Recently, I’ve been feeling like my relationship with my toddler daughter is missing something. Despite not knowing exactly what that was, I started thinking of ways I could bridge the gap. I felt I was lacking in my connection to her, so I decided I would make the effort every day for a week to see the world through my toddler's eyes. If I could get on her level, maybe it would affect the way I parent her and perhaps I’d be able to get a grip on why I was feeling so overwhelmed.
After all, as the old Patsy Cline song goes, “If I could see the world through the eyes of a child, what a wonderful world this would be.” My little world with my developing and vibrant 18-month-old girl is beautiful, but it isn’t always wonderful. Though I can try to teach my little human the importance of patience and give her tools to navigate the world as she grows up, the only thing I can truly control and determine is my own actions. I knew if I wanted anything to change, I’d need to be the one to try something.
My approach to this experiment would be to stop and physically sit, kneel, or move my position in whatever way needed to get on her level whenever she expressed emotion or attempted to communicate with me. The goal would be to pause for a moment and consider the situation from her perspective.
Day 1: All In A Day’s Work
Admittedly, the first time I remembered to view life through my daughter’s eyes the morning of starting the experiment was in the kitchen as we came in for breakfast. On this morning, she walked in, and I saw her looking up at the counters. I sat in the kitchen floor and looked up. On the counter, I saw all kinds of things, like our collection of empty plastic bottles to be recycled, the bottle of olive oil by the stove and the hanging utensils above that. I could see the top of the toaster, the coffee maker, and the roll of paper towels. I immediately said, "Look at all these things you can see but can't reach," as I realized how big it all must seem for her. No wonder she loves it when I open the refrigerator door and often stands there for a while: items she can reach out and touch are right before her eyes.
Later in the morning, we were sitting on the couch together, and I realized we had the same perspective of the room, which made it obvious to me that one reason she must love sitting on the couch is because we're all sitting at the same level. In the afternoon, I mopped the floors, which can be a frustrating task to accomplish with a toddler in the house. She naturally wanted to follow me around and began shouting after her attempts to grab the mop were unsuccessful, since I just continued mopping around her. I got upset with her because I just wanted to get the job done, but I forced myself to stop, kneel, and consider the mop handle, watching it as it twirled around the room. It probably looked like fun — and not work — to her. It made me pause, but it didn’t change the dynamic of our situation. I still just wanted to get the work done.
It was in that moment that “getting on her level” brought up an important truth to me: doing this was powerful for our relationship, for my own sanity, and for her good.
Day 2: Makin' My Way Downtown
We went for a walk downtown in the city to get out for a while. As soon as we walked out of the parking garage, we entered the center of the city with a large open area to walk where there are often many people and pigeons hanging around, which always makes my daughter squeal with delight. As we stood in the open, I crouched down to see lots of the legs of people walking by, the concrete, and the drains. Being proportionately closer to the ground, I could see why she always seems to notice the leaves or random trash or whatever it is she might see on the street. As we walked, and she struggled to keep up, I thought about how it must feel to always be so much smaller and slower than everything and everyone else, how hand holding might feel like an awkward stretch while you simultaneously put one foot in front of the other.
I started to get the overall sense in this moment that it’s so easy for me to go about the day forgetting that she’s not yet capable of seeing things the way I do — that our perspectives on the world are naturally so different and I’m often casually and unknowingly expecting her to understand much more than I realize.
Day 3: Weekend Vibes
The previous two days of this experiment, I'd forgotten to intentionally think about her perspective when she first woke up, so I went into the morning hoping to be more prepared. My daughter either starts her day waking up between my husband and me after being transferred from her crib to our bed, or from her crib a few feet from our bed. On this morning, we woke up to “Dada, mama” on repeat, and as I peered out from my blanket, I could see just her little head above the crib rail where her hands rested and she stood with a smile on her face. I knelt to pick her up, but before I walked away with her, I turned to see what she saw: pillows, blankets, and a sleepy-faced daddy saying “good morning.” I suppose I’d want to climb up and poke and prod my parents to wake up, too, if that’s the first thing I saw.
