Monday, May 26, 2014

The Softer Side of Toddlers

Observing a toddler interact with a baby can be nerve racking. 
As a former playgroup facilitator for babies and toddlers, it was not unusual to hear well-intentioned parents issue warnings before their toddler had the opportunity to engage.

"Be gentle! Be nice!  Don't Touch!"

However, by avoiding premeditated and often imagined catastrophes, children are prevented from exploring relationships and building friendships.  

As young as three months, El adored her toddler friends.  At nine months she still watches them closely as they scurry around the room, always returning to squat down and study her. They present toys to her as if they were gifts without any incentive or directive to share.  And when toys are taken (if they can pry them from her tough little fingers), they are often replaced with another one. 

They stroke her head as she nurses, pat her tummy as she plays and occasionally she receives a gentle hug. What her older friends know about caregiving is illuminated when they engage with my daughter.  

Therefore, to help ease my parental anxieties when facilitating play amongst babies and toddlers, I keep these tips in mind. 

Consider proximity: Sit close enough to intervene but far back enough to provide a sense of comfort and autonomy. 

Narrate (aka sportscasting):  Help both children tune into their environment, their actions and each other, by objectively narrating their play as it unfolds. 

Listen: Provide moments of silence to allow the children to take the lead in communications. 

TRUST:  Refrain from the knee-jerk response to prematurely intervene. Unless it's an immediate safety concern, wait, wait and then wait some more.                                                                                             

I'm not claiming that baby and toddler social interactions are void of conflict and clumsiness.  However, despite the need to occasionally block a poke in the eye or a swat at the nose, the majority of interactions I have witnessed negate the stereotypical egocentric toddler and the fragile baby.  

By learning to control the impulse of always being on high alert, and providing the freedom to play despite developmental differences, I have witnessed children's amazing capacity for empathy, curiosity and the sophisticated ability to communicate through gestures, vocalizations and touch.

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