We’re always trying to teach our toddlers, but they can teach us, too. Here are six life lessons we can take away from the toddlers in our lives.
Forgive, Forget, and Then Have Fun Together: We waste so much time holding grudges. We sulk, pout, gossip, and complain long after something has happened. When something really upsets a toddler, he’ll have a massive meltdown, but a few minutes later he’ll give a big hug, and minutes after that he’ll be running down the street after a butterfly. It makes our heads spin to see how fast a toddler’s mood changes, but there’s a lesson there: Let it go. At times, it’s a more sophisticated way to handle life.
Master Something New: We love to stay in our comfort zones. As an adult, months can go by before we try to do something truly new, let alone master it. A toddler loves to do novel things until she learns them fully and completely. Eventually she’ll add variation and innovation, but at the beginning, it’s all about mastery. At the park, she wants to play store and have you buy woodchips from her little fake storefront so many times you could build your own tree. She asks you to read her favorite book over and over until she can recite every line. Toddlers remind us to occasionally dive into something new.
When You’re Done, You’re Done: Why do we stay in situations that we know are bad for us, soul draining, or mind numbing far longer than we should? We drag it out, hoping it will get better, thinking we can stand it just a little longer. When a toddler is done, he’s really done, and there’s no hanging on. When he’s finished eating, he says, in a singsong voice, “All done!” and makes the sign with his hands for extra emphasis. If you try to cajole, “Just one more bite of peas?” he just repeats it again, louder, “All done!” and jiggles his highchair to remind you to get him out of there. He does the same when he’s somewhere like the children’s museum or the zoo, and it’s has been great fun, but maybe just a bit too much. When you hear his “All done!” there’s no sneaking in one more wind exhibit or monkey house. There are things in all of our lives we should stop doing with the conviction, clarity, and stubbornness of a toddler.
Make Something Out of Nothing: Sometimes, in the depths of our routines, we forget how much fun it can be to create. “I want to do a project!” a toddler begs. Toddlers glue cheerios on toilet paper rolls, goldfish crackers to blue paper, and gravel pieces on paper plates. They stamp, color, tape, cut, and paint. It’s delightful to watch them make something out of nothing. Creating is a time that a toddler’s proud of. She might enjoy brightening someone’s day with her project, like sending it through the mail to Grandma. It adds color, creativity, and fun to life. Toddlers inspire us to make things–there’s a special joy in it.
Use Your Body: As adults, we use our bodies for such a small part of what they’re capable of. Sitting in front of computers, TVs, steering wheels, little electronic devices–we get so darn stiff. Even when we work out, we do the same things over and over again. A toddler uses his body in all sorts of ways. He walks on every curb like a balance beam, tiptoes through the library, bangs hammers, spins in circles, digs in the sand, splashes in the bath, squats to look at a little flower, and pedals his big wheel. Toddlers show us how to get up and go.
Share the Best (and Funniest) Parts of Your Day: It’s so easy to come home and whine, vent, sigh, or complain. When someone asks, “How was your day,” we often give a recap without sharing any of the real moments of connection, joy, humor or magic. A toddler talks about the funniest or best parts of her day. A toddler will tell you, “Dad lost the car in the parking lot!” or “The baby unrolled a whole roll of toilet paper!” Toddlers remind us to share moments of light and laughter.
What has a toddler taught you lately?
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, blogs regularly at ParentHappy. Follow her for articles on positive, mindful parenting.