Live life by your tod­dler’s rules

She might be lit­tle, but she’s got a lot of the big things right…

Mother & Baby (UK) - - LIFE & KIDS -

Your tod­dler is full of fun, and full-on. To her, the whole world is brand new and shiny bright – and she doesn’t have an ounce of bag­gage to cloud her view. And, per­haps, there’s a lot we mums could learn from that un­com­pli­cated ap­proach to ev­ery­day life. ‘The tod­dler years are such a mag­i­cal mo­ment in your child’s life,’ says de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist Ali­son Pike. ‘She is just be­gin­ning to ex­plore the world and her place in it. And by look­ing through her eyes, you can learn to see life in a brand-new way, too.’


Ear­lier this year, Robert E Kelly’s live in­ter­view on BBC News went askew when his four-year-old daugh­ter, Marion, saun­tered into the room and onto cam­era. Rather than ru­in­ing his ca­reer, the world fell in love with Marion’s swag­ger. ‘Most tod­dlers ex­ude high self-es­teem,’ says Ali­son. ‘They carry them­selves with an

at­ti­tude that an­nounces: “Here I am! Look at me! Aren’t I lov­able?”’ That’s be­cause they’re ex­posed to a lot of lov­ing be­haviour, but also be­cause they’re body-con­fi­dent. ‘Tod­dlers are more body aware than adults are. Be­tween the ages of 12 and 24 months, so much of their learn­ing is done in phys­i­cal ways, such as grab­bing and lick­ing,’ says Ali­son. ‘But by the time we reach adult­hood, we lose touch with our bod­ies.’ Re­search sug­gests that one of the big­gest things that af­fects con­fi­dence is our pos­ture. So, adopt your tod­dler’s swag­ger, ex­pect ev­ery­one to love you, and they most prob­a­bly will.


Do you ever let your tod­dler dress her­self ? You have to ad­mire the con­fi­dence with which she flings to­gether mis­match­ing socks and pairs a tutu with a woolly hat. ‘This is partly be­cause tod­dlers are only just be­gin­ning to develop the abil­ity to con­ceive of other peo­ple’s per­spec­tives,’ ex­plains Ali­son. ‘Think about play­ing hide and seek with your young­ster: she be­lieves that when she puts her hands over her eyes, you can’t see her. She isn’t able to think out­side of her own perspective, and she feels like the cen­tre of the world.’

In 2011, re­search from the In­sti­tute for the Study of Self De­vel­op­ment found that self­con­scious­ness emo­tions, such as em­bar­rass­ment and guilt, don’t be­gin to emerge un­til around the age of three. And while we all need to develop that self-con­scious­ness – it is part of the glue that keeps societies to­gether – it does make us an­tic­i­pate the re­sponses of other peo­ple. In do­ing so, it can in­hibit our be­haviour. It might stop us from wear­ing the out­fit we want to, in case oth­ers ques­tion it. And it can stop us from be­ing the per­son we re­ally want to be. So if wear­ing a tutu makes you happy, go for it!


The av­er­age 18-month-old will snatch toys from an­other tod­dler around 18 times an hour. Ask her to share and the an­swer will prob­a­bly in­volve some foot stamp­ing and an ex­tremely in­sis­tent ‘no!’. ‘We’ve all been there,’ says Ali­son, ‘but isn’t there some­thing that’s re­fresh­ing about that hon­esty? And isn’t it frus­trat­ing how much sec­ond-guess­ing we have to do in our adult re­la­tion­ships, be­cause we’re all so reluc­tant to be rude and just tell the hon­est truth about how we feel?’ The next time you’re cor­nered into ac­cept­ing an in­vi­ta­tion that you’d much rather skip, or feel your­self bow­ing to pres­sure to host the fam­ily get-to­gether again, stop and con­sider why you’d rather say no: your rea­sons might be very valid, and worth ex­press­ing.


If the tod­dler years are marked by one ques­tion, it is this: ‘Why?’ ‘The perspective of a new­born is very limited – she can’t move, so can only see what you dan­gle in front of her,’ says Ali­son. ‘Then she learns to crawl, and she has a new, but very low, perspective on the world. At the tod­dler stage, her head is sud­denly raised up and she sees the world from a new perspective yet again. Ev­ery­thing looks dif­fer­ent, and de­serves re-ex­am­i­na­tion.’ And there is some­thing joy­ful about this con­tin­ual cu­rios­ity. ‘As adults, we in­hibit our cu­rios­ity,’ says Ali­son, ‘per­haps be­cause we want to be seen as cool, or worldly-wise.’ Tod­dlers, on the other hand, are com­pletely trans­par­ent about their ig­no­rance and, as a re­sult, they learn in­cred­i­bly fast – much faster than we do. Stud­ies have shown that the very fact they know less en­ables them to learn more. As adults, we bring too much of what we al­ready know – or think we know – to a new prob­lem, and it clouds any new un­der­stand­ing. Per­haps, be­ing clue­less could be a good thing.


