How does your toddler respond to novelty? Does he sometimes jump right into a novel situation with determination and excitement and then in the next moment throw a fit over some slight variation of common events? Part of the way he deals with novelty is his own personality; out-going, shy, or task-oriented. Part of his response is due to his stage of development.
There are some things almost all children this age have difficulty varying at all. Those activities are the ones that relate to his basic physical needs. He won’t like changes in his bedtime routine. Reading one book instead of two or bathing before brushing his teeth may completely derail an otherwise pleasant evening. Mealtime routines are another place your little one will probably not want any variation. The third is his potty routines. These are the activities that relate to his own person. Predictability means security to him.
His resistance to novelty in these areas is what makes taking him on a trip such an unsettling experience. You can ease his difficulty sleeping in a new place by bringing his own pillow and the soft toy he likes to sleep with. Bringing some of his favorite picture books and cuddling together to read them as usual will make this place more a novelty and less a threat.
With ideas, he is more willing for novelty. He starts from his fixed ideas, ones he has tested and proven to himself are stable. It is only then that he will branch out to try new ideas. An example is that cars have wheels and can roll. He will roll it back and forth with his hand on the car for a long time, establishing his basic idea. Then he will begin rolling it on different kinds of surfaces or letting it go down an incline by itself, finding the variations interesting and challenging.
To go from the idea of a car has wheels and can be pushed to using a car with a battery may be too big a leap for him to even be willing to watch someone else do. He may have to play with it as a push car for quite a while before he is willing to allow the battery to move it without his help.
Always, the most comforting thing for your child when he is testing novelty is your presence. You don’t have to always be within sight, but if he can hear you he will be much more willing to experiment with novelty.
Remember His Teeth
If you have not yet taken your child to the dentist, this is a good time to make an appointment. Many difficulties with permanent teeth begin with poor care of baby teeth. Visiting the dentist for professional cleaning can help prevent the need for fillings later on.
Toddlers should not be given bottles with milk or juice beyond the age of weaning. Bacteria which is always in the mouth makes the sugar in milk and juice produce cavities. Teaching how to brush teeth takes a long time. Make it a joint project, don’t rely on your child to do a good job by himself yet. Limiting sweets is the most reliable way to prevent tooth decay.
Your preschooler is curious about everything. He is starting to really understand the concept of cause and effect. He wants to know the reason for everything. That’s why he is always asking, “Why?” It is easy to get tired of answering, “Why?” Instead of saying, “Because. That’s just the way it is!” You might try asking him what he thinks. You may hear some amazing answers from his fertile imagination.
If you don’t know the answer, tell him you can find out together. Writing down his questions will help you remember to find the answer and reassure him that you take his questions seriously. You can take him to the library to look for the answer or show him how you find it on the internet.
Your child’s imagination helps improve his vocabulary. Children who listen to lots of books and stories have richer imaginations and better vocabularies than children who do not. You may not be able to tell whether his vocabulary is bigger now, but you are laying a foundation for a rich vocabulary later.
Pretend play is very valuable for your child. In pretend play he practices what he has been learning. He can express negative emotions in play that he cannot yet describe to an adult. He can practice being anyone he wants to be and make situations turn out the way he wants them to. Imaginary play gives him a sense that he can be powerful and in control even in scary or unfamiliar situations.
Imaginary play causes him to think creatively and explore solutions. Children who engage in imaginary play tend to grow up to be problem-solvers. The skills they learn in creative thinking help them cope with challenges and difficult situations later in life.
You can spark your youngster’s imagination by reading books together. Choose books with lots of big, colorful pictures. Stop and talk about the pictures. Tell him lots more than is written on the page. Stimulate all his senses. Show him pictures, make the sounds of animals and machines, use different voices and accents for characters in his books and talk about what happened to the people or animals in the book. Share stories that you make up as you go along or stories from your childhood. Tell stories as though your child is the main character. He will begin to come up with his own stories of imaginary adventures.
