If the toddler years are marked by one question, it is this: ‘Why?’ “The perspective of a newborn is very limited—she can’t move, so can only see what you dangle in front of her,” says Alison. “Then she learns to crawl, and she has a new, but very low, perspective on the world. At the toddler stage, her head is suddenly raised up and she sees the world from a new perspective yet again. Everything looks different, and deserves reexamination.”
And there is something joyful about this continual curiosity. “A
adults, we inhibit our curiosity,” says Alison, “perhaps because we want to be seen as cool, or worldly-wise.” Toddlers, on the other hand, are completely transparent about their ign rance
and, as a result, they learn incredibly fast—much faster than we do. Studies have shown that the very fact they know less enables them to learn more. As adults, we bring too much of what we already know—or think we know—to a new problem, and it clouds any new understanding. Perhaps, being clueless could be a good thing.
Appreciate the little things
We’ve all experienced that classic scenario of buying an expensive toy for our toddler, only to discover that what she really loves is the box. From birth, your baby learns through first-hand experiences, depending entirely on her senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. And that’s why your toddler still gravitates towards experiences that immediately reward her senses. But as we grow older, we educate ourselves away from these simple joys. “We learn what value things have,” explains Alison, “and that feeds into our appreciation of things.” But it also stops us from gasping at the beauty of blossom on the trees, or relishing the feeling of grass on our bare toes. Earlier this year, a study found that the simple act of stopping to observe nature can lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, however. So stop and smell the roses!
“Most toddlers love to draw and paint as a way to express themselves,” says Alison, “as well as loving the praise you give them for it.” By the age of about eight, however, most children stop drawing at every opportunity. “That’s because this is the age at which they realise art has a value —that it needs to look right, and that other people’s judgements of their work matter,” adds Alison.
As adults, if we don’t think we are good at something, we’re embarrassed to do it. Most of us don’t paint or draw at all. But we should. “Getting back to that idea that the audience’s opinion doesn’t matter, that selfexpression
is the ultimate goal, is
a very healthy thing,” says Alison.
“Being creative helps lower stress
levels, distracts you from the demands of everyday life and leaves you feeling calm.”
“Planning is a pretty complex procedure for brains,” says Alison. “And so your toddler is only able to plan in the very short term. She’s not able to understand, for example, that she can have a banana after lunch. To her, if it’s not happening now, it’s not happening, full stop!” The upside of this is that your toddler is, in effect, a mindfulness expert, explains Alison: “In her world, it’s only ever all about the here and the now. She is entirely present in the moment.” As adults, we rush around with our mind permanently in the future: what will we cook for tea, what emails do we need to send, when is Aunty Emily’s birthday? Research has shown, however, that focusing entirely on the present moment decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increases signalling connections in the brain and gives us better control over our emotions and even pain.
Seek out love
When your toddler is feeling scared, unsure or unwell, her first instinct is to reach for a hug. And she’s got it right. A 2015 study revealed that hugs reduce stress, due to the release of oxytocin, the very same bonding hormone that promotes attachment between mothers and their newborns. “As we get older, we lose this emotional honesty that toddlers have in abundance,” says Alison. So give those close to you a hug whenever you get the urge: you’ll feel happier for it. |MB