You may feel your toddler is designed to test you. Your loving, gentle baby has, almost overnight, become this whining, fractious being whose sole vocabulary seems to consist of the word “No”, usually loudly and vehemently said with her finger lodged firmly up her nose. This is one of those good news/bad news scenarios, as most of these annoying toddler habits and tendencies are her way of learning about her world and herself – they’re actually important milestone moments.
Playing with food
You spent ages preparing a home-cooked, nutritious meal for your toddler only for her mush most of it into her hair and clothes while feeding it to the dog and smeared on her high chair. Don’t lose patience with this annoying habit too quickly.
Research published in the journal Developmental Science found that messy eaters are better and faster learners than their cleaner counterparts. The study, which looked at a group of 72 toddlers, found that those who played, smooshed and even threw their food, learned word associations quicker than those who didn’t, and were able to either correctly name or identify them. The best place for this is a high chair, with further research finding that those who sit in high chairs learn faster than those who sat at a table. And, said associate professor (and study leader) Larissa Sameulson, this early learning is linked to improved cognitive development later in life.
Attention of a goldfish
Toddlers have a very limited attention span. One minute you could be walking in the garden and the next, you almost trip over your child, who has stopped to investigate a blade of grass. And while this is fine when you have time on your hands, it can be extremely frustrating if this is happening when you are on a time limit. The experts share that some activities can take much longer than expected due to your toddler’s distracted nature. This is not because she wants to drive you completely dilly, it’s her way of taking in the world around her, learning and storing information.
Making a mess
Children, and toddlers in particular, generally love making a mess, be it with building blocks, finger painting, drawing on the walls, or making mud pies on your nicely cleaned tiled floor. This sensory and creative play is good for your toddler’s development in a number of ways. Research reveals that embracing this play (within reason), builds your toddler’s neural connections that help develop thought, learning and creativity. Plus, this benefits language development, cognitive growth, fine- and gross-motor skills development, problem-solving and social interaction. Of course, certain behaviour is completely unacceptable (like drawing on the walls). However, areas of creative play in your home will help create boundaries and safe zones for this creativity to occur.
As quick as you set a rule, your toddler is bound to push against this and you seem to spend all your time trying to reason with her. You seem to spend your time trying to reason. Unfortunately, pushing boundaries is a vital part of her development. Boundaries are important as they help set limits, which in turn makes her feel safe and secure.
No means no
You excitedly wanted her to talk, showing her picture books and allowing her to explore her world as you point out names and words – and it seems that has all gone out the window with her favourite word of the day: “No”. This blatant defiance is her way of finding her independence. For the first year or so of her life, your baby doesn’t see herself as a separate entity to you (which is why she cries so broken-heartedly when you walk away from her, as she thinks you have left her forever). This changes during her second year, as she slowly starts to realise that she is her own person. With this independence not allowed. However, by encouraging her to do certain things on her own, like choosing and putting on her own shoes it may ease other battles like not being allowed to wear her swimming costume in the middle of winter. Give her some chores that are hers alone, like holding the dustpan or helping to feed the cats. Most of all, try to be as patient as possible. It’s not that easy putting both legs into pants or navigating a fork to her mouth, but allowing her this independence will also help her gain confidence, learn her boundaries, and improve her motor skills.
Throwing the mother of all tantrums
One minute she’s a smiling, happy baby and the next, she’s writhing on the floor screaming, howling and completely out of control, as you stand by completely perplexed at what has just happened. This is, unfortunately, a fact of toddler life. This behavior can begin as early as 12 months and continue to the age of four. Put yourself in her size four sneakers for a moment – she is learning about her world at a rapid rate, but can’t fully verbalise her intentions (or for that matter, fully control her limbs and appendages). Her tantrum is her way of trying to make sense of her world and her surrounds. Understanding and identifying the root of her tantrum can help both of you deal with it. The most common causes are: frustration, asserting independence, feeling overwhelmed, feeling a lack of control, too few or too many limits, hunger, tiredness, overstimulation or boredom.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.