My son turned 18 months this week, and is officially out of babyhood and into toddlerdom. We’ve all heard horror stories about the “terrible twos,” but even before the tantrums start, toddlers begin to defy common sense at every turn. Many basic assumptions I held about small children have turned out to be completely false. For example:
- Kids must walk before they run. Have you ever watched an active toddler for more than a minute or two? Chances are, his primary mode of transportation is running. It’s estimated that toddlers take up to 170 steps per minute, which seems crazy, but I’ve seen little legs carry my son from my side to the street in what seems like less than a second, so I believe it. Even when it means falling over her feet or into a wall, toddlers seem to always be in a hurry. This impatience is also evident when they want something. No sooner has my son asked for milk than tears are welling up over the lack of a sippy cup in his little hand. I suppose it is because the world is so new to him that there is an endless amount of things to see, explore, and do. A moment spent waiting for milk – much less two hours lost while napping – is time that could have been devoted to seeing what items will float in the toilet or making calls on daddy’s cell phone.
- Toddlers are carefree. After all, what do they have to worry about? At least for those kids fortunate to grow up in loving homes, their needs are all taken care of by others, they have very few rules or responsibilities, and very little is expected of them. Honestly, as long as my son eats, drinks, sleeps, and poops every day, I’m happy. One or both of his parents are always with him, and we try to be responsive to his desires – whether for a snack, a swim, or a closer look at the video camera. And yet, my son hoards his favorite foods as if we may not feed him again, cries when he gets embarrassed (i.e. by running into a wall when others are watching), and becomes very concerned if my husband or I are upset. He may not be able to name his emotions, but even a one-year-old feels them all fully (often in rapid succession).
- There is such a thing as “close enough.” A toddler’s world is pretty black and white. You either give her her favorite bunny, or you present her with some imposter stuffed animal that will not suffice. If he’s used to whole milk, he will not accept 2%. Try to skip a page in her favorite storybook and she will call you on it. This actually seems to get worse as kids get a bit older, perhaps because the comfort of consistency becomes more critical as kids become more independent. But from a very young age, kids like things a certain way, and they will notice and protest if you try to sneak in a substitution. Resistance is futile.
- Development is a slow and steady process. Around four months, babies learn to roll over, at six months, they sit up. From there they crawl, babble, wave, stand up, roll a ball, take first steps, blow kisses, say first words, eat with a spoon, dress themself, etc. – right? From my limited experience with friends and family, child development is anything but linear and predictable. My son can kick a ball into a goal and eat with utensils, but he does not consistently speak any words. Some of my friends have begun potty-training their kids, but my son still reacts with shock and awe when he sees himself pee without a diaper on. There are weeks when my son demonstrates a new skill every day, and months when I don’t see any progress at all. In light of these “developmental leaps,” I try not to worry about the areas in which my child is delayed because I know he will get there in his own time.
- Toddlers will eventually run out of energy. It is fact of life that we all have finite resources to expend in going about our daily activities, and although kids clearly have more vigor than their parents or grandparents, even they must be subject to limits. Or so I once thought. A 2012 study found that, every day, toddlers expend energy equivalent to running 30 miles. On vacation last week, my son spent hours running through water and climbing up waterslides at an amusement park and each time it seemed he was about to fall over from exhaustion, he’d get a second/ third/ fourth wind. My husband and I were wiped out, but our toddler refused to pause to catch his breath. And once a toddler is over-tired, forget it, you’re in for the long haul. Cranky toddlers can scream until you’re sure they will go hoarse, but then they just keep crying. Sometimes they finally collapse, but it’s amazing how short a power nap they need before going full steam again.
- You can “use your words” and encourage your child to do the same. Before I had a child, I’d silently judge parents who would scold their kid or tell them “no” without an explanation. If a child does not understand why it is okay to have an ice cream sometimes (i.e. at a birthday party) but not others (i.e. just before supper), she is likely to demand it all the time. Similarly, it can be confusing if throwing a ball is praised but throwing food is punished. I’m not saying parents should not explain their actions and decisions to their toddlers, I’m just saying it likely won’t make any difference. I’m not sure at what age kids can comprehend these distinctions, but it’s not one-and-a-half. If I won’t give my son something he wants, the reason he can’t have it is irrelevant to him. Even when kids become more verbal, there is still a huge developmental leap between feeling something and being able to name and explain it. Toddlers are just not rational beings, simple as that.
- You don’t have to worry about bad language around a toddler until s/he is old enough to mimic you. We’ve all seen three and four-year-olds pick up on curse words they hear and try out new swear words to gauge their effect on those around them. I assumed, however, that my husband and I did not have to watch our language yet, as our son is not speaking and seems not to listen to most of what we say that is not directed at him. Recently, however, whenever one of us swears, he actually echoes our expression and tone of voice, even if he cannot repeat the word itself. For example, if I drop a plate and exclaim, “Damn it!” my son will throw something on the ground and yell “dnnut!” He has even started using a similar tone of voice when he bangs himself, drops something, or is really frustrated. I don’t think of myself or my husband as using foul language, or even raising our voices often, but our son has clearly picked up on our thoughtless behavior. I guess we need to be more careful from now on.
- Toddlers need time to play quietly by themselves. We all need some quiet time, right? “Me time.” Whether to peruse a (touch n’ feel) book at their own pace or contemplate their belly buttons, surely even toddlers crave a break from having clothes pulled on and off and being asked where their nose is. This may not be a universal truth, but for my child, there is no such thing as “playing quietly by himself.” If we cannot see or hear our son, he is getting into trouble. High-pitched squeals, the infernal quacking of an electronic duck book, or the crash of a push-toy hardly register for my husband or I, but if the house goes quiet, we spring into action. Without fail, we are bound to discover my son sitting among the contents of our spilled trash can, gleefully unrolling toilet paper, or sampling the cat’s food. Silence is golden, unless you have a toddler in the house …
Does anyone else have toddler myths to bust? Things that surprised you about your young child?