How Toddlers Thrive
I don’t have a lot of time to read, and when I do have a few precious moments, I don’t read parenting books. I’ve recently gone on hiatus from consuming parenting advice because so much of it sounds great in theory, but falls apart in real-life situations. Some of it doesn’t speak to who I am and what I want for my children. Of course, no one parenting book can cover all one’s parenting needs, but who wants to plow through dozens of books to find what’s really useful?
It was with the attitude that I approached How Toddlers Thrive by Tovah P. Klein, PhD. The tagline on the cover says, “What parents can do today for children ages 2-5 to plant the seeds for lifelong success.” Despite the pressure I perceived when I read it, I was pleasantly surprised with the book.
Dr. Klein had me at the introduction when she states that parenting is not one-size-fits-all. That’s common sense to me, but I’ve read plenty of books and articles that make parents feel bad if their kids aren’t doing whatever all the other kids are doing. She encourages parents to find what is useful and discard or change what is not. She asks parents to look at the world through your child’s eyes and customize your parenting.
Not only is Dr. Klein the mother of three boys (who are all beyond the toddler years), but also she is a child psychologist and the director of the Barnard Center for Toddler Development. She is an advisor to children’s film and TV (Sesame Street!), and is frequently quoted in parenting magazines and the media as an expert on toddler development and parenting issues. I figure Dr. Klein knows what she’s talking about.
There were many parts of How Toddlers Thrive that resonated with me. My copy is full of highlights, sticky notes, and dog-eared pages. I read the book cover-to-cover, but I don’t think you absolutely have to if you don’t have time. What is of interest to you with your 2-year-old may not apply a year later. Having said that, there is a foundation, so you wouldn’t be wasting your time to read all of it.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part focuses on understanding the toddler mind and the second part focuses on everyday behaviors, offering real-life advice on things like tantrums and potty training. Here’s something from each part that I loved. In Chapter 3, “Toddler’s-Eye View,” we’re encouraged that when we shift our point of view, we change our interaction with our toddlers. Why is this important? Well, we all bring our own childhoods into parenting. As Dr. Klein states:
It’s important to become aware of who you are in relation to your child, and how your own attitudes, expectations, and experiences may be shadowing your parenting approach. You may come to realize some surprising ways that your own experience is getting played out in your relationship with your own child!
This is so true for me. I have often found myself comparing my children to who I thought I was when I was a child, thinking things like, I never did THAT when I was 5. This is such a mistake because A) I can’t possibly remember much about being 5 years old, and B) even if I never did whatever “bad” behavior I’m upset about, it has nothing to do with my children. They are unique individuals, with their own thoughts and attitudes.
Chapter 8, “Cracking the Code on Toddler Learning,” proved to be eye-opening because I’m in the middle of teaching my 2 ½-year-old twins, Devin and Donovan, to share. At least I was. I’m backing off and taking a different approach because I have a new perspective.
Devin and Donovan are not developmentally ready to share. I keep banging my head on this wall trying to make them ready, but that’s not possible because “they do not yet fully understand that others have wishes that could conflict with their own.” They’ll start to gain a new attitude when they’re a bit older. We all want our children to be kind and want to share, but it’s a skill that develops over time and with many interactions with other children, siblings, teachers, etc.
I’ve stopped forcing my children to share because I can’t force altruism. None of us can. How many adults behave altruistically when they really don’t want to? Very few of us, and even more so with children who are learning. Actions done by force are never from the heart and I definitely want my children to be kind because it’s what they genuinely feel, not what I pushed. I experimented with letting the twins share on their terms, without interference from me. The surprising thing is that it works. If you read the book, you’ll understand why this is so and how to facilitate it.
My only complaint with How Toddlers Thrive is that some of it is repetitious. However, even that didn’t bother me as much as it normally does. Dr. Klein is so nonjudgmental and breezy that I felt like she’s a friend letting me in on little secrets I didn’t know about a few years ago. I have new ideas about parenting that I know will help me going forward.
Mother’s Day is quickly approaching and How Toddlers Thrive makes an excellent gift for new moms, and even for mothers who might be on the third or fourth round as a toddler mom. The self-awareness that parents can gain from this book is useful far beyond the toddler years. Get a copy for yourself so that you have it whenever an issue comes up. If you have toddlers, issues do indeed come up and Dr. Klein covers them. From toddler thinking to toddler emotions and learning, she convinced me that every toddler problem has a solution that starts with the parent.
How have you handled raising toddlers? Share your experiences below.