This past weekend we saw Toy Story 3. If you haven't seen it, beware spoiler alert!
Toddlers get a bit of a bad rap in this film. But we think that Buzz makes a solid point. There is something to the idea of age appropriateness in regards to toys. If you haven't seen the movie, Andy's toys find themselves in a daycare toddler room and are sorely abused. They are thrown, colored on, tossed about, sucked on, licked, and ripped apart. The toys hate it and plan their escape. Buzz pleads to the big-bear-in-charge to be moved to the preschool room, where the children play lovingly with toys. He explains that Andy's toys are not meant for the toddler room, that they are not age appropriate for toddlers. He makes a point, and its one we would agree with.
Far too often, toddlers take the rap for our poor planning. We give them things that aren't for them, inundate them with rules and expectations, and then become shocked when they protest. They get called willful and difficult. They are referred to as Neanderthals by renowned pediatricians. Synonymous with their stage is the word terrible. We would be cranky too!
In full disclosure, we adore this age! Adore it! Most people are suckers for the little faces, sweet little hands, and the their language quirks. But we are suckers for the parts that most people are hell bent on getting rid of. We say bring on the will. Bring on the opinions, discernment, and speaking up for themselves. We should mention that we are big talkers and consequently so are the toddlers we have had the pleasure of knowing. It has always been confusing for us when we read the conventional musings on toddler's lack of ability to communicate. This has not been our experience. We've always found that if we are listening they will let us know what they need. Have you ever noticed that toddlers often are modeling the adult we wish we could be? The ability to say "no" efficiently and with no regrets, willingness to express their feelings without censuring themselves, and the ability to get their needs met whether it be for a nap, snack, or "Help me!!".
What makes them difficult from the adult point of view is our inability to control them. Just a few short months ago, we could pick them up and plop them down. Take things away. Make all the decisions without any consultation. But now, gone is the go-along-to-get-along spirit that we are used too. Now we have this person demanding to be heard and often adults don't like it.
They have ideas about how things should go, what they should wear, and what they want to eat.
We have found that working with a toddler is always much more enjoyable than trying to control them. If we want our walls to stay clean- perhaps no crayons or markers until older. Crayons and markers are so much fun, especially if you have older siblings because it is something that older children use, but since young toddlers don't have amazing fine motor ability yet- drawing on paper can sometimes stifle their creative juices. (Tip: sidewalk chalk washes off in the rain and stays outside. Paint brushes and water leave no traces.) We have found that generally when toys are played with roughly, then something in the environment needs to change. Maybe it's nap time. Or maybe they need more space to run free. Or maybe the toys in the space do not hold a toddler's interest not because toddlers have short attention spans (gosh, we wish we had a dollar for all the times we were twiddling our thumbs while waiting for a toddler to be ready to move on!) but rather because the toy isn't right for them developmentally. Often, the toys are too specific. There is not much to do with a Buzz Lightyear except role play with him. And since they aren't quite there yet- they make up new ways to play with him. Toss him, pull on him, lick him. Toddlers thrive on open ended toys. Toys that do not have specific rules, expectations, or purposes. They are developing their creativity, imagination, ingenuity, and autonomy. This is why they will play with a cardboard box instead of the toy. They want to be the master of their domain. They want to be the one creating the play. Not piggybacking on an other's idea.
And shouldn't they get to have someplace free of the word that is said over and over to them throughout the day, "no". We smiled for days after hearing Ellen mention on her show that it's no wonder it's a child's first word when that's all we say to them! Smart lady! Their play space should be a "Yes Zone". Free of constraints and safe to explore. Then the environment can make everyone's day go a little easier. We don't have to manage their play- hallelujah! And they will be happy not being controlled!
p.s. One more thought on the impulse to control toddlers, when you think about it it's pretty silly, as a teacher of ours once pointed out "Toddlers got the memo [on who's in charge]. The height gives us away."