Toddlerhood is my favourite stage so far. Seriously, terrible twos, threenager – why does the world take such a negative view of this vibrant time in a baby’s life? When I thought about it, I quickly realized that to be fair, most stages of childhood and adolescence are judged harshly and labelled negatively. Poor teens certainly don’t escape the judgement levelled their way.
Perhaps it’s because once babies pass the newborn stage, they become ever more expressive in their communication. Newborns obviously communicate too – loud and clear with their cries – but in a culture that still sadly misses to see the ills of methods like sleep training, crying in the first year of life is culturally expected and even ignored rather than explored.
Newborns are awesome: the new baby smell, absolutely adorable, tiny, mushy bundles of hugs that allow parents to binge on Netflix while at the same time bonding, snuggled in close. Toddlerhood is, in so many ways a far cry (pun intended) from those early days and I fully admit that I enjoyed and miss that stage every time I glimpse a photo of my former newborn curled into me.
To be honest though, right now, I think that nothing beats a toddler. There is something exquisitely remarkable about the way these little humans perceive the world. With that in mind, here are my top 10 reasons to celebrate and learn from toddlerhood, a stage that is animated, dramatic and only too fleeting:
1.They’re aware but not self-conscious
Toddlers notice it all because they’re learning by paying acute attention to the flurry of activity that is the world around them. And yet, they’re still a ways away from becoming self-conscious and self-critical by caring what the world thinks of them. I think that’s pretty amazing.
2.They’re so curious
Again, how better to learn skills and get a picture of how to do stuff if not through a pointed curiosity? Toddlers are always exploring and forming impressions but are unimpeded by set-backs or what we’d call the sheer monotony of repetition. From learning to blow bubbles and holding the wand just so, to pouring sand from the bucket a thousand times to learn about texture and the laws of gravity, toddlers have the curiosity and exploration capability of a NASA scientist.
This one is pretty self-explanatory for anyone who’s ever interacted with a toddler but I don’t just mean the physical momentum, the lively attitude that toddlers have towards life is remarkable.
Toddlers are anything but indifferent. They react to everything and everyone with such feeling. This may not be how adults behave but it is healthy, in fact infinitely more so than suppressing and quashing big or uncomfortable feelings. No, I’m not suggesting that grown-ups should act on their big feelings because we have the ability to regulate ourselves. But perhaps if we regulated our outward actions rather than toning down our deepest inner feelings, we’d be a lot happier, much like our toddlers.
When a baby reaches toddlerhood, the combination of mobility and words results in lots of preferences as the whole world opens up for the first time. So many things are suddenly possible and the possibilities are endless and so are the likes and dislikes. It is an amazing learning experience to watch a young baby turn into a complex little person.
Pine cones, water, blades of grass, iPhones, doors, stairs, kitchen cabinets: everything holds such joy and wonder for a toddler. By contrast, we as adults often pride ourselves on how little can impress us anymore; most things in the world have lost their joy, including the natural marvels of the very planet that sustains us. Trees, the sky, the moon, a sunset – meh, we’ve seen them all. That leads to a poignant question: is it the child who sees joy in everything, or the adult who sees joy in nothing, that makes the better teacher?
7.The slapstick comedy of it all
Toddlers and children at all stages of development find nothing more hilarious than the weird pronunciation of a random word, or a funny sound or happening (usually someone falling down). There is something wonderful about not taking life too seriously.
8.Being present in the moment
We often emphasize that toddlers have short attention spans and at their stage of development, they do. What we don’t often notice is that having a short attention span also means that if a toddler is engaged in an activity, the whole of that little human is engaged in it without zoning out or the mind drifting. And then, when said little human is done, they’re totally done, to move onto something else completely. Short, sharp bursts of activity that equal total presence in each moment and task at hand.
9.They’re love in action
Sometimes toddlers have big feelings and inevitably these lead to some big upsets, with a temperament that goes from cool and playful to blazing, red-hot in under a minute. Sometimes this can be because they are resisting a boundary being set by the adult in their lives. But, what humbles me every time is the endlessly loving nature of a toddler – after even the biggest of upsets (that they may not even understand the underlying reason for), they will come right back, smiling from ear to ear and plant a big kiss on the cheek of the offending party, throwing their little arms around that person’s neck for a tight hug. This is nothing short of love in action – no grudges held whatsoever. It’s absolutely beautiful.
10. They’re authentic
Babies aren’t born knowing which half-baked stereotype society expects them to conform to depending on colour, race, religion, gender, sex, socio-economic background etc. As active toddlers, they don’t think of how or what they’re supposed to be and so, they just are. And they let others be too. They have preferences but not biases or notions so they conduct themselves with an unbridled and utterly admirable authenticity that knows no limits.