The Terrible Twos. The Terrible Threes. Even the Terrible Fours. Is toddlerhood really that terrible?
I look at my toddler, my three year old with an angelic face (aren’t they all?) and I think, “No, he’s anything but terrible.”
Toddlerhood is that precarious point where a child is eager to and capable of exploring, but doesn’t understand limits and boundaries, so is always pushing and testing. It can be, and is, quite exhausting and frustrating, but as long as I frame his age this way, everything is fine.
In this series of toddlerhood posts, I hope to provide tips to help make this age a little more manageable and a little less frustrating. For those living those toddler years, I would also love to know what helps keep you and your family sane. Also, be on the look out for some fantastic guest posts from moms living with toddlers!
My background is in clinical psychology, so I’ve studied human development more than once, learned many theories of development. As my children grow and age, there are a few things I like to keep in mind, especially during these toddler years.
Erik Erikson: Autonomy vs. Shane and Doubt
Let’s start with my favorite theorist: Erik Erikson (don’t ask me who named him). His theory of psychosocial development is broken into 8 stages, from infancy into old age. Each stage has a crisis that needs to be resolved. During the toddler years, children are faced with Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt. They want to know if they can be themselves, whether or not they are, so to speak, good enough. Is it okay for them to be who they are? This can be thought of as, perhaps, an initial discovery of oneself.
Oh, is that why toddlers push boundaries and want to try everything and nothing?
Maybe. Likely. I’m pretty sure.
Toddlerhood is filled with so much to explore. Everything is new again as their brains rapidly fire and develop. They acquire skills, interests, and fears every day. Sometimes they might even seem like a different child every day. But they are exploring and growing and discovering themselves. All they really need is to be told it’s okay. Here are some rules and boundaries, now try this on your own or explore this. This is a time when children are learning what they are capable of and it’s important that parents support and protect them. This will help guide them towards autonomy and a place where they can clear the next hurdle: initiative vs guilt (taking the initiative to do something new with confidence vs feeling guilty for wanting to do something authority figures may deem silly, unnecessary, etc.).
Piaget: Cognition and the Pre-operational Stage (and Egocentrism)
Now let’s move into cognitive development and my second favorite theorist: Piaget. His theory is a little more complex, but so is cognition! During the toddler years, children are in the pre-operational stage, which is split into the symbolic function (objects don’t have to be present to be remembered and understood) and intuitive thought substages (get ready for every why question that exists, and then some!).
During this stage, egocentrism also runs rampant. Toddlers cannot see things from another perspective. All they know is what they can see and understand. They cannot understand that Mom and Dad see things differently.
Oh, maybe that’s why it’s like talking to a wall when we parents try to explain things.
On the other hand, toddlers crave play time so they can explore the world and how things work. Symbolic play? Oh, yes, and plenty of it!
Vygotsky: Zone of Proximal Development
Finally, Vygotsky and his zone of proximal development. This is when a child is given a task that is harder than what they can accomplish on their own. But with guidance and help from parents and teachers, it can be done and they can learn to do it on their own. If a child is only given what they can do, they never really learn and they never really learn to struggle and strive. As a parent, I am aiming to help my toddler grow and learn by constantly testing what he can do and helping until he can master it on his own.
So there you go, some psychology that guides how I think about and raise my toddler.
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