We’ve all ex­pe­ri­enced that clas­sic sce­nario of buy­ing an ex­pen­sive toy for our tod­dler, only to dis­cover that what she re­ally loves is the

box. From birth, your baby learns through first-hand ex­pe­ri­ences, depend­ing en­tirely on her senses: sight, hear­ing, touch, smell and taste. And that’s why your tod­dler still grav­i­tates to­wards ex­pe­ri­ences that im­me­di­ately re­ward her senses.

But as we grow older, we ed­u­cate our­selves away from these sim­ple joys. ‘We learn what value things have,’ ex­plains Ali­son, ‘and that feeds into our ap­pre­ci­a­tion of things.’ But it also stops us from gasp­ing at the beauty of blos­som on the trees, or rel­ish­ing the feel­ing of grass on our bare toes. Ear­lier this year, a study found that the sim­ple act of stop­ping to ob­serve na­ture can lower lev­els of de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, and stress, how­ever. So stop and smell the roses!


‘Most tod­dlers love to draw and paint as a way to ex­press them­selves,’ says Ali­son, ‘as well as lov­ing the praise you give them for it.’ By the age of about eight, how­ever, most chil­dren stop draw­ing at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. ‘That’s be­cause this is the age at which they re­alise art has a value – that it needs to look right,

and that other peo­ple’s judge­ments of their work mat­ter,’ adds Ali­son.

As adults, if we don’t think we are good at some­thing, we’re em­bar­rassed to do it. Most of us don’t paint or draw at all. But we should. ‘Get­ting back to that idea that the au­di­ence’s opin­ion doesn’t mat­ter, that self-ex­pres­sion is the ul­ti­mate goal, is a very healthy thing,’ says Ali­son. ‘Be­ing cre­ative helps lower stress lev­els, dis­tracts you from the de­mands of ev­ery­day life and leaves you feel­ing calm.’


‘Plan­ning is a pretty com­plex pro­ce­dure for brains,’ says Ali­son. ‘And so your tod­dler is only able to plan in the very short term. She’s not able to un­der­stand, for ex­am­ple, that she can have a ba­nana af­ter lunch. To her, if it’s not hap­pen­ing now, it’s not hap­pen­ing, full stop!’ The up­side of this is that your tod­dler is, in ef­fect, a mind­ful­ness ex­pert, ex­plains Ali­son: ‘In her world, it’s only ever all about the here and the now. She is en­tirely present in the mo­ment.’ As adults, we rush around with our mind per­ma­nently in the fu­ture: what will we cook for tea, what emails do we need to send, when is Aunty Emily’s birth­day? Re­search has shown, how­ever, that fo­cus­ing en­tirely on the present mo­ment de­creases lev­els of the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol, in­creases sig­nalling con­nec­tions in the brain and gives us bet­ter con­trol over our emo­tions and even pain.


When did you last rush into the arms of a friend, just be­cause you were feel­ing a lit­tle wob­bly? When your tod­dler is feel­ing scared, un­sure or un­well, her first in­stinct is to reach for a hug. And she’s got it right. A 2015 study re­vealed that hugs re­duce stress, due to the re­lease of oxy­tocin, the very same bond­ing hor­mone that pro­motes at­tach­ment be­tween moth­ers and their new­borns. ‘As we get older, we lose this emo­tional hon­esty that tod­dlers have in abun­dance,’ says Ali­son. So give those close to you a hug when­ever you get the urge: you’ll feel hap­pier for it.

‘Ziggy in­spires me to be silly. He’s made me re­alise that I don’t use my imag­i­na­tion much any­more! I’m too se­ri­ous and sci­en­tific in most things I do, and it’s just good for my soul to join in and be silly with him in some make-be­lieve world.’ Jes­sica...

‘My tod­dlers have taught me to take life more slowly: stop to stroke the sheep; share your cracker; and don’t worry about tread­ing in a cow pat. And they’ve helped me learn to stop car­ing about the things that re­ally don't mat­ter.’ Char­lotte Nash, from...

Ali­son Pike is a de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Sus­sex and ex­pert on Chan­nel 4's The Se­cret Life of Four Year Olds.

‘Aariv has taught me that you don’t need ex­pen­sive treats to en­joy life. Blow­ing bub­bles and splash­ing in muddy pud­dles can bring end­less de­light!’ Sa­man­tha Dhani­lall, from Lon­don, is mum to Aariv, 3.

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