(Toddler proof barrier: This is the way my living room sometimes looked when Patrick was a young toddler and the older kids didn’t want him wrecking whatever they were bulding.)
There is an age between the time when a baby starts toddling (and is officially a ‘toddler’) and when they develop the will to be able to understand and obey directives.
This is the stage where they will hurdle head first down stairs. They will wiggle and squiggle to get down and want to run in church. When you take them to a party, your only job is to make sure they don’t pull off tablecloths, pour someone’s forgotten drink onto themselves, pick up every object and put it in their mouths or fling it, tear out all the pots and pans, play in the toilet and run, run, run. It is a time of intense activity, it is a time when a mother’s heart drops at least once a day when she sees what could have potentially happened with those active feet and hands and tipsy body. It tests the patience on those hard days and it takes lots and lots of energy.
It is important to remember that they are wired for exploration and discovery. It’s really as if their brains and bodies are making them try again and again. Movement in and of itself is critical at that stage of human development. There are connections with the brain as exploration of one’s world takes over with great energy. The little one is truly driven to explore and manipulate his surroundings. The child is self constructing herself from all that surrounds her. It is her drive toward independence!
Here is my advice:
-Keep in mind that this is a short period of time that requires intense parental guidance. It will get easier!
-Do everything in your might to place them in hard environments as rarely as possible. Make your home environment as safe as possible, so you can relax a little and they can explore. Your home with this age should be your oasis-where the toddler can explore all he or she wants and not have to worry about hearing no, no, no constantly or being under your thumb so that you cannot get a thing done. I usually barricaded stairs and made sure bathroom doors were closed (and yes, older kids forget sometimes!) but I put lamps up, kept drawers and cabinets that were down low full of things I knew were safe for them to explore, and rubber banded the ones that weren’t ok, and let them have free reign. Dr. Sears calls this creating a “yes” environment.
In my experience it was never enough for them and just frustrating to keep the toddler in one “play room”-they wanted to follow me and I wanted to be able to move somewhat freely around my house. To me, cleaning up a mess of pots and pans. or Tupperware, or a craft basket filled with yarn and paint brushes for them to explore, was easier than constantly keeping them away from things, and it also bought me precious time to cook or clean or help with homework. I just cleaned up the messes as I went along the day, embracing that this was the stage we were in right now.
-Pay attention to YOUR patience level. It is okay to say no to trivial outings and events and environments that might just push you beyond your patience level, and your little one beyond their ability to stay still. There will be time for these things in the future! When they are necessary, knowing ahead of time that it wasn’t going to be a time when I could fully socialize and accepting that it would be hard work made it easier and gave me more patience.
-Redirect, redirect, redirect. Distract and divert.
-Don’t project into the future. Just because they don’t listen to “no” now, does not mean they will be naughty rebellious children and teenagers. They aren’t purposely trying to drive us mad, nor are they at all old enough to be manipulative and conniving. Be patient, be present, be “on the ball”, and have fun with them. They can still learn “gentle”, “hot”, “no touch”, “yucky” etc, but it will have to be repeated and we will have to be engaged, not yelling across the room, expecting them to obey.
-Stay calm. Calm parenting makes for calm children. They are still just babies! They are so so trusting and loving and easy to smile. They don’t need strict, punitive discipline, this will backfire. They need tender loving care, and a settled, appropriate environment while they explore their world.