Ages & Stages: 0-5: Things Toddlers Know For Sure

The terrible twos and trying threes can be wildly confusing for parents. Between trying to potty train, transitioning from babyish to childlike behavior, and coming to terms with the fact that your baby is becoming an independent person, the keenly unique toddler perspective can send a parent over the edge.

Toddlers have their own viewpoint of the world. They are playful, highly imaginative and extremely inquisitive. The unending barrage of toddler buzz words such as “why” and “no” – coupled with his unwavering desire to put anything and everything into the DVD or VCR – can leave the most resilient parent scratching his head.

Enjoying your child’s toddler years can be achieved if you consider his perspective. Your toddler’s outlook is one that maturity forces adults to temper. Understanding this gives you insight into what motivates him to react with his enthusiastic flair. Looking at the world through his eyes actually helps you to see him.

There really are monsters in the room. The next time he deploys the “I’m scared of the dark” routine to stall bedtime, take a moment to see your child’s room through his eyes – in the dark. Silhouettes of items on a shelf or dresser may seem terribly frightening. The ticking of his clock, whirring of the ceiling fan and humming of the furnace are easily envisioned as monsters hiding in the closet or under the bed. It is not instinctive to walk calmly into the unknown, and to a 2-year-old, going into a dark room is very scary. Age and maturity usually ease his fears of the dark, but adding a night light or checking the drawers for monsters can be the difference between bedtime tears or pleasant dreams.

It’s too cold. Susan Young’s 2-1/2-year-old son’s Goldilocks complex was becoming quite perplexing. “He would complain that his food was too hot, the water was too cold and so on. Everything needed attention and an explanation,” the overwhelmed mother confides. Although these excuses are tiring, it may be surprising to learn that the water in the shower feels colder to a 3-foot-tall toddler than it does to a 6-foot-tall adult. If you’re convinced his complaints are a tactic to avoid acquainting his hard-earned dirty elbows and knees with a bar of soap, try sitting down in the shower tomorrow morning. You’ll see that it’s cooler down at his level than when you’re standing up closer to the shower head.

Ketchup is one of the food groups. Countless parents quietly have argued with their children in restaurants not to douse their scrambled eggs or fries in an unending sea of ketchup. His refusal to eat anything unless it’s soaked with ketchup is the perfect time to adopt the “pick-your-battles” theory. Other than risking your loss of appetite, his ketchup dependency probably will lessen somewhat with age and isn’t harmful.

“If a child dips every bite of his potatoes, vegetables or chicken in ketchup, he’s still eating the nutritious food,” says Dr. Jonathon Kaufman, a pediatrician from Crystal Lake, Ill.

Bugs are cool. The widespread fascination society has with aliens and Big Foot is similar to a toddler’s interest in crawling critters. Bugs are extremely fascinating to young children because bugs are seldom seen in the house. When a child is playing in the garden or at the park, it’s tempting to look to unearth creatures as he realizes that he’s not the only species in existence. A toddler’s innocence usually prevents him from developing the fear, phobia or disgust of insects, and his intent to please sends him running to you to show off his latest discovery.

Imaginary friends do drink tea. “I felt horrible for my husband when he inadvertently forgot to pour one of our daughter’s imaginary tea party guests hot cocoa,” chuckles Tess Petrofski of DePere, Wis. A toddler’s limited social experience is enhanced through a variety of interaction. Subconsciously mimicking social scenarios in her play helps her to gain social confidence. If your tot takes the time to set up a luncheon only to have one of her guests slighted, she feels she’s failed at hosting a good party. Serving and occasionally drinking multiple cups of imaginary tea help her to develop her social skills.

You didn’t say not to … Exact words and explanations can be critical to toddlers. “Children are surprisingly quite literal at this stage of development,” reinforces Kaufman. Stating not to put doll clothes on the cat but omitting not to dress the dog can be interpreted as the freedom to do exactly that. Taking the time to explain yourself completely in age-appropriate terms helps everyone understand the boundaries.

The bathroom is a playground. Parents frequently wonder why their children are obsessed with being in the bathroom at almost any time other than to be clean. To your toddler, the bathroom is a room full of billowy paper, blocks that smell fresh and enchanting, and the perfect-sized swimming pool for soldiers, dolls and building blocks, -all which seem to be strategically placed for his enjoyment. He doesn’t use an entire roll of toilet paper to mummify his teddy bear to be disobedient. His creative imagination sees the toilet paper as the perfect wrap to heal his bear’s broken arm.

Setting aside your adult perception and maturity to see a child’s point of view allows you to see the beautifully innocent world your toddler sees. Accepting that he has a unique perspective you’ve long since possessed helps you to cherish this stage. Embrace his curious spirit and tenacious nature because before you know it, he’ll be asking to borrow the keys to your car.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a licensed clinical social worker and freelance writer who frequently covers parenting issues