We'd planned a family day out as it was the weekend, and there was a happy, early Spring feeling in the air. After breakfast, we went to a nearby park, and I put her on a swing on my lap facing me. As we swung back and forth, her gaze into my eyes and her signature smile were, as always, hard to ignore. It was in that moment that “getting on her level” brought up an important truth to me: doing this was powerful for our relationship, for my own sanity, and for her good. There’s a reconciliatory nature to this exercise. Reconciling the separation that comes with being two different people — two different sizes and ages (as obvious but crucial to our relationship as that sounds), two different roles and approaches to life, and two different ways of seeing the world. It sounds a bit odd talking about the “separation” between me and my toddler, but the fact is she isn’t a mere extension of me. She is an individual, and apart from my husband, the one person I spend most of my time with.
We got ice cream later that day, and we sat at a table outside with no high chair. I noticed she chose to stand on her chair as she and I shared my ice cream cone, making her more eye level with both of us.
Day 4: Spending Time With Friends
We spent the afternoon at a friend's house, and ate dinner together in their living room. I sat on the floor with her while we ate and noticed that for most of the time we were there, she had everyone — six adults and no children — in a circle around her. I’m sure there are studies on how young children process social situations like that, but from what I observe of my daughter, she seems to thrive when there’s a group of people essentially doting on her. She becomes the little entertainer, and I noticed how she went from one adult to another playing with toys or looking at a book while the rest of us chatted. I thought about how affirmed she must feel to be surrounded by people who want to interact with her.
Speaking to her as I knelt and held her hand made me realize how much more important this simple gesture is. I’m giving her more than my attempt to be calm. I’m giving her the chance to feel equal and therefore empowered to make her choices.
Day 5: An Animated World
Recently, my daughter has started pointing at my laptop on the shelf high above her to communicate that she wants to watch her favorite cartoon. She’s completely hooked on Puffin Rock on Netflix. I realized that in her eyes the computer means one thing: Puffin Rock. I sat down with her with the intention of watching the show with her, and it dawned on me why she might adore the cartoon so much. She currently loves birds, ducks, and anything that flies, so the adorable images of a puffin family whose young pufflings are besties with some owl siblings who often have to figure out how to deal with their seagull antagonists are sure to entertain her.
On this day, I also sat in the backseat with her while my husband drove. It was another moment where I realized we can see things mostly the same. Thinking about how binge-watching her favorite show is exactly what I do and looking out the window from her place in the back of the car made me realize there are times, even in her toddler stage of life, when we can see the world the same and that we are more alike than I thought.
Day 6: Mirror, Mirror On The Wall
I was cooking dinner with my daughter in the kitchen with me, and I had a spare moment while the food simmered in the pan to kneel with her. I saw her catch her reflection in the glass oven door and she began to gaze at herself, even leaning in to kiss her reflection. There’s a full-length mirror in the hallway as soon as you open the bathroom door in our apartment, so every night when she runs out of the bathroom naked after her bath, she immediately stops to squeal at herself before she runs to the living room. These are the only times she sees herself, and it’s more out of accident — unlike me, when I’m intentionally using the mirror in the bathroom. Considering her approach to her own image as opposed to mine, I realized that for her, looking at herself always from a place of delight and for me, it's often done to evaluate myself.
By this point in the experiment, I was used to getting on her level to discipline as well. I'd intentionally done that before this week, but being conscious of it for this experiment made me realize how easy it slips my mind and how often I’m still telling her, “No, you can’t play with that but you can play with this,” as I tower above her. Speaking to her as I knelt and held her hand made me realize how much more important this simple gesture is. I’m giving her more than my attempt to be calm. I’m giving her the chance to feel equal and therefore empowered to make her choices.
Day 7: Coming Full Circle
Coincidently, the first and last day of my experiment included me doing more deep cleaning than I do usually. Making the effort to think about her viewpoint all week made it more natural for me to do it on this cleaning day, and it was way easier than it usually is. I felt more patient with her and more inclined to let her help me than to just get on with my work like I did before.
Did This Experiment Change Anything?
Honestly, I’m so happy I did this. Being vigilant to see the world through my daughter’s eyes helped me to see that even as I was trying to get on her level this week, she was, and is, pretty much always doing the very same thing. And that's why she always wants to do things I do. Going into this, I hadn’t considered that, in her own little way, she might be trying to make sure we’re connected as well.
In one week, I was reminded that if I continue to aim to see her behavior and her preferences from her point of view and not just mine then this will profoundly influence our relationship from here on out in such a positive way.