I am sure you have all read about the “terrible two’s” and shared a moment of frustration with another parent saying “toddlers?!” with a roll of the eyes.
It’s time for me to set the record straight. Toddlers are actually brilliant.
After having my own children 15 years ago, I decided to quit the corporate world to work with toddlers. I realized that I had enormous empathy for them and love to see the world through their eyes. I like to think of myself as an advocate for toddlers. Or at least their translator.
Let’s say you want to go to the park together. You decide to walk but you are going so s-l-o-w-l-y. Your toddler stops at every flower, they spot grass coming up through the concrete pathway, and you think you are going to go crazy by the time you reach the park. If you reach the park at all. Toddlers are actually brilliant. They live in the present moment without any effort at all – what every zen master works hard to master. They are not focused on getting to the park – they are focused on enjoying the journey. We can learn a lot from them. If we let go of the end objective when it is not important, we can enjoy the walk to the park as an end in itself. We can allow our child time to do the exploration of the world around him that he so needs. And we can come back to a place of peace. There is pain in the past and the future. But in the present there is no suffering.
Another thing I admire about toddlers is their amazing capability. Without a fully developed language, they are able to make themselves understood and able to read our body language. I was working with a young boy playing a language game. I’d hold up a giraffe and say, “Let’s find the picture of the giraffe.” He’d rush to pick it up and we would place the giraffe with its picture together on the mat. We repeated for all the animals in the basket. The next week his mother came to class and told me they had just received the results from some hearing tests – the boy had less than 10% hearing. I was blown away how the child had played with me the week before. He had picked almost everything up completely from my body language. (The boy went on to have a successful ear operation and his hearing is already much better.)
Toddlers and elephants have something in common. They both have amazing memories. I continue to be shocked when they know they are on their way to their grandparent’s place long before they are there, simply by recognizing familiar signs and streets on their route. They have a strong sense of order that means that if you always put their shoes by the front door and their bag on a hook, they love putting them here every time you get home. They may just need a friendly reminder, “Your bag and shoes go here” and tap the space by the door. Toddlers are nothing but brilliant.
Dr Montessori described children under 6 years old as having an absorbent mind and under 3 years everything they absorb is unconscious. They pick things up like a sponge just by absorbing them from their environment EFFORTLESSLY. I wish I had this talent and could pick up a new language just from sitting in a cafe or having a meal with my family. Start when they are babies and a toddler will start expressing themselves in these languages. Brilliant, no?
There is never another time in time in our lives when there is such rapid brain and physical development. By the age of 3 years, the size of a child’s brain will already be 80% of an adult’s brain and have more synapses than in an adult. These toddlers are learning so much and are becoming so capable. These years are also so important in laying their personality. But we need to give them time to explore, to move and to have conversation. Then there is limitless potential for these brilliant beings.
I know tantrums can be hard to deal with. But I just think of it as them wearing their heart on their sleeve. They are telling us very clearly that they are not happy with how things have just gone. They are going to kick and scream and lay on the ground to let us know. It starts often with anger and can go through the full gamut of emotions – fury, frustration, shame, and embarrassment. When we accept these big ugly feelings and offer a hug or just keep them safe and let them know we are here if they push us away, these feelings are able to be processed. And after it has finished be it 5 minutes or 45 minutes later, I love seeing them bounce off for their next adventure. They just don’t know how to stay in a bad mood all day or hold a grudge on you. I’ve never heard a toddler say, “Remember when you didn’t cook my favorite pasta. I’ve never forgiven you.” I love that they forgive and forget.
Which brings me to my last point. I love that toddlers are authentic human beings. They are not busy with what people might think of them, they do not need to hide behind any political correctness, and they say exactly what they mean. They might even be a little naive, believing that there is good in everyone. I cannot tell you how much it means if a child offers me a rock he found on his walk, or comes over to give me a hug at the end of class. I don’t think it would hurt for us to learn something from them. And even use them as an example of tolerance in our society. So don’t you agree it’s time to change the narrative? Join me and let everyone how brilliant our toddlers are.
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