Curiosity or Dawdling?
Your toddler is constantly curious. He is curious about everything around him. He wants to see if there isn’t one more thing to learn about toys that he hasn’t played with in weeks. Did he really do everything possible with it? Does it still act the same way today as last time? How does water or sand or throwing affect it?
So is it any wonder that he doesn’t want to change activities on your schedule? Remember, time doesn’t have any meaning to a two year old. You may begin teaching him concepts like, later, soon, and never, but he doesn’t get it yet.
The next time you are rushing to get out the door and he is firmly planted playing with a toy, try calling it “curiosity” instead of “dawdling.” Here are some suggestions that might help get him moving.
- Stop and take a deep breath and slow yourself down. Getting all hot and bothered really doesn’t make him move any faster.
- Make it a habit to tell him a few minutes before he is going to have to change activities. Words like, “pretty soon,” “five minutes more,” and “now,” will begin to have meaning if they are used regularly.
- Entice him away. The promise and sweet fulfillment of that promise makes leaving something intensely interesting easier. “When you get in the car, I have a silly song for you.”
- Say goodbye. Saying goodbye to whatever or whomever he was playing with helps him make the change.
- Instead of forcing your will, offer a choice. “Do you want to put on your sandals by yourself or do you want me to help you put on your sneakers?” Either way, he is getting ready to walk out the door.
- Create a race. “I wonder if I can get to the front door first or you can?” Most kids love a race and that makes it worth leaving something else.
- Ask for his help. When you really do have to hurry and you don’t have time for games, tell your toddler you have a problem and ask for his help. “Mommy has to get to the post office before it closes. I need your help. You can be my helper by getting your coat on now.”
With curiosity and dawdling, it is you that is waiting. You can get impatient and frustrated by his slow pace and reluctance to do something new on your schedule. The other side of the coin is helping him learn to wait.
The ability to wait patiently is a skill with rich rewards. It is necessary to become a productive person. The ability to tolerate reasonable delays is necessary to being able to concentrate, stay with a task, and solve a problem.
This ability develops slowly. It began in infancy and will continue throughout life. The paradox about learning to endure frustration is that it begins when a baby does not have to wait for needs to be met. One of the very first steps to healthy emotional and social development is building a foundation of trust. That trust begins when a baby cries for milk and mom comes and nurses him. He learns that when he cries, mom comes and takes care of him.
The baby whose needs are not frustrated learns to endure frustration. The degree of pleasure a baby experiences during his feedings is directly related to his gradual development of the ability to wait.
Then his first lesson in waiting is when mom changes his wet diaper before she feeds him. He is learning to look forward to the pleasant relief of his hunger even if he must wait for a brief while to be changed.
During his early childhood, he will continue to learn to wait. As parents, you can help him learn to wait by keeping frustration levels bearable for your child. (This does not mean that we never let him experience frustration—that won’t help him learn to cope with it.) We keep frustration levels bearable by setting realistic limits on behavior and maintaining them consistently. In this way your child feels secure because he knows what to expect and what is expected of him.
Watch for signs of rising frustration. Relieve the tension before he loses control or becomes frantic or has a temper tantrum. Frustration grows quickly when he is over-tired or has been over-stimulated. Watch out for those times and be ready remove him from the frustrating situation or divert his attention.
Growing Child says, “The emotional security provided by continued meeting of his physical and emotional needs frees the child from anxiety and uncertainty. Thus, freed, he can concentrate on a task, wait his turn when necessary to meet the demands of cooperative play, and accept with reasonably good humor the inevitable disappointments of life.”
Rightie or Leftie
Babies tend to use their hands interchangeably, but in the last year your toddler has probably begun to favor one hand over the other. He will continue to get more consistent in the use of his dominant hand. He will prefer and practice holding a spoon or toy in his dominant hand because it is stronger and more skillful. A few children use their dominant hand for eating and small motor activities and use the other for throwing balls and other large muscle activities.
