Movement is a real need for toddlers, a really big need. An exuberant toddler doesn't have to be a headache. A toddler's need for movement doesn't always match a parent's need for serenity, but it may help you to remember that each jump, tumble, whack and push helps your child develop his agility and coordination. With each repetition a fatty coating called myelin coats the neuron. A brain cell with this insulating coating can relay information up to 100 times faster! Even if you have no expectations for athletic prowess, movement is just one cornerstone of brain development. Without this important piece, healthy integrated development can't happen.
Three tips to help you navigate the romping and ruckus:
Background Music- Imagine watching a scene of a woman walking through the forest. The background music, a serene melody or an eerie riff, will completely change the emotion of the scene. For your child, you are the background music. Are you more like a scene from Jaws than the calm, confident soundtrack you'd like to be? Take a minute to notice your own emotions, take a deep breath and smile while your child sets out to explore.
Bumps, bruises and skinned needs are very important part of learning how to move. If your child takes a spill you can send the message, "I know you are capable and you'll be ok" when you wait and watch to provide the support your child needs rather than swooping in. Acknowledging in a calm voice, "Wow! That was a big tumble!" is much more comforting than gasping and grabbing your child as if the building was ablaze.
Helping Hurts- Keep in mind, every movement is an experiment. Your toddler is gathering data about his body in space, his abilities and limitations. Holding his hands while he walks down the stairs or hoisting him up a ladder is the same misinformation as teaching 2+2=5. He'll learn to be safe when he can experience his own limitations. This means she will struggle and feel frustrated. What an amazing opportunity to learn perseverance!
Say Yes! Is it okay for your toddler to hit and push? Absolutely! Hit a drum, push a wagon, throw a ball outside, squeeze and pound playdough, carry a heavy grocery bag, climb a learning tower. You can set safe, clear limits by explaining:
- Where can I do it? "You can run outside!" "You can tumble on the mat."
- To what? "You can hit the drum!"
- How can I do it? "You can use gentle hands to pet the dog." "Can you set the plate down so quietly that it doesn't even make a sound?"
- When can I do it? "I'll keep the puzzle for you until you are ready. You can knock over the blocks!"
- Time In If your child is not able to explore safely or respectfully, remove him from the situation and explain, "You can wait here until you are ready to join us (use your gentle hands, play safely)."