How does your toddler respond to novelty? Does she 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 she deals with novelty is her own personality; out-going, shy, or task-oriented. Part of her response is due to her 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 her basic physical needs. She won’t like changes in her bedtime routine. Reading one book instead of two or bathing before brushing her 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 her potty routines. These are the activities that relate to her own person. Predictability means security to her.
Her resistance to novelty in these areas is what makes taking her on a trip such an unsettling experience. You can ease her difficulty sleeping in a new place by bringing her own pillow and the soft toy she likes to sleep with. Bringing some of her favorite picture books and cuddling together to read them as usual will make this place more a novelty and less a threat.
With ideas, she is more willing for novelty. She starts from her fixed ideas, ones she has tested and proven to herself are stable. It is only then that she will branch out to try new ideas. An example is that cars have wheels and can roll. She will roll it back and forth with her hand on the car for a long time, establishing her basic idea. Then she 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 her to even be willing to watch someone else do. She may have to play with it as a push car for quite a while before she is willing to allow the battery to move it without her help.
Always, the most comforting thing for your child when she is testing novelty is your presence. You don’t have to always be within sight, but if she can hear you she will be much more willing to experiment with novelty.
Remember Her 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 herself yet. Limiting sweets is the most reliable way to prevent tooth decay.
Your preschooler is curious about everything. She is starting to really understand the concept of cause and effect. She wants to know the reason for everything. That’s why she 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 her what she thinks. You may hear some amazing answers from her fertile imagination.
If you don’t know the answer, tell her you can find out together. Writing down her questions will help you remember to find the answer and reassure her that you take her questions seriously. You can take her to the library to look for the answer or show her how you find it on the internet.
Your child’s imagination helps improve her 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 her 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 she practices what she has been learning. She can express negative emotions in play that she cannot yet describe to an adult. She can practice being anyone she wants to be and make situations turn out the way she wants them to. Imaginary play gives her a sense that she can be powerful and in control even in scary or unfamiliar situations.
Imaginary play causes her 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 her lots more than is written on the page. Stimulate all her senses. Show her pictures, make the sounds of animals and machines, use different voices and accents for characters in her 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. She will begin to come up with her own stories of imaginary adventures.
Fill her world with music. Listen to a variety of different types of music. Sing, dance, or play homemade instruments together.
Provide props for her imaginary play. Have a box with things she can use in her play: hats, shoes, an old briefcase, etc. Restock it occasionally when she’s not around. She’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 her watch longer, sit with her and talk to her about what she 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 her 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 she 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 her 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 her own cart and let her put some of your items in her basket.
Talk to her about what you are doing. Teach her about the ingredients that you buy to make her favorite foods. Show her different size boxes of the same products and explain why you buy one size instead of another. Have her count with you as you put things in your cart.
Ask her to help you. She can get some things from the lower shelves. Ask her to help you find certain items. Ask her to help you remember to buy things you know she especially likes to eat.
Make riding in the car a learning experience too. As you drive through your neighborhood, point out major landmarks. Ask her to point the way to her friend’s house. You may be surprised that she can actually tell you the way to go.
By pointing out where the landmarks are and the route you take to get there, she is learning the connection between what she hears and says and what she sees.
Doing laundry is a fabulous teaching experience. Find ways for her to help you put clothes into the washing machine. She can learn to hand to you or put into the machine all the same color clothes. She can help you measure and put in the detergent. She could even learn to set the dials and push the buttons.
She can learn to open the dryer door and put the clothes in and then close the door and push the start button. She is learning the proper sequence of events and that teaches her a sense of order.
The even greater learning experiences come after the clothes come out of the dryer, however. Help her learn to sort the clothes into different piles. Sorting helps her learn about categories. The ability to categorize is the first step to abstract thinking. As she learns to sort clothes, she is beginning to learn abstract thinking that she will need when she goes to school.
Her folding may leave lots to be desired, but when it doesn’t matter, be thankful for her help.
Finally, help her learn where things go. She 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 her undershirts go beside her panties. These teach her 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 her 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. She will have to listen carefully and then say what she hears.
You can play a variation by telling her to do what you whisper. See if she 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 her 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 her be secure enough to try new things. Help me to channel her imagination and to instill in my child a love for the variety in creation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.