Handedness is largely genetic. Only about 10% of us are left handed. If both parents are left handed the percentage of their children who are also left handed is 50%. Our handedness is hard-wired into our nervous system. So, do not try to force your child to change his inborn preference. Forcing him to change will create confusion and frustration for him.
One leftie we met said his father hit him every time he found him using his left hand. (Some Asian parents think it is shameful to be left handed.) Over time he quit using his left hand. He stuttered very badly. In his teens he read a book about difficulties lefties have when they are forced to be right handed. He told his father about the book and set out to reverse the pattern. As he became more adept with his left hand, his stuttering stopped. He became more self-confident and starred on a debate team before finishing high school. He is one of many who were harmed by being forced against his natural tendencies.
Your goal for your child is to become self-sufficient, independent, and capable of interacting positively with others. By encouraging independence now, you are helping your toddler grow toward the time he will be a confident student. Here are some suggestions to help him develop independence.
- Provide a structured environment in which he can learn to make choices and decisions. Structure provides limits without constant adult intervention.
- Predictable routines and schedules give children a sense of control over their environment and a sense of safety.
- Clear expectations and rules with consistent consequences help children learn safe ways of behaving. Use simple language and no long explanations.
- Plan changes and warn children of coming changes in routine or practice.
- Offer limited acceptable choices.
- Anticipate difficulties and give breaks to defuse trouble.
- Praise their actions and efforts frequently.
- Identify feelings verbally.
- Explain how his actions affect others.
Two year olds like to play parallel to other children. They have not yet begun to really play “with” others. But as he plays side-by-side with another child, you will notice furtive glances at what the other child is doing. They are beginning to subtly pay attention to how others are playing and may even begin to copy each other’s actions. This is the first step toward co-operative play.
He will benefit from playgroups. His confidence will grow when playgroups are small and familiar. Over this year you will see these children begin to enjoy shared activities. As their language skills improve and their imagination grows, they will be able to enjoy more co-operative play.
A Game of Sizes and Numbers
This game will take your child another step beyond basic the understanding of more or less.
The object of this game is to get the largest number of objects in a container. The container is considered full when the lid can be put on without forcing it.
Supplies: Two identical containers with lids and lots of things that will fit in the containers. Choose some objects that are big enough that only three or four will fill the container. Also choose some as small as is safe and lots of things in between these sizes. Make a big pile between you and your child.
Each of you has an open container. You take turns putting one item at a time into your container. When you have filled your container until the lid can go on without forcing it, that turn is over.
Pour out the contents of your containers. Arrange your items in a straight line. Then help your child put one of his items at a time parallel to one of yours. He will see the one-to-one correspondence. If you have ten or less, count the items as you put them down. He can easily see who has more.
Hint: Don’t give away your trick by only taking small items. Let him figure out that the more small items he picks the more he can fit in his container.
When he has learned the trick, help him cement this new knowledge by using different containers and different items. As his ability to judge sizes improves, make the difference between the sizes of the objects closer to the same.
More on Language Development
At 26 months your toddler understands more and more of what you say, but he still only really comprehends concrete, practical words and statements.
He still loves to copy what he hears whether it makes any sense to him or not. He uses many words that he doesn’t really understand. And since he doesn’t know words for many things he wants to say, he makes up his own words.
He is using the words “my” and “mine”, but still substitutes his own name for the word “I”.
He loves stories. Stories about himself are his favorite. And he likes to tell stories too. He doesn’t use any past tense because he’s really rooted in the present. When he tells his own stories they may be in sing-song sentences like he has heard from books read to him.
If you don’t understand something he says, echo what you did understand and end with a “wh-” word. Like: “Sam broke what?” Taking time to look at him, listen, attempting to understand, and touching him in a reassuring way goes a long way to better communication now and in the future.
Heavenly Father, as I try to teach my child to wait patiently, help me model this as I wait for him to do things for himself and to get ready to change activities. Help me to slow down and not expect too much from myself or my child. In Jesus’ name, Amen.