From the very moment that little one takes residence in mama’s belly, he or she begins making demands. Feed me! I am hungry! Give me more! My little one demanded that I eat spinach. I ate spinach salads, spinach quiche, and spinach quesadillas. I ate so much spinach that my husband swore I was incubating Popeye and yet, it still did not seem that I was eating enough spinach to satisfy my growing tyrant.
The demands also go the other way, as well. Don’t eat that! I am serious…don’t eat that! Well, now you have done it. Come on, woman; get up because those cookies are not going to toss themselves! Oh sure, we are told that morning sickness is caused by hormones and genetics, but I think we all know those tiny task masters are actually exacting punishment on mama not following their rules.
Babies arrive in this world no less demanding than in utero. As parents, we respond to each and every request willingly, often before we are even asked. Feed me! Change me! Hold me! As I held my daughter in my arms for the first time, I promised her that I would always be there for her. I promised to take care of her, keep her safe, and love her more each day.
These are the easiest promises I have ever made, as there is nothing I would not do for my daughter. I have sacrificed sleep and personal hygiene to attend to her every need and I do so readily because I am so just so grateful to have her in my life.
There comes a point, however, as our babies grow into toddlers that we become less willing to jump at every request. It is not that we care any less or that these tiny humans have become entirely independent. It is because these pint size drill sergeants start making demands that go beyond satisfying their basic needs.
Tiny Toddler Taskmasters
Feed me! Change me! Hold me! These are the tasks in which we continue to automatically oblige. Let me bounce on the furniture! Let me climb the stairs by myself! Let me drink out of the dog’s water dish! These are the demands that we obviously have trouble with and we begin uttering the word no like some sort of mantra. No. No. No. No. No!
At the same time our toddlers are beginning to explore their independence, we parents are beginning to assert our authority. We want to wrangle the reins of power out of those tiny hands and take control. We are the parents and what we say goes! It is our parental battle cry. Yes, we must set limits for our children. As I teacher, I know firsthand how children thrive in a structured and controlled environment.
Outside of responding to our child’s basic and most immediate needs, there are three times you should happily acquiesce to that tiny toddler taskmaster.
1. Say “Yes” when your toddler wants you to read a story.
The life of a parent is a busy one and it never seems like there are enough hours in the day. We have job responsibilities, household chores to complete, and dinner to prepare. I get it. The other day, I had dinner on the stove and my daughter comes toddling my way with a book in her hand. I had just finished reading her the same book, five times in a row, not fifteen minutes prior.
I could have tried to explain to her that if she gave me just a few more minutes, I would read the book to her five more times. Instead, I looked down at my daughter’s hopeful little face and I turned off the burner on the stove. I plopped down on the kitchen floor and gathered her in my lap to read her book.
The Best Two Minutes You Will Ever Spend
It was a board book and took all of two minutes to read. I could have been two minutes closer to finishing dinner. Instead, I spent two minutes fostering my child’s love of books and reading. It was important to show my daughter that books are so important that they are worth dropping everything for.
Those two minutes were pent developing her early literacy skills and I will never regret it. I do not even remember now what I was cooking for dinner, but I clearly recall the enormous smile on her face as we were reading and the round of applause I received when we had finished!
2. Say “Yes” when your toddler wants to throw an impromptu dance party.
My daughter hears anything resembling a beat and wants to get down and boogie. It can be her dad whisking eggs for an omelet or a commercial jingle. The next thing I know, she is bouncing to the rhythm and waving her hands around like she just doesn’t care.
Of course, you are busy. You could be an appreciative spectator of the dance party and give your child a distracted smile followed by half-hearted clapping. Instead, put on your dancing shoes and join the festivities!
Just as we use music to soothe our colicky babies, we can use music to ignite a lifelong passion in our toddlers. Music helps toddlers acquire language and develop motor skills. In the classroom, I have often tried to teach a difficult concept to my students with limited success. The second I take that concept and set it to music, all of the sudden light bulbs start exploding over student’s heads.
Toddlers love music and rhythm, but this love needs to be cultivated like a fine wine in order for it to come to fruition later in life.
Dancing to music helps toddlers develop coordination. I began taking ballet classes at the age of two. I am still horribly clumsy, but I have learned how to fall gracefully, to which I credit my dance experience. A dance party may occur any time or any place, depending on when the mood strikes your tot.
My daughter and I were at the grocery store this week when she heard a song that she liked playing over the speakers. As she started bopping in her seat in the grocery cart, I instantly began shuffling and boogying my way down the aisles. I received some strange looks, but the only audience I cared about was the one right in front me. Her face was alight with glee. Why not nurture your child’s innate love of music and dance while burning a few extra calories at the same time?
3. Say “Yes” when your toddler wants to engage in pretend play.
My husband works long hours. When he comes home after a fourteen-hour day he is understandably exhausted. Before he can even take his shoes off, here comes his real boss, wanting to play princesses. I can see in his eyes that he is ready to collapse, but he gets down on the floor and grabs a princess. A toddler’s attention span is usually less than five minutes. However, even that brief amount of time lays the foundation for developing a vivid imagination.
I used to do a visualization exercise with my second graders in which I would ask them to close their eyes and picture what I was wearing that day. Only a few could conjure an image of me in their mind’s eye. The majority of the students did not spend enough time in their young lives developing their imagination. Instead they relied upon movies and video games to see the world of make-believe.
The Value of Pretend Play over Technology
We live in an age where technology rules. There is no escaping it and it does have its place. Those students who had trouble creating pictures in their minds were the same students who struggled with writing, reading comprehension, and mental math.
Playing peek-a-boo or joining your child’s stuffed animals at the pretend zoo will nurture your child’s creativity, develop their imagination, and lay the foundation for academic success later. Furthermore, it is fun. My creativity is sparked by playing pretend with my daughter! Each new scenario I invent for the princesses results in both my daughter and I collapsing in a heap of giggles.
It may feel like you are in a never ending power struggle with your toddler tyrant. However, giving in every once in a while makes it more meaningful when you say no. No, the couch is not a trampoline. No, do not catapult yourself down the stairs. No, the dog food is not for you. Saying “yes” to a few things that you think mean the most will bring joy and relief to both you and your darling dictator.
It only takes a few minutes to read a story or shake your groove thing or visit the land of make believe, but these are the moments that will set your child on a path to success. These are the moments, as parents, you will never forget. So, go ahead, say yes.
Read more of my articles on toddlers and parenting for Creative Child Magazine here.
When do you say “yes” to your toddler? Please comment and share below!