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Monday, February 6, 2023
HomeFamilyParenting AdviceBuilding Trust With A Toddler—Good Parenting

Building Trust With A Toddler—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Now that my son is walking it’s harder to get anything done!

If I try to sneak out of the room he is playing in, he inevitably comes looking for me. My biggest challenge if I’m home alone with him is lugging the recycling bin to the end of the driveway. I used to do this by putting him in the baby sling, but he doesn’t like to do that anymore. We’re not on a busy street, but all the same, I don’t like that he’s “loose” when I’m dragging the bin with both hands. Other than waiting until he’s asleep in bed – at which point I’m exhausted and heading for mine – how can I manage this simple weekly chore with a toddler at my heels?

Can’t Be Out of His Sight

Dear CBOoHS,

Of course it’s perfectly natural for your son to want to follow you around. You are the source of his food, comfort, and entertainment, as well as his bridge to, and protection from, his ever-expanding world. His newly acquired ability to walk on his own two feet is both exhilarating and frightening to him. Both of these emotions make him want you to stay in close proximity.

Here’s a fun game to play so he can accompany you more safely. Start off in an open space – a hallway, for example. Stand by his side and use the word, “Go!” to encourage him to walk forward with you. Then say, “Stop!” and hold still. Repeat to the end of the hallway. It shouldn’t take too long for him to understand how this game works. Next, take the game outside and practice going across the yard a few times. The next level of this game is to try it on the driveway going toward the street and then back to the house. Since you’re playing a game and not actually taking the recycling down, your arms are available to grab him if necessary!

Use variations to reinforce what “Stop!” and “Go!” mean. Toddlers enjoy toys with wheels – small vehicles and little wagons and other pull toys. Repeatedly demonstrate what the words mean as you push or pull a toy until he’s copying you with a similar toy. Another variation of the game is to use “Stop!” and “Go!” while you’re both dancing. This is the baby version of Freeze Dance.

As with all your interactions during playtime, you should quit the game when he loses interest.

The final challenge is for you to use the words alone, and not your modeling, to get him to advance and to pause. Try the game with toys. Tell him, “Go!” to push his toy train on the track, and surprise him with “Stop!” before he gets to the end. Repeat as often as he wants. Next use only words to control his walking feet. Start in a safe space before advancing to the wide open world. When he is successful in relying on your words to make his body move and freeze he is demonstrating that you can trust him to accompany you to take the recycling bin to the end of the driveway and to not run off.

If you don’t reach this level of trust with him in time for next week’s pick up, consider adding a strap to the bin so that he is physically attached to the chore and is “helping” you to do it. In addition to wanting to be with you, your toddler loves to imitate so this is a great age to include your son in chores rather than just tolerating his presence (and the risks this causes) while you do all the work. It may take longer, but the time spent is an investment in teaching him how to be a contributing member of the household.

You can continue to use modeling to teach simple verbal instructions for him to follow. The process of constructing internal controls relies on parents and other caregivers to supply the model, accompany the modelled action with words, then move on to words alone which eventually become the internal directions he tells himself.

He is counting on you to help him learn so many things. Demonstrate “Two hands” as he learns to drink from a cup. Show him what “Gentle” means when he is introduced to a tiny baby or a pettable pet. Show him how “Try again” is the way to be successful with a puzzle piece. Verbal communication is a rapidly developing skill in the first three years which means that as he becomes more competent with responding to your spoken language he will gradually need less and less physical modelling and control from you. Your words alone will soon be enough to activate his own control of his actions, as well as if you were still taking the action with him.

Take advantage of his current craving to be by your side. In a few months he’ll be running away from you in delight, testing the bond that he knows has been securely formed between you. Your well rehearsed “Stop!” will be all it takes for him to put on his brakes.

Dr. Debbie Wood

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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