NOTHING BEATS A TODDLER. There’s something about their sheer enthusiasm that fills me with utter joy. Even their tantrums can be really rather delightful as they’re so heartfelt.
Toddlers may come across as negative
(“No!” tends to be a favourite word). Despite
this, they’re actually hugely positive little creatures, who are excited about pretty much anything and everything. All will have their own particular loves, but they’ll also share many others. Here, we bring
you the seven things that all toddlers love…
ONE The great explorer
Your toddler is a born explorer and even the most unlikely things become a source of fascination and discovery. You need nothing more to satisfy his curiosity than a dustbin filled with enticing rubbish, drainpipes, burglar alarm boxes and broken paving stones. Each one is a revelation, a whole new world of possibilities. What’s more, says chartered psychologist Nicola Barber, all this exploration is helping your toddler’s cognitive development. And, she adds, the child who confidently explores the world while returning every so often to base (i.e. his carer) also tells us that she has a secure attachment with that carer – she knows from previous experience that they will be there for her if she gets into trouble. “So she’ll be in her element poking her fingers down the drain, knowing that we’ll be there to pick up the pieces if it all goes wrong.”
Of course, exploration doesn’t just mean stopping and staring. It means getting physically stuck in, too, hence the love affair between toddlers and any form of mess. It’s for the same reason as they drop their food from the high chair (what happens if I do that?), bang things together (what sound does that make?), and stop to pick up sticks and stones (what does that feel like?). And when you’re about to tell your toddler not to do it, remember that to her it’s a valuable scientific experiment.
TWO A game of copycat
“Copy, copy, copy me do…” – whether it’s toothbrushing, shaving, hairbrushing, your toddler will do it, too. I remember watching my husband mow the lawn whilst Felix trotted alongside him, also ‘mowing’ with his green plastic wheelbarrow. But why do toddlers so love to copy us? Well, copying teaches toddlers a vast array of skills. “Imitation is vital to the development of abilities ranging from language to social skills,” explains developmental and behavioural paediatrician Dr Lisa Nalven.
In addition, it’s a way of bonding with both parents. Until around three, toddlers are refreshingly indifferent to gender identity, so a girl gets as much fun out of DIY-ing with Daddy as her brother does. And then, paradoxically, imitation also gives toddlers a stepping stone to independence. As they copy adults, toddlers think: “Wow! Look what
I can do. Aren’t I clever?” So it’s up to you to set a good example, as toddler are to young to differentiate what’s desirable ‘copying’ behaviour and what’s not.
THREE Playing let’s pretend
A toddler’s love of exploring the physical world is more than matched by his love of exploring his own inner world. While older toddlers can spend vast amounts of time inventing anything from narratives to friends, even very young toddlers need next to no encouragement to
turn the high chair into a microwave in which they cook their socks sorry, imaginary bagels.
While toddlers on one level just love playing imaginary games for the fun of it, they also serve a useful purpose. “Imaginary games are an important part of social development,” says Barber. “They help children to develop the skills they’ll need when it comes to interacting and playing with their peers.” A child’s ability to suspend their disbelief and ‘become someone else’ also tells us something about his understanding of himself as a separate and different individual to other people. Imaginary games enable your toddler to test out his view of how other people might think, feel or behave – all within the safety of a game.
And, Barber adds, imaginary games also help toddlers to understand the world around them. “Toddlers re-enact whatever they see and hear, and ‘acting out’ imaginary situations helps them to make sense of everything, including the behaviour of adults.”
FOUR Familiarity breeds happiness
However much you think Julia Donaldson deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature, even The Gruffalo might become too much of a good thing when you’ve read it 35 times in a row. But not for your toddler. You could read the book 350 times in a row, and they’d still say “more!”
“Toddlers love repetition because that’s the way they learn best,” says Dr Judith A Hudson, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University and a child development expert. “Hearing something many times helps them remember information for increasing periods of time. Once your child has learned something, she’ll enjoy repetition because she can anticipate what comes next.”
Routines serve the same purpose. Don Bower is an Associate Professor and human development specialist. “Toddlers love routine,” he says. “Their memory is short and they cannot think into the future, so a one-year-old needs routine in order to know what to expect.”
So even if we don’t necessarily share our toddler’s love of repetition, we can certainly use their love of routine. As soon as she’s finished her lunch, my routine-loving daughter joyfully announces: “Bed!”
At the grand old age of 17 months, my toddler is unspeakably delighted with her new skill: jumping. She jumps everywhere. On our bed, on the tiled kitchen floor (eek), on the stairs (double eek), and in the middle of muddy puddles. She is so excited by jumping that she also commands us to do it (she jumps, then points at our feet, saying “jump!”).
Being a very tiny toddler, she can only jump a centimetre or two off the ground – but given that she’s spent a month trying to work out how to get both feet off the ground simultaneously, even one centimetre is a huge achievement. All toddlers are thrilled when they master this skill. And it takes some mastering, says neuroscientist Lise Eliot. “With their short legs, and still-weak muscles, most toddlers do not have the strength to launch their big-headed bodies off the ground.” As we all know, newborn babies’ heads are far bigger, in proportion to the rest of their bodies, than their arms and legs. But they soon work out that they can defeat their proportional problems, so get the crash-mats out.
SIX Discovering words
Smash! Crash! Bang! Whoosh! Say these words to a smallish baby, and you’ll get a chuckle. But say them to a toddler, and they’ll be on the floor with laughter. Why? Well, on the one hand it goes together with the toddler’s own physicality: “crash!” is shorthand for their own love of demolition. But it’s also a way to bond with you and to learn more sophisticated ways of communicating. “Parents over-emphasise words like these and they take on exaggerated facial expressions which toddlers love,” says chartered psychologist, Helen Rodwell. So they’re responding just as much to our attention as they are to the words.
That said, there’s no doubt that toddlerhood is the time when children discover that language is fun. My daughter is currently excited by using the word “pop!” (uttered with great gusto and a good deal of spitting and laughing). Of course, she loves it all the more because of our response (amusement and attention) – but, so we hope, this early form of communication will stand her in good stead later on.
SEVEN Who? What? Why?
Toddlers don’t just love to ask questions. They are compelled to ask questions. To us, they can be anything from breathtakingly wonderful (“Why do we need trees?”) to hilarious (“Who’s the Lord Cheeses?”) to tedious (“Are we there yet?”). But to the toddler, they’re all important and worthy of an answer – even if you’ve answered them five times. However, there is method in their madness. A toddler’s inquisitiveness shows that her mind is expanding quickly, and that she’s curious about the world. She’s starting to understand cause and effect, and is finding out that there’s a reason for almost everything.
And if you don’t know the answer? Then they’ll love it if you find out together. I had to confess my ignorance about butterflies last year when my three-year-old son Felix asked me what they ate. So we went to the library and read up on aphids. Felix, of course, was in his element: 100 per cent attention from Mummy and a library full of old ladies. For let’s not forget that there’s one thing that toddlers love more than anything else in the entire universe: undivided attention ?