10 Times When I Had To Step Back & Let My Toddler Figure It Out
"Wait and see." Did more aggravating words ever escape my mother’s lips? As a child, I certainly didn’t think so. I wanted to know now. Is Santa coming tonight? Will I make friends at school? What happened to Bambi’s mom? My mom was seriously cramping my instant gratification game. Eventually, I did learn that patience is a virtue, and it turns out the “wait and see” approach has significantly informed my parenting. Honestly, I'm really grateful for the times I had to step back and let my toddler figure it out.
The "wait and see" method is basically an exercise in lazy patience. I'm not exactly sedentary, but I do enjoy some good sitting. Unless it's an emergency (like my toddler is in danger or I need more wine), I'm happy to stay put. I also subscribe to my mom's philosophy that a parent's job is to work themselves out of a job. I want to cultivate independence and self-sufficiency in my child. Turns out, my laxity is pretty compatible with my desired outcomes. By not immediately stepping in, my child has discovered how much she can do on her own and has become more confident as a result.
It's not always the best idea to pull back. Sometimes, a little intervention, encouragement, or comfort from a parent is exactly what a toddler needs to persevere. Other times, like when your little one is headed straight for the swimming pool, you need to be on your feet and after them. But in these situations, I think you're safe (and better off), letting them figure it out for themselves.
When She Didn't Want To Eat Her Dinner
As my mom used to say, "This kitchen is not a fast food establishment, and you may not have it your way." I'm not a short order cook, so what I make is what we're eating. I know if my toddler is truly hungry, she'll eat what I've offered. That said, I provide plenty of variety on a plate.
The other night, we had chicken, carrots, and orzo. Baby girl was clamoring for more pasta. I simply turned to my dining companion (this time, it was my mother, but the dog will do in a pinch) and ignored her. When I glanced back, she was happily chewing on her chicken.
When She Was Ready To Sleep Through The Night
During the newborn stage, I dutifully attended to my baby's feeding, diapering, and comfort needs throughout the night. When she was 4 months old, we'd transferred her to a crib, and she'd demonstrated her ability to self-soothe. When she woke in the night, I'd take a minute to watch her in the video monitor and give her a chance to go back to sleep (the French call this "le pause" because they are "le fancy").
When my mommy instincts are alerted, I go to her, otherwise I'm OK with letting her cry it out. I've been rewarded with a toddler who consistently sleeps 12 hours through the night.
When She Was Confronted With An Obstacle
My darling little dear loves to get herself into what I like to call "situations." When she first learned to crawl, she tried to go over a bar on the dining room chair and high-centered herself. (Did I take a picture before coming to her rescue? Why yes, yes I did.) The other day she climbed onto the dining room table and couldn't get down. On the jungle gym, she often tries to tackle features designed for older kids.
In these instances, I don't walk away from her. (Good luck, kid. Try not to break your face.) However, rather than scoop her up, I first try and give her specific directions for how to navigate the obstacle. In this way, I hope to raise a gutsy girl.
When She Couldn't Figure Out A Toy
Like any toddler, my daughter gets pissed when she experiences frustration, but I'm not in the habit of stacking rings for my kid's amusement. I'll show her how it's done, but then it's up to her. I know she's learning a lot by trying and failing.
I recently bought her a little toddler y-bike. It's basically a riding toy that looks more like a real bicycle. Every once in awhile, she'll decide she doesn't know how to get off (she does) and cry. I wait patiently, offering reassurance and then kudos when she successfully dismounts.
When She Started Preschool
When baby girl was 18 months old, I decided to put her in a Spanish immersion program for four hours a day, two days a week, so I could work part-time. She fussed a little the first few times and would cry upon my return (to punish me, I think), but she quickly adapted. She no longer needs to be held by her teachers, and I get videos during the day of her happily eating, painting, eating paint, and generally having a grand old time.
When She Threw A Tantrum
My precious sweetheart can turn demonic on a dime. She really hates the word "no," having the iPhone taken away (when she manages to sneak it from me), and when I tell her she can't have anymore peanuts. (Mommy is the worst.) In these cases, I have to walk away from her for myself, but I think it's good for her as well. Ignoring the tantrum sends the message that the behavior is unacceptable.
I'm not immune to the sobs of my child, but I do give her time to calm down. Research suggests that during a temper tantrum, anger and sadness occur simultaneously. The anger, however, dissipates more quickly. So if you can get past the fury, then you can more effectively address the sorrow.
When She Ate Something Messy
Yogurt. We've all been there, amirite? Or the dreaded birthday cupcake with some godawful green frosting. You just know your kid is going to be a FEMA-worthy disaster. I'm surprisingly OK with this, given how important cleanliness is to me.
You see, I remember when my 1 year old refused to feed herself. When she finally figured it out, and I felt that sweet, sweet mealtime freedom, there was no way I was going back. I'd rather enjoy my dinner and deal with the mess afterwards. In the meantime, my daughter is developing important fine motor skills. You know, as she paints her forehead with cottage cheese.
When She Fell Down
I'm not talking about a big fall. I mean like a little boo-boo. When she trips in the yard, I full on look away. I'll pretend I didn't see it. If I don't react, she's much more likely to pick herself up and dust herself off, and that's exactly the kind of resiliency I'm looking to cultivate. Throw some dirt on it, kid. You'll be fine.
When She Harassed Animals
Let me be quite clear. I am referring to domesticated animals that I know. Like, I don't think there's a good lesson to be learned from contracting rabies from a squirrel she's trying to take a doughnut from.
My pets are extremely patient, but I think it's acceptable for my cat to swat his human sister if she pulls his tail. She might be the saddest baby who was ever sad for a minute or two, but she'll think twice before doing it again.
When She Wanted To "Help"
My kid loves to put things away. I've learned to give her the benefit of the doubt. I've actually ended up with my dirty laundry in its basket and a pair of her shoes on my shoe rack. She'd really like to put the clean clothes away in drawers, but she can't manage the folding.
It kills my obsessive-compulsive disorder, but the last thing want to do is discourage her desire to help around the house. So I let her, and I remind myself that I'm bringing up a confident, capable person. I know I'll thank myself later.