A wise, unknown person said, “Toddlers are the craziest, messiest, most infuriating, emotionally unstable, unreasonable, frustrating, tiring people you couldn’t imagine your life without.”
And it’s so, so true.
These fascinating little humans are growing so much each day—physically, mentally, and emotionally. And they are learning who they are and all the things they can do in this brand new world of theirs.
Here are 5 facts about toddlers that can help you better understand them:
1. Your toddler's brain is working twice as hard as yours.
Did you know there are so many more connections in a child’s brain than in an adult one?
According to Alison Gopnik, a leading cognitive psychologist at University of California, Berkeley, "Before preschoolers enter kindergarten, their brains are more active and more flexible, with more connections per brain cell, than the brains of adult human beings, the researchers have discovered. By age three, the child's brain is actually twice as active as an adult's. It has some 15,000 synapses or connections per neuron, many more than in the adult brain."
So these little humans of ours have a lot more to process which leads to BIG emotions aka meltdowns, tantrums, and power struggles.
2. Giving independence to toddlers early on can lead to fewer power struggles later.
When your toddler is given independence, they can feel more confident and have a more developed sense of self. Having their own roles around the house helps them feel valuable and that they have a place in their home.
You can offer responsibilities and chores as young as 14 months and beyond.
Here are some chores you can offer your toddler:
- Throwing away pieces of trash around the house
- Letting them clean up/wipe up spills (you can offer a spray bottle of water to help clean tables or other surfaces)
- Letting them transfer clothes from washer to dryer
- Helping “fold” laundry
- Setting the table for mealtimes and sorting silverware
- Opening and closing doors
- Prepping snacks (peeling eggs or oranges, or chopping soft foods like bananas or avocados)
- Taking small bags of trash out
- Feeding pets
- Loading the dishwasher
- Watering plants
- Helping with siblings
- Opening mail or packages
3. Toddlers have a universal desire to help without the expectation of getting something for it.
With life moving so fast and parents having more and more to get done each day, it’s hard to take the time to have our little ones help. But helping with activities around the house do more than just encourage helpful behavior, it invites your child to be a functioning part of the family. Your little one will start to have their own roles and responsibilities to contribute to the home. This makes them feel needed and strengthens their sense of belonging. Participating in tasks they see you do also helps build their confidence, and allows our children to learn real life skills
"Researchers have found strong evidence that very young children innately want to help, and if allowed to do so will continue helping, voluntarily, through the rest of childhood and into adulthood,” says Peter Gray, Ph.D., research professor at Boston College.
Studies have also shown that being rewarded for an act changes children’s attitudes towards the act, and discourages them from wanting to do it again on their own. A simple “thank you” or positive words of encouragement can be enough of an acknowledgement.
4. Routines provide comfort, stability, and a sense of safety for your toddler.
Children of all ages thrive on daily routines and rituals. Patterns in your little one's day are comforting because they help him understand and prepare for what’s going to happen next!
Helping your baby tune into patterns also helps them think in more advanced ways. When they learn about order and sequence and can recognize patterns, they build more advanced thought processes like reasoning, judgment, and anticipation.
Some ways to incorporate routines are:
- Wake up time: Sing songs, open blinds, make bed, change clothes
- Before meals: Wash hands, get water cup, sit at table, pray or sing a song
- Before/after play: Select a room, play music, pick toys, set up, clean up song
- Bedtime: Bath, sound machine, dim lights, close blinds, read books, and sing songs
5. When toddlers know they can make people laugh, it builds their self-esteem. So be silly, laugh, and repeat!
People say a good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything. A long sleep may not be a luxury you can indulge in right now, but the sky’s the limit for laughter!
Dr. Mary L. Gavin with KidsHealth said, “Kids with a well-developed sense of humor are happier and more optimistic, have higher self-esteem, and can handle differences (their own and others’) well.”
Laughing also has great physical benefits! Dr. Katrina Lindsay, a pediatric psychologist at Akron Children’s NeuroDevelopmental Science Center states, “Laughter and a humorous outlook have been shown to lower blood pressure, aid in digestion, decrease symptoms of pain, and improve overall immunity.”
Dr. Lindsay adds that, “When kids are using humor, they are using both parts of their brain. They are using the left side of the brain for thinking of the jokes, and using the right side for laughing and appreciating them.”
Having a sense of humor is a learned quality that you can start teaching early on. Smiling, making exaggerated facial expressions and funny noises, and peek-a-boo are great ways to introduce humor to your babies.
For toddlers, let them know how funny they are when they make jokes or when they are silly by laughing out loud! Read funny books together, put funny words and sounds together, play a game of who can make the silliest face, or have a crazy dance party.
If comedy isn't on your list of strengths, just be playful and LAUGH. Neuroscientists believe that hearing another person laugh triggers mirror neurons in a region of the brain that makes listeners feel as though they are actually laughing themselves. So laughter really is contagious!
Every time you are silly and laugh together with your little one, it's a learning moment that builds their sense of humor, and it’s a moment of sweet connection.