Learning is a Two-Way Street, Your Toddler is Sometimes the Teacher

Too many times I’ve heard people complain about all the things they wish their kids would learn already.

“I’m tired of buying so many diapers. I heard Kate’s daughter is already potty-trained. When will mine be?”

“Did you know my friend from work already has her son reading? When will mine learn the alphabet?”

“It’s so hard to find recipes that my kid likes! When will they learn to just stop being picky?”

Anything from basic milestones to specialized skills like learning a sport or instrument tend to be on parents’ lists of things to teach their child. Yet, I rarely hear anyone talk about all the stuff that their children wish they would learn, which is fascinating, because believe me- that list is long!

First, the main thing to learn is that being open to learning from your child is the first step to building a bridge. Learning is a two-way street, and if you’re not learning from them, it is difficult for them to learn from you. Ask your child many questions and pay attention to the things they say and do. My son takes me by the hand when he wants me to follow him to his toys or to the kitchen. He also gets frustrated when he can’t communicate something important to me because he hasn’t learned the words yet.

Second, your kid probably wants you to understand that their mind works differently than yours. Yes, you might get upset when they spill their cup of milk all over the floor or throw a toy across the room at their sibling. Milk everywhere means you have extra cleaning to do, and toys that strike your other child means you’ve now let that sibling get hurt. It’s frustrating, I know. But to your kid, all he sees is that mom is mad. He doesn’t get that you want to control all his movements, because you can’t. If it were up to you, he would never throw anything or spill anything. But accidents happen, and boys don’t always understand that throwing things isn’t a safe way to play. Always be sure to explain why something is not allowed or why your child is in trouble or they will eventually just come to be scared of you. Even though they might equal obedience in the future, once they’re older, it really just leads to, “This is what I want to do and I no longer care that mom doesn’t approve” versus “I now understand that my mom didn’t want me to do that because of…”

Sometimes I also notice the skills I learn by interacting with my child: patience, creativity, courage, and critical thinking. When he’s crying and I don’t know how to stop it (or know that I can’t!), I don’t yell at the top of my lungs to block out the noise of his cries. I just hold him or speak to him and ask what I can do and reassure him that I’m here. When he starts to pretend or involves our dogs in games, my living room becomes a haunted house or a jungle, and my imagination is happy to follow his lead. When I’m scared to talk to strangers for fear of what they might think of me, I see him approach their kids at the park and ask their name. He reminds me that nothing is really that scary. And when I am trying to figure out how to communicate something new to him, I have to think carefully about how to best explain it without hurting his feelings, confusing him more, or completely missing the point.

I could sit here and write all day about the small things I’ve noticed when I just sat and watched my child or tried to decipher all the ways in which he was trying to communicate to me, but I won’t. Each parent-child relationship is different because the individuals in those relationships are their own snowflake. All I can do is encourage you to take a step back from developing all these demands for your child and try to listen to what they want to teach you.