Toddlers get a bad rap. Sure they whine and throw tantrums. But can you blame them? There’s a lot going on in those pint-sized bodies.
By age two little ones grow to half their adult height—something they’ll spend the next two decades reaching. And their shape will morph from one designed for doing a whole bunch of nothing to one that can crawl, walk and run.
With the world at their fingertips, there’s still so much they can’t do. That’s where parents come in. As ministry leaders, we can partner with parents to help them be the best they can be. And for toddlers, that starts with embracing their physical needs.
Toddlers’ Physical Needs
Toddlers have four basic physical needs: independence, affection, rest, and wide open spaces. They probably aren’t even aware of these longings. But it’s important that parents are aware of these needs.
So let’s break it down, shall we?
Independence: They’re living the “do it myself” phase of life. Most things they can’t actually do themselves, but they sure want to try. After all, toddlers learn by doing.
Affection: Nothing matters more to a toddler than a parent’s physical, consistent presence.
Rest: Wired as he may be, your toddler needs a break. Naps and room time are like a reset for his mind and body.
Wide open spaces: Play is a deceptive word for all the work a toddler does while climbing a ladder at the park or running laps in the living room. Expending energy and gaining knowledge all while going a wee-bit wild is the necessary act of child’s—err, toddler’s—play.
How Parents Can Make a Difference
Parents can help their little one manage the transition to preschooler as long as they accomplish this number one goal: attending to their physical needs.
When you can encourage a parent to go for it and take on all the mess and energy that this action requires, a few beautiful things happen. They will:
Help their toddler develop confidence.
Reassure their toddler he is safe with you.
Answer their toddler’s big question, “Am I able?” with a resounding, “Yes!”
Portray God the Father as they extend patience, love and grace.
Six Practical Ways for Parents to Embrace Toddlers
1. Involve the toddler in daily activities.
Encourage parents to look for tasks that are challenging but doable and ask your toddler to help. Perhaps bake cookies together, put away groceries, or clean up a mess. The opportunity to practice a new skill allows a toddler to contribute to the family in a meaningful way.
2. Repeat a useful phrase.
Remember how it felt the last time you wanted to do something but your body or brain wouldn’t cooperate? Toddlers live in that moment. Remind parents to teach their toddler to work through his emotions by repeating a phrase like, “When you’re frustrated what can you do? Try again or ask for help.” Tell parents to say this over and over. Soon enough, the toddler will stop the parent mid-sentence, with a smile even, to say “Okay! I’ll try again!”
3. Offer toys and outings that build the toddler’s muscles.
Every parent has them: toys that light up, make noise, and require no effort on behalf of our kids. As often as you can, encourage parents to ditch those passive activities in favor of ones that improve gross and fine motor skills. Grab blocks, puzzles or playdough. Take a long walk, visit the park. Set the stage and let the toddler explore.
4. Cuddle on the couch with the toddler.
Affection is a miracle antidote. It’s also a lovely preventable measure that’s sure to ward off a tantrum or two. Remind parents to snuggle up on the couch or in bed at least once a day to cuddle, read books, or sing silly songs.
5. Relate to the toddler’s mistakes.
Toddlers crave approval. And they’re smart enough to know that peeing on the floor isn’t what a parent is looking for. Try to remind parents to avoid shaming toddler, which is demotivating and, instead, relate to their struggle. They might say, “It’s okay! Accidents happen.” And then they can share a story about when they made a mistake.
6. Stick to your guns.
Toddlers are little boogers who insist—quite convincingly—that they can play all day. But parents know better. Encourage two naps for toddlers under 18 months of age and one afternoon nap for older toddlers. If the toddler has trouble falling asleep, lay the bed with books and watch him or her grow a love for reading. Inspire parents to make rest a must in their homes.
When all else fails, be an encourager to parents with toddlers. Affirm effort over outcome with four little words: “You can do it!” And who knows? Perhaps that will trickle down to their little one.