for release January 26, 2001
by Melodie Davis
Note to Editors: Third of a three-part series on babies and early childhood
When the Toddler Wears You Out
In November I enjoyed observing one of my great nephews, Gabriel who turned two shortly before Christmas. How much you forget about the industriousness of toddlers when you are not around them on a daily basis!
Our family has a tradition of "going to the woods" for a walk after a big holiday or Sunday meal. My dad drives the lawnmower to the woods since he cannot walk on rough terrain and Gabriel was fascinated with that lawnmower. Gabriel rode on the wagon behind the lawnmower with his cousins. After the ride he got up on Grandpa's lap and pretended to drive, trying to move the gears, checking all the levers and switches. Busy, busy!
Of course, with toddlers, you worry about too much familiarity with dangerous things like lawnmowers, stairs, and open toilets-all the pitfalls of an ordinary household. How do you raise a toddler without making life one big series of "No! No!"
Toddlers have a very strong urge to explore, and also to do things big people do. Sometimes this is good. For the first 12 months Gabriel would eat anything his father ate. Dad ate broccoli, Gabe would eat broccoli. Dad ate olives, Gabe tried an olive and promptly screwed up his face in amusing bewilderment, but ate another.
This drive to be like grown ups -- or the other children around him-is what drives a toddler into so much trouble. They are not being naughty on purpose. I will always love the advice of Alta Mae Erb, who long ago authored a book on raising children, in the days when there weren't very many books on the subject. In a radio interview she said, "Curiosity is a great driving force that God gives to the child. If he weren't curious, he wouldn't learn. Getting into things is not naughtiness."
Alta Mae believed that children are just responding to the inner God-given drive to explore, to move, and to respond to surroundings. "It may be necessary to set limits to some activities, but if God says wiggle, should I demand sitting still?"
In addition to expressing curiosity, when the child seems to be willfully disobedient, he is finding out about his emerging self. At this stage of life he is developing independence -- learning that he is a different person than his parents. He may need to do things the opposite from you or from what you say in order to see how you react.
Of course, you have to provide guidance so they don't hurt themselves or others as they explore. You can clearly let a child know you are in charge and you are there to guide her. It's okay to stop them from doing something dangerous or inconvenient. You don't have to fear ruining a child's curiosity when you insist they shouldn't pull every book off the shelf.
Even modern child-rearing gurus like Dr. T. Berry Brazelton admit that after love, discipline is the most important thing you give your child. Good discipline includes reinforcing good behavior-catching him "doing good," and distracting or removing him from situations where he may get into trouble. But it is also administering discipline that is appropriate to the child's age, chiefly in letting him experience the consequences of his behavior. Jim Fay and Charles Fay of the Love and Logic Institute (www.loveandlogic.com <http://www.loveandlogic.com> ) offer some of the best advice in this regard, and in their books like Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood (Love and Logic Press, Golden, Colorado).
The basic idea is that you offer choices to the child, with logical consequences for misbehavior, and offer them with love rather than anger. For instance, if a child refuses to put his toys away, you tell him that he can put his toys away or not put them away. But, if you have to put them away, he will not have them to play with tomorrow. Then you follow through, and put them up for a day.
Nobody said that being consistent with even this kind of discipline is easy, but it offers rewards in the long haul as children learn to make their own choices within limits and then experience the uncomfortable consequences of their choices.
For a free parenting book, Working, Mothering and Other "Minor" Dilemmas, write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 740 words; end material = 105 words
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©2001 by Globe Syndicate, all rights reserved.
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