Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mad Scientists

I have been reading up on toddlers and behaviours and I have been listening to my parent friends talk about their little 'devils.' I was thinking about behaviour and motivation.

From what I have heard, read and experienced, it is my belief that toddler don't actually sit up at night and plot ways to 'get at you.' So if they don't actually plot how to torment parents all day, why do they not listen, get into mischief, run off and simply drive parents batty at times?

The way I see it, toddlers are Mad Scientists. Yesterday I baked cookies with my 2.5 yr old and I watched him as he proceeded to pour all of the 'large container' of vanilla into his small bowl. He simply emptied the whole container of vanilla while my back was turned. I saw enough to watch the last of it cover the table, chair and floor. Inside I was like, “OH NO!” That is all the vanilla we have and I don't want to drag both babies to the grocery store to get more. Plus the mess, grrr.” But as I watched him finish the container. He put it down where he found it gently and looked at his tiny overflowing bowl and said, “Oh, big one. All filled up.” He marveled at how he made that small bowl fill up with this cool black liquid. How could I be upset, he was learning, exploring, interested and proud.

I took that second to see the world through his eyes. He was also about to learn how adults act when mistakes happen or spills. Do they yell? Do they growl? Do they cry? What happens next? He looked at me and down at his bowl and realized the mess and said, “Oh terrible mess.” I stood there one second more, grabbed the paper towel and held it out for him. “Wanta help me clean up? Rip off a piece.” He liked ripping the paper towel off and began cleaning up right away. He wasn't upset about cleaning, he was still learning, exploring and interested. In fact he started signing the clean up song we often sing.

It was a good reminder that toddlers explore this world through seeing, touching, tasting and experimenting in general. We have to be patient while we are teaching boundaries to little ones. It takes some time and often years for children to learn where the boundaries are and what do about them. Plus, the often test these boundaries. Babies and Toddlers alike need these boundaries to feel secure or safe. They need to know they can trust their parents. Once more, they will test this trust. “Will mom say no to another cookie again if I ask another way? Will dad move me away from the fireplace if I try to climb up one more time? What will happen if I keep throwing these toys? What if I kicked and screamed and fell on the floor, will that give me a candy?” test, test, test, yes they will, much to our dismay.

Toddlers love to see how things work. They will bang on things to hear the sounds. Are they buzzing, whirling, pounding, vibrating? They will open and close the same door again and again to test and test. Experiment with throwing toys, ripping papers, eating glue. All to 'check out their growing world.'

Well here is a thought. Do parents get angry at an 7 month old who is pulling books off the shelf or spilling over plants or trying to put things in the light sockets? Not usually, most parents realize that baby is simply too young to 'know better' and they quickly scoop them up and place them somewhere else to play. Or they baby proof their home with light plugs and tacking up cords or anchoring their book shelves. But something changes when that baby gets older.

Once that baby turns into a running, exploring, loud, destructive machine these same parents are all of a sudden go from calming lifting them up to another activity to a NO NO NO parent, expecting their children to reason out what they are doing. That is adult thinking. We expect our children to listen to our commands and know why.

Children don't think like adults. We often feel exasperated when our toddler runs off or pulls the grocery display down and then has a full on meltdown of his own int he middle of an isle. This baby turned toddler is just still experimenting at his own level. He is louder and faster cause he is bigger and older, but he is still learning about consistency and seeing if parents really do mean what they say. They grab at things and turn them over in their hands and see what they do. Or they tear apart things to see what is inside. They aren't breaking toys on purpose or destroying display shelves to make you mad, they are simply checking it all out.

So be kind to your mad scientists and give them safe, secure experiments and guide them through the lessons.


A couple tips:

-Prevent meltdowns by preparing before going to a grocery store - bring things to do (new toys from home), bring food, keep it short. Many positive short visits on an outing, help encourage great behaviour for longer outings in the future.

- Toddler proof your home, keep dangerous liquids and chemicals out of reach and locked away, anchor book shelves, put high locks on outside doors for the escape artist.

-Supervise! Keep a close eye on your little ones, it is hard to get into too much mischief if they are in view or best yet, have them 'work along side you.' If your doing dinner, gardening, bathing baby etc... have your toddler involved.

-Stay calm! When your child is in a full on meltdown, simply pick them up and hug them, with their arched backs and screaming tears, and carry them slowly to the car, quietly reassuring them and validating their feelings. "I know you don't want to leave Jamie's house, you must be feeling sad. We'll be back soon to play again." Stay firm, calm, caring. They don't need a long drawn out talk, nor do they need a sharp, no, let's go.

Action speaks louder than words. Picking them up and removing them from the emotional situation will help redirect behaviours more quickly.

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