Many parents find themselves in one of two extreme camps. They either expect their children to grow up more quickly than is realistic or they do things that inhibit their children from growing up at the proper pace. Parents in the former group may expect their newborns to be able to sleep through the entire night without waking to feed while those in the latter group may give sippy cups to their able-bodied 4- and 5-year-olds while pushing them around in strollers.
As parents, we need to strike a careful balance between these two extremes. It is our job to gently and diligently nurture our children into responsible, capable adults.
I’m discovering that the toddler years are a critical time for this. Toddlers are naturally curious—we don’t have to cajole them into learning. If we take advantage of this, then our toddlers will soak up new skills like sponges soak up water.
This makes sense, so why do we often hesitate when faced with opportunities to equip our toddlers with new skills? We shrink back because helping toddlers learn new skills is a messy and often scary process! Not sure what I mean? Here are a few examples.
- My daughter loves using her little broom to help me sweep. Of course, she’s more skilled at disrupting the pile of crumbs I’ve swept up than she is at actually sweeping up her own pile of crumbs! It would be much easier for me if I’d just shoo her away to a clean portion of the floor to “sweep” there. However, there’s only one way for her to learn how to get the crumbs into a pile and to sweep this pile into a dust pan. This is by letting her practice. If I let her practice today, then she’ll have the ability to do it independently tomorrow.
- My daughter recognizes that her plastic plates and cups differ from the stoneware and glass ones that Mommy and Daddy use. She wants to use dishes like ours. The easiest thing to do is to encourage her to continue using her plastic dishes. After all, these work just fine and they’re not fragile. However, her interest in our dishes provides a teachable moment. We can take advantage of her curiosity by teaching her how to handle glass and stoneware dishes gently. Will there be broken dishes along the way? Sure, but she’ll have gained an important skill that she is more than capable of mastering.
- I used a stepladder while hanging curtains in my daughter’s “big girl” bedroom. She immediately took an interest in the stepladder. It would have been much easier for me to put the stepladder away than it was for me to show her how to safely climb and descend the stepladder. However, allowing her to learn this skill took the mystery out of it (making it less likely that she’ll sneak behind our backs to try it) and gives her the ability to use the stepladder as she helps me with tasks around the house. Don’t misunderstand me here—I’m not suggesting we allow our toddlers to play on stepladders (they are not toys), but we can teach them how to use these tools safely.
I’m likely not sharing anything that you don’t already know, so consider this more of a pep talk than an informative post. I need the encouragement and, if you’re the parent of a toddler, you probably need it, too. In fact, if you have a child that is anywhere between infancy and adulthood, then you probably need this encouragement because children continue learning skills. These skills just change from simple to complex. Whether it’s learning to dress themselves or learning to drive a car, let’s be courageous and diligent to teach our kiddos these important skills!
Is it ever messy or scary when your child learns new skills? How do you embrace this in order to help him or her learn these skills?
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