Welcome to the toddler years! Your little baby is growing up, and changing significantly.
While your child’s first year had its challenges – sleepless nights, feeding issues, unexplained crying – the toddler years signal a whole new dynamic.
Your toddler now wants to be her own person, to explore more, and say "No!" more often. She wants to do more things for herself, even when it’s not convenient, and she'll seem to have boundless energy.
Developmentally, the ages from one to three involve amazing growth and learning. Toddlers are outgrowing their baby years, but they’re not yet capable of doing everything they would like to do. They are years of great exploration and experimentation, which can involve frustration (read tantrums) for both your child – and you.
The toddler years are characterised by a range of contradictions which can be difficult to manage. But when you understand what is happening for your child developmentally, you can guide them, help them learn, and also have realistic expectations of their behaviour.
I want to explore ... but please keep me safe
Toddlers love to explore and experiment; it’s a major way they learn more about their world. But they want to feel safe, too. Sometimes your toddler might spend the day running away from you, and other times they may cling to you. They want to be more independent, but they can also be worried about change. They love to explore new things, but they also love consistency and predictability.
I’m happy ... I’m sad ... I’m happy again
Toddlers aren’t great at managing their emotions. If they're feeling something, most toddlers will normally share it, whether that’s infectious joy or deep frustration - and they can go from infectious joy to deep frustration and then back to infectious joy within a second. Toddlers can often feel overwhelmed by their emotions, and unable to control their impulses.
I want to do it myself ... but I can’t quite do it myself
Toddlers want to do more things themselves: they want to dress and feed themselves, help in the kitchen, wash the dog, ride that bike, and use those scissors. But they don’t always have the skills to do everything they want to do. Their physical skills are still developing, which can often lead to a mismatch between their desires and their abilities.
I love to play with others ... but only if I don’t have to share
Toddlers love playing with friends, but they’re not always great at sharing. Often, they will only become interested in a toy if someone else begins playing with it! But toddlers are better at playing beside other kids, which still means they have social interaction and a sense of sharing.
I’ve learnt lots of new words ... but not all the words I need
Toddlers’ language skills are developing rapidly. Your toddler knows and understands more words, and can begin to string short phrases or sentences together. But they cannot yet express everything they would like to, which an often lead to frustration, and yes, tantrums.
So how can you navigate all these contradictions?
The best answer is: with love. Pour lots of love on your toddler, give them lots of cuddles and affection, listen to them, give them your attention, explain why they can’t do something in simple terms, name their emotions for them, help guide their behaviour when it’s inappropriate, be firm when it’s important, suggest a better way to do something, catch them being good, and keep your home safe. If possible, try and see the world through their eyes: it will increase the wonder, and hopefully help you manage the toddler years with more calm understanding.
Jodie Benveniste is a psychologist, parenting author and the founder of Parent Wellbeing. You can find more parenting inspiration at parentwellbeing.com.