January 9, 2024

Love at Their Level: Key Principles to Parenting Toddlers

Dancing Moose Montessori School
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Credit: Dr. Joyce Sibbett

Raising happy, healthy children is challenging and that’s especially true when parenting a toddler. They’re very busy little people, learning new skills every day and always wanting to go and do—basically perpetual-motion machines. They’re also very emotional as they launch into the world of gaining new-found independence.

Be at your toddler’s level—physically, socially, emotionally.

Your toddler’s greatest needs are to feel loved, needed, and a valuable member of the family. As parents, your greatest responsibility is to connect with their physical, social, and emotional needs. And that often means literally being at your toddler’s level–bending down, getting eye to eye, and communicating with them at their level.

● For physical needs:

  • Your child might have taken a fall and hurt themselves. This is typically followed by a loud cry to express that “I’m hurt.” You quickly rush to your child’s aid, pick them up, soothe, comfort, and give any necessary help. It’s all very natural. Your child knows they are loved and cared for with hugs, kisses and comfort. They’re physically in your arms, near your face and your heart.
  • Some physical issues aren’t as easy for us to address. It might be something as basic as hunger. Without the necessary words to express themselves, a young
    child may erupt into a tantrum. If it’s lunch time and you know they’re hungry, it is appropriate to get down to their level and say the words, “I am going to fix some soup for lunch.” Then you can go on to prepare and serve the soup. The tantrum may or may not continue, but that is not the focus. You addressed the need, not the tantrum. Your child will learn that it is much easier to say “I’m hungry” than to
    throw a tantrum.

● For your child’s social needs, it is important that they feel your shared connection.

  • Again, get eye to eye and make contact. Listen, talk, sing. Explore what your toddler is interested in and share that interest. Let your child take part in your activities, too. For example, you might allow your child to do some easy task to help with dinner preparation.
  • Getting down, on the floor, to play with your child is another valuable way to say, “I care about what you like to do.” Whether on the floor or sitting at a child’s table, be at their level. It’s not easy for many parents with busy schedules to spend a lot of time participating in toddler activities. Remember that the amount of time in engagement is less important than the frequency of acknowledgement. Even a few minutes of showing interest in your child’s play communicates that you care about what they care about. Saying words like “I notice that you did this…” is wonderful, positive reinforcement.

Emotions change quickly with a toddler, and it can be easy to feel critical of those changes. However, criticism is the most damaging response a parent can show. By contrast, acknowledging your child’s feelings and showing you care is a powerful way to build their emotional resilience.

  • Keep communication positive even when your child seems especially negative. Rather than saying, “you shouldn’t be grouchy every time Sarah has to go home,” you can acknowledge your child’s sadness. “I know you feel sad when Sarah leaves, but she’ll be able to play with you again in a couple of days.”
  • Stay cool when your emotions get heated up. If you feel anger, then pause, take a couple of slow, deep breaths, and resist a comment like “how many times have I told you…” After those deep breaths you can calmly state, “Remember, I want you to…” Your child holds on to your comments as building blocks to their self-esteem. Your comments teach your child how to communicate in positive ways.

● Be consistent.

  • Being consistent is probably one of the most important principles of parenting. If rules vary from day to day, or if you enforce them only intermittently, your child will not know what is really expected. Lack of consistency leads to misbehavior. Make sure you have a clear schedule and expectations for things like mealtime, playtime, bedtime, etc.

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January 9, 2024

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