able to communicate emotions and opinions
- Developing an imagination
For a toddler, each day is an opportunity to learn and grow. As parents we have to opportunity to teach our children and help them reach these milestones. But they aren't the only ones learning. Parents must discover how to foster the delicate balance between encouraging autonomy without succumbing to anarchy.
Dr. Kevin Leman, internationally known psychologist and award winning author, says that children as young as 18 months have determined that their behavior has tremendous impact on the adults in their life. Since children tend to be egocentric (meaning it's all about them) during this stage, parents should guide decision-making opportunities. Leman suggests limiting choices to two or three, but at times explaining that they don't have a choice due to the needs of the family or society. Still, Leman warns against stifling all personal opinions, since these will become important later in life when children need to take a stand against negative peer pressure.
Encourage toddlers to ask their many questions as they attempt to understand their world. In Proverbs 22:6 parents are encouraged to train up their child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Conveniently, children are designed by God to look toward their mothers and fathers for answers. In fact, according to Dr. John Townsend, co-author of Raising Great Kids, God often teaches children about Himself through the love and nurturing of the parents: "The physical act of being around mom (and dad) is teaching the child to relate to God and to see Him as a good source of information, just like mother (and father) are a good source.", Dr. Townsend encourages parents to hang in there on days when they feel more like human encyclopedias than moms and dads: "Remember that those little questions that seem so trivial at the time might be God providing that moment to say to your child, 'I'm going to show you what I'm like through your mom's answer.'"
Finally, don't forget the fun. As the parent of a toddler you have a free pass to slip down a slide, run in the park or snuggle up with your little one and read a picture book. And if anyone rolls their eyes when you tell them your child is two, don't forget to remind them that you hold a very important job. After all, who else gets to mold and encourage a future leader — not to mention potty train them?