A couple of weeks ago, my son's sleep habits (already fairly challenging) went completely haywire. Naps went from being hard-fought to nonexistent; bedtime kept creeping later and later after months of being consistent. Then, all of a sudden, he spontaneously slept through the night in his own room, a first for him after two years of co-sleeping. Spending a whole night without a kid in your bed is the best possible reminder to trust that your toddler knows how to toddler (or at least, it became the best possible thing, once I was convinced that he was just finally sleeping through the night, and not dead).
Reminders like these are useful, because it can be hard to just trust that your toddler's developing the way they should, even when all evidence shows they're totally OK. Toddlers' little quirks range from the adorable — like their cute, totally unique pronunciations of words — to the occasionally infuriating, which can make a mom wonder if her kid is the only kid who acts like that.
Then there's the whole wanting them to be their most amazing, successful selves, and worrying when you see that another toddler can do something they can't. But unless they show specific red flags for a developmental delay, chances are, your little one is just figuring out their own way to prioritize all the skills and knowledge there is to master, and can do certain things that the other kid can't. It all balances out. Not freaking out about this stuff is much easier said than done, of course, but we really can trust that our toddlers are doing exactly what they're supposed to at times like the following:
When They Pronounce Things Their Own Special Way
We take it for granted that our jaws, tongues, and everything else are well-practiced at producing speech. All that is really new for little ones, so it's only natural that they won't speak exactly like everyone else, or be able to speak as many words as they understand. Toddler speech is so stinking cute, though; I actually get a little sad each time my son masters the common pronunciations for certain words.
When They Say “No” A Lot
Toddlers are notorious for "no." Sometimes my son just says no even as he does a thing he's being asked to do, or in response to being asked about something he really likes. Super common.
When They Want To Do Everything For Themselves…
A few days ago, my son really wanted applesauce out of the pantry. Or so I thought, so I couldn't figure out why he kept rejecting every pouch I gave him, while banging on the baby gate that separates where he was playing from the pantry. When I opened it and let him join me in there, he grabbed his own applesauce, then beamed at me and exclaimed, "I self!" Toddlers are totally into being as independent as possible, and flexing all their new skills.
...And Get Frustrated A Lot
I mean, it sucks to want to do a lot of stuff that you can't. We all know how that feels. Poor toddlers have to go through most of their day like that.
When They Don’t Play The Same Way You Think They Should
Toddlers are learning and figuring out a lot of things while playing. So if they don't use toys the way you would, or don't always want to play with other kids, that's all normal. As long as they're safe, it's good to let them do what interests them.
When Their Eating Habits Change
I was so bummed when my adventurous, baby-led weaning baby turned into a slightly more discerning toddler. He's still not officially picky, but he eats noticeably fewer veggies than he used to. Turns out, there might be an evolutionary explanation for typical toddler reluctance to try new foods: it's kinda useful to be a little less open-minded about things that could potentially be poisonous when you're finally able to get around on your own without mama.
When They Want You To Read The Same Books Over And Over…
In addition to knowing what they like, reading the same things over and over again helps them learn. Through repetition, they can predict what's going to happen next, as well as start to notice things (like which written words correspond to what you say) which lays part of the foundation for reading later on. (As a former teacher and literacy nut, I'm super into this phase of development.)
My favorite way to get through reading some of my not-so-favorite books over and over again, is to think about all my favorite musicians and performers who perform their songs over and over with loads of enthusiasm for their fans' sake, even though they're pretty sick of certain ones. The show must go on.
..And Sing/Listen To The Same Songs Over And Over
Also a learning thing, also totally normal, though potentially aggravating depending on what songs they like. (Thankfully for me, now that my son is well into "full album repeat" mode, he usually requests the original cast recording of Hamilton.)
When They Cry Instead Of Speak
When speaking is super hard for you and you don't have a full vocabulary yet, it can be really hard to come up with words when you're really tired/hungry/upset/not feeling well (or all of those at once). This one is really hard for me, but it is normal. Toddlers really aren't trying to be frustrating. Sometimes, wailing is just all they can manage at the moment.
When They’re Wary Of New People
If you were tiny and big people you didn't know were making weird sounds and gestures at you, you'd probably be a little hesitant and cranky, too. Totally normal.
When Their Sleep Pattern Changes
Sometimes, when a toddler's sleep pattern changes it's because they're on the verge of a developmental breakthrough. Other times, it's because something in their life is different, or they're scared or worried about something and they're trying to deal with it. It's tough, but it's all normal.
When All They Want Is You
When everything is changing inside and outside them, it can be beyond overwhelming. Sometimes, they need to hang onto the one thing that's most familiar and comforting in the world: you. That can be tough when you have other things to do, places to be, or if you're touched out after a long day. But it is kinda nice to know you're the center of at least one person's universe, even if only for a little while.