“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” – Maria Montessori.
Babies and toddlers are rapidly developing individuals that are in need of tons of support from their caregivers. As loving caregivers we must remember that support does not always mean jumping in to do everything for our infants and toddlers. Sometimes support means doing absolutely nothing and just sitting back to observe. Sometimes support means doing some work behind the scenes. It can be difficult to stand back, but it is so important in helping a child to lay a good foundation for resiliency in the later years.
Why should we worry about resiliency in infants and toddlers? This is the age in which children are forming habits and impressions of the world that will influence them for the rest of their lives. It’s best to start now rather than trying to backtrack later. A resilient child is perseverant, independent, confident, able to solve problems and recover from adversity.
Here are five easy ways to help your infant or toddler learn resilience:
- Allow infants to reach for toys. It is our instinct to hand infants toys that are slightly out of reach, but this deprives them of the opportunity to stretch, wiggle and squirm to try to get the toy on their own. The joyful look of confidence on an infant’s face after she has grabbed a toy that was originally out of reach is incredible. Of course it is o.k. to scoot a toy closer or help a child that is becoming upset, but many times infants are happy to keep reaching or to just move on to another object and then come back to the original object of interest later. It is best to provide an infant with no more than three toys or objects to choose from to prevent her from becoming overwhelmed. Sometimes a folded napkin is just as interesting, if not more interesting, than a toy that is specifically for babes (more on infant and toddler toys in another article).
- Allow infants and toddlers to “struggle” with rolling over, sitting up, crawling, pulling up, walking, opening board books and any other action they are trying to perfect. As new parents, we are eager to assist our children in reaching developmental milestones, but too much assistance can actually slow the process down and rob the child of learning to persevere. I have seen many parents notice that their child is trying to roll over and have responded by flipping the baby over themselves. This is robbing the child of the opportunity to succeed independently. A child gains confidence and perseverance as she is able to achieve movement independently.
- Give your child “alone” time for unstructured play. Of course an infant or toddler should never truly be left alone, but caregivers can certainly sit or work out of the child’s line of vision. This “alone” time allows a child to gain confidence in acting independently without a parent constantly directing her interests. If your child is not interested in playing alone, then stay with her for awhile and try to walk away later. It may be helpful for an child to hear her caregiver’s voice so that she knows you are nearby.
- Provide your child with a completely safe environment in which she can explore independently. We love playing with our children and reading books, but sometimes children need “alone” time as mentioned above in order to make their own choices and come to their own conclusions. This is only possible if a child has access to a completely baby/toddler-proofed room or area of a room that holds interesting and safe items for the child to explore.
- Use judgement when responding to minor spills and tumbles. When our children fall down we instantly want to make sure they are o.k. and we often have a worried or frightened look on our faces when we do so. Keeping our reactions calm and positive allows children to take part in soothing themselves or to simply not be bothered by small spills along the way. Here are some good tactics for minimizing strong reactions to small falls:
- Look the other way to pretend that you did not see
- State the goal of the child by saying something like: “You were trying to pull-up on the chair!”
- Calmly say, “Are you alright? You fell down.”
If your child is reaching for you and crying it is certainly appropriate to comfort her.
Sometimes the more tired a child is, the harder it can be for her to respond to falls with resilience, so gauge your response based on the situation.