The need to push the toddler into a group setting or class, when they resist and cling and find it difficult to separate? This is normal behaviour for the 18 month to 2.5 year old and what they need more than anything at this age is as much consistency, love and nurturing as possible.
There is a troubling trend of enrolling young toddlers into programs that are promoted to help the child become more confident, but I have found that these activities often have the reverse affect down the road, of making children more insecure.
I know that many parents feel pressured to enroll their young children in a variety of outcome based programs, for example the pottery class where the 2 year old comes home with a perfectly crafted bowl (not age appropriate at all), by way of proving to the world that they are indeed good parents and actively involved with their child’s development.
After only 24 months on this earth, the 2 year old is just starting to understand the world they inhabit and it is a very big and sometimes scary place. As they master walking they can alight from your arms, but this does not necessarily mean they have the tools to be totally independent. If anything, they actually need you more. You, or the responsible & consistent adult, needs to be there, by their side, offering encouragement, helping to negotiate the terrain (both physically and metaphorically), teaching them manners, giving the words that will become their vocabulary, reminding them to be thoughtful in their social interactions, illustrating how to take turns and also providing the loving arms when the inevitable melt down occurs and everything just becomes too much.
The 2 year old has such a lot to learn on a daily basis. Why add more expectations to their plate? A child learns more in the first 3 years of life, than at any other time. Don’t diminish the value of the daily experiences and social interactions that you take for granted or might seem inconsequential.
When it comes time to consider the preschool experience – again don’t rush into this – take time to explore and choose the daycare or preschool setting carefully. Are the director and teachers nurturing the important aspects of your child’s development or is it just academic? Is all important play at the core of their mission, or are they promoting some sort of entrance to a school down the road? Do they offer understanding and nurturing support when the child collapses with fatigue or being overwhelmed? Is it a calm, clean and safe environment? Are the responsible adults trained in early childhood development and do they enjoy their work? Would you want to stay there for 3 hours a day? These are all mindful observations you must make.
A study was done years ago, that looked a youngsters who had a difficult time separating and clung to the parent or caregiver when unsure, often until 4 or 5, years of age. The findings were actually quite interesting, in that children who had forged such strong and loving relationships and did not like to be apart, actually had much more fulfilling adult relationships and were far more ready and willing to open themselves to others as they matured.
The children who were bounced about between caregivers and plugged into programs were seen as capable and “advanced” in the early years, but they actually had learned how to shut down at a very early age, as a way to protect themselves from inevitable hurt and disappointment. Their adult relationships were not as fulfilling, deeply loving or long standing. Commitment became a big issue for these children who had learned, early on, not to get too close.
These results actually make sense when you look at the big picture.
Since children learn from the very beginning how to forge relationships based on our example it is good to pause before feeling pressured to act, and as difficult as it is, try to resist the nagging doubt that can be so pervasive when talking with other parents. The list of “to do’s” and benchmarks set by parents is quite astounding, and those of us who work and study early childhood, wonder where the momentum is coming from. There seems to be a quiet force and dialogue that floats about and it has somehow become the standard that all are to aspire to.
Slowly step back. Be still. Listen and observe your child. They are really very good at communicating their needs, if you pay attention. Don’t push them too fast or too hard or create a template of expectations. This sets a dangerous precedent of judging from a very early age and your children will not grow in confidence, but rather shrink into insecurity for fear of not measuring up.
Your child is on their own personal journey. You are here to guide, nurture, mentor and love unconditionally.
With these basic blocks as their foundation your children will soar.
c Jean Alice Rowcliffe 2012