These are notes taken from Toddler 101, a program presented by our daycare where Gillian Ashley-Martz, a Registered Clinical Counsellor, a mother of two and Certified Canadian Family Educator who has been working with families for over ten years taught new parents how to get through the early years.
To better understand why toddlers do the things they do, Gillian presented “the toddler job description”
STRUGGLE FOR INDEPENDENCE FROM THE PARENT AND SELF MASTERY
Toddlers are still trying to develop from the dependence they needed as an infant to the independence they feel as toddlers. It’s a slow resolving conflict since they havent fully developed a sense of self and that they are separate people. Toddlers still believe everything is part of them, so they cant give anything up –
they dont know it any other way.
Just think of how they express themselves: they NEED the blanket. They NEED their soother. They NEED to have their favourite pjs on.
Toddlers want to have their parents around, but dont like the fact they want/need you so they push away, then they dont like you away, so they pull you back.
It’s all about a fear of separation trying to balance with drive for autonomy. Gillian compared what toddlers go through as to what teenagers try to balance when searching for independence.
PARENTAL WILL VS CHILD’S COUNTERWILL
Children learn who they are by resisting parental will and asserting their own. It’s a natural way to find their own personal boundaries and abilities. When we feel someone else trying to take control, we will assert our own control, even if we know that the controlling will is right.
Toddlers don’t say no to resist you, they do it to create space to figure out who they are as a separate entity. Toddlers will resist any idea or thought that didn’t first occur in their own mind
TODDLERS WANT TO DO EVERYTHING FOR THEMSELVES TO DEVELOP SENSE OF SELF MASTERY
While toddlers want to do things on their own, they still lack the cognitive skills to do this effectively. The result is frustration and melt downs.
It’s important, then, for parents to seek out situations where the toddlers can succeed. The more we try to control the more they’re hardwired to resist, we end up feeling controlled by them
It becomes a perpetual circle. The more they try to control us, we try to control them and they become more defiant. These struggles mostly happen around food and toilet training.
Parents then need to step back and see how they’re reinforcing the behaviour. With food, for example, if you show over attention and worry about food and negative behaviour, you’re relinquishing control and you reinforce that behaviour.
Remember, the toddler is looking for situations where they’re successful, and if they’re successful at being rebellious – that’s the behaviour they’ll continue.
STRUGGLE TO BALANCE CONTROL OF PARENT WITH LEARNING SELF CONTROL
Babies are born with 100 billion brain cells and many of them are not connected. It’s the interaction with parents in the infant years that makes the map. So toddlers have a fully mapped out brain – their interaction with the environment wires the emotional part of the brain with the knowledge part.
As parents of toddlers, we need to be frontal lobes, showing them how to make decisions. This is an important developmental stage and requires parental behaviour modelling. Whatever you put out is what you will get back.
The toddler years are the key times to reinforce positive behaviours. If they get your attention behaving, that’s how they will continue to seek your attention.
Coming next in Toddler 101 is Part 3: The 7 steps to successfully avoid temper tantrums.