Fill his world with music. Listen to a variety of different types of music. Sing, dance, or play homemade instruments together.
Provide props for his imaginary play. Have a box with things he can use in his play: hats, shoes, an old briefcase, etc. Restock it occasionally when he’s not around. He’ll be surprised by new fodder for creativity.
Finally, limit TV viewing to no more than 15 minutes at a time. If you do let him watch longer, sit with him and talk to him about what he is seeing and hearing.
Preparing for Preschool
This is the continuation of our series of steps to prepare your child for preschool.
Come up with a good-bye ritual.
Most of you have probably already established a good-bye ritual when you have left your child in a nursery or with a babysitter. But if you haven’t, this is the time to practice. When you have a ritual established, it reassures your child that you will come back for him at the end of the day.
Invent a special good-bye ritual. Perhaps a high-five, low-five, and flying kiss or saying a rhyme like, “I’ll be back in while, Crocodile.” Don’t be tempted to sneak out without your good-byes. Keeping to your routine is reassuring to your child. Don’t error on the other side and prolong your good-byes. Be confident and calm and he will learn to be so too.
Give yourselves extra time to get ready for the first week or so. If you are not rushed getting out the door, your child will “catch” your calm, confident attitude.
Learning by Helping
Your child’s early development will help him learn better in school later. Take the activities of daily living and make them into real learning experiences for your child.
Don’t let your trips to the supermarket be passive experiences for your preshooler. Many supermarkets now have child-sized carts with tall flags. Let your child push his own cart and let him put some of your items in his basket.
Talk to him about what you are doing. Teach him about the ingredients that you buy to make his favorite foods. Show him different size boxes of the same products and explain why you buy one size instead of another. Have him count with you as you put things in your cart.
Ask him to help you. He can get some things from the lower shelves. Ask him to help you find certain items. Ask him to help you remember to buy things you know he especially likes to eat.
Make riding in the car a learning experience too. As you drive through your neighborhood, point out major landmarks. Ask him to point the way to his friend’s house. You may be surprised that he can actually tell you the way to go.
By pointing out where the landmarks are and the route you take to get there, he is learning the connection between what he hears and says and what he sees.
Doing laundry is a fabulous teaching experience. Find ways for him to help you put clothes into the washing machine. He can learn to hand to you or put into the machine all the same color clothes. He can help you measure and put in the detergent. He could even learn to set the dials and push the buttons.
He can learn to open the dryer door and put the clothes in and then close the door and push the start button. He is learning the proper sequence of events and that teaches him a sense of order.
The even greater learning experiences come after the clothes come out of the dryer, however. Help him learn to sort the clothes into different piles. Sorting helps him learn about categories. The ability to categorize is the first step to abstract thinking. As he learns to sort clothes, he is beginning to learn abstract thinking that he will need when he goes to school.
His folding may leave lots to be desired, but when it doesn’t matter, be thankful for his help.
Finally, help him learn where things go. He can learn a lot of directional words while putting clothes away. Socks go in this drawer, towels go up on that shelf, sheets go over there, and his undershirts go beside his briefs. These teach him the location of objects in space. This skill is what helps us learn to differentiate between a “b” and a “d.” They are the same shape, but the difference is the line being on the left or right.
So a little help from your toddler will translate into lots of preparation for the thinking necessary to learn in school.
The Silence Game
Ask your toddler to close his eyes and guess what sound you will make. So try things like hitting a fork against a glass, scratching a fingernail file, or turning on the mixer. He will have to listen carefully and then say what he hears.
You can play a variation by telling him to do what you whisper. See if he can follow simple instructions like, “Give me a kiss” or “Close the door.” End the game with a treat, “Bring me your favorite book to read.”
This game and variations teach him to settle down, be quiet, and listen.
Heavenly Father, please help me to understand what causes my child to be fearful and how to help him be secure enough to try new things. Help me to channel his imagination and to instill in my child a love for the variety in creation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.