They move at light speed, they scream, they rarely sit still for more than a minute or two and the one word they can say with emphasis is, “No!” Oh…those toddlers! For many providers, this age group can be one of the most challenging. Toddlers require constant supervision and their attention spans seem almost nonexistent. They can be exhausting! But, they are also going through some of the most amazing changes in development. Their brains are growing and expanding in leaps and bounds which actually explains a lot of their behavior. Let’s take a look at what is going on inside the brain of those very busy toddlers.
Did you know that between the ages of birth and three, a child’s brain produces a million neural connects every SECOND?! That is truly amazing! Toddlers are also developing an awareness of who they are. When a toddler looks in a mirror, he/she thinks, “Hey, that’s me!” This recognition spills over into the toddler recognizing that he/she has likes and dislikes. Hence, why you often hear toddlers saying, “No!” This is also why it can take what seems to be 100 times offering toddlers a new food before they will even taste it.
Toddlers, because their brain is making all those neural connections, are also very, very busy little people…learning everything they can about their world through the senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. This is why they put all kinds of things in their mouths (that should not be), attempt to stick their little fingers in holes (they should not) and want to watch everything you do (including using the vacuum cleaner). This is also why it is important to make sure to never leave a toddler unattended… EVERYTHING is interesting.
So…what are some tricks for working with these busy, strong-willed little people? Well, as you are well aware, no two toddlers are alike. But here are some tips for working with toddlers we hope you find helpful!
Give choices … but just 2! Toddlers are in a fierce stage of independence so give them the opportunity to make a choice. Just keep that choice limited. For instance, for snack offer orange slices or apple slices. Let the toddler choose which one he/she would like. You can do the same thing for toys. Would you like to play with the blocks or the toy cars?
Attention Span = 3 minutes! Yes …that’s it. The average toddler (between the ages of 18 months and 3 years) may only have an attention span of 3 minutes. That’s 180 seconds. Keep this in mind when planning activities. Your toddlers may only stay with you for a few minutes and then decide to go on to something else. This is OK and totally developmentally appropriate! That said, you will probably find that toddlers will attend for longer periods of time IF they are actively involved. Music is great for toddlers! They generally will also spend more time with sand and water play. The key is to make sure that your toddlers are doing something. Sitting, listening and waiting a turn are not tasks toddlers are good at and will not be for several years. This is totally normal.
Bubbles Work Wonders – What child can resist bubbles? Watching bubbles float through the air can be soothing. Chasing bubbles is exciting and a great way to get the “wiggles” out. Keep bubbles on hand at all times and when your toddlers seem like they need to move, take them outside and start blowing.
Patience and Deep Breaths –We get it… working with toddlers can be extremely stressful. But like all stages of development, “This too shall pass.” The key is to try to remain as patient as possible and keep in mind that all of the stubbornness and irrational behavior is a normal part of development and will improve with time. (Well…until they are teenagers!). Remember to take a few deep breaths and try to remain calm the next time a toddler is in a complete meltdown. If you get upset, it will only make the situation worse. Then, use words to label the toddler’s emotions. Most toddlers do not have language to express how they feel and this is VERY frustrating for them. This is why toddlers act out how they feel. By labeling the toddler’s emotions, you are helping to set the groundwork for him/her to use his/her own words in the future.
Toddlers can certainly be challenging but they can also be adorable. Their smiles light up a room and a hug from a toddler is priceless. So, keep them moving, give them limited choices and watch in wonder as they grow and develop each day.