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How to Think Like a Toddler

How to Think Like a ToddlerOne of the most difficult aspects of parenting a toddler is that the way they think is so unlike the way adults do.

They’re impulsive. Unpredictable. They’re irrational and sometimes impossible to please.

Ok, so maybe they’re not all that much different from adults on a bad day, but my point is that getting inside their little noggins can be a challenge.

You’re in a rush to get out the door. Your toddler is taking her sweet time, stacking and unstacking the mail that’s just arrived.

You’ve taken your toddler to get her haircut. He did great during his last visit and sat calmly while the stylist gave him a trim. Why, then, is he screaming bloody murder this time around?

Do these scenarios sound familiar?

I’m currently raising toddler number three, and although I’d never say that I’ve figured them out, I have picked up a few tricks along the way that make life a little easier with a toddler in the house.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. When you’re a toddler, every experience is new.

Toddlers’ frame of reference is so limited that “little things” like having a pacifier taken away or  sleeping in an unfamiliar bed on vacation aren’t so “little” at all. Adjusting to change is hard, even for adults who have years of experience under their belts. They need lots of preparation and reassurance in unfamiliar situations, and most of all, patience.

“Getting into a child’s world is a bit like looking through a kaleidoscope. What do you see when you look through the kaleidoscope?”

2. They don’t understand the rules, because they have no concept of consequences yet.

As adults, we understand that actions have consequences and we’re trained to follow the rules. Toddlers don’t have any concept of why we place constraints on their behavior, and Because I said so! doesn’t help.

Toddlers need us to use very brief, basic phrases when we’re giving them instructions. We need to use words and concepts they clearly understand, such as: “We don’t throw blocks. If you want to throw, let’s go outside and play with this ball.”

3. Their communication skills aren’t fully developed.

It helps to try to put yourself in their shoes. Are they “acting out” to be naughty or to express feelings they don’t yet know how to communicate? One of my favorite parenting books, Positive Discipline for Preschoolers by Jane Nielsen, Cheryl Erwin and Roslyn Ann Duffy devotes an entire chapter to troublesome toddler behaviors.

In one example, a toddler named Maggie has just torn a roll of toilet paper to shreds during a visit to Grandma’s.”Getting into a child’s world is a bit like looking through a kaleidoscope. Pretend that you are Maggie’s grandmother. What do you see when you look through the kaleidoscope? You may see piles of shredded paper…now turn the kaleidoscope slightly and look again. What might Maggie really be saying? How is she really feeling?”

There’s no doubt about it: parenting a toddler can be frustrating. No matter the age or stage your child is in, it’s challenging to remember where he is developmentally and what you can expect in terms of behavior. Using common-sense techniques like the ones I’ve outlined above can help redirect unwanted behaviors. Trying to think like a toddler can be an effective way to understand your child’s perspective and give you clues about how to handle various situations.

What techniques have you found to be most helpful in understanding your child?

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

More by Mary Lauren:

Ten Truths about Toddlers: What Parents Should Know

Potty Training Tips from the Experts: Moms!

Why I Was a Better Parent Before I Had Kids

Photo Credit: Hljlkgj/Flickr

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