5 Lessons Learned from a Toddler

5 Lessons Learned from a Toddler

If I could summarize my world for you in one sentence, it would be: chasing my toddler. I know the back of my daughter’s scruffy blonde head anywhere: dashing across the living room, making a break for the next grocery aisle, or attempting to go up the slide (much more fun than going down). My old day job required me to attend meetings and sit in front of a computer most of the day. Now, I’m lucky if I get 10 minutes to sit down for a breather before my girl has me running to catch up with her.

I’ve never raised a child before, and given my personality, I decided to read about it. All the toddler self-help books talk about what you need to teach them: how to play with others, learn language, go potty. These books contain great advice for child rearing, but none discuss the things parents learn from toddlers. I have learned at least as much from my daughter as she has learned from me. So here are some tips for living from someone who just started her life journey:

1. It’s your duty to question everything.

Toddlers don’t take anything as a given. They don’t understand that you should eat your peas, not put them in your hair. On a more serious note, they don’t understand that running into the street can kill you, so they may bolt at any second. And when you stop them from doing something they want to do, you get the dreaded string of “whys.”

But “whys” are a good thing. They demonstrate curiosity and a thirst to understand the world. More importantly, they force us to evaluate all of our decisions. Toddlers don’t like to follow a rule with a weak “why,” and neither should adults. So if something bothers you, question it. Don’t like the answer? Channel your inner toddler and take action. You’ll feel better in the long run (especially on ethical decisions) if you always ask “why.”

2. All skills take practice, but you’ll get there eventually.

It is amazing how very little a baby can do at birth. He can’t see or hear well. Many babies struggle with the sucking reflex, so they can’t even eat well. When you watch a baby grow, it’s amazing to watch him master the ability to move and manipulate things, including himself. It literally takes years. Reasoning takes much longer. (Some parents of teenagers might argue that day never comes.) And how do we learn all of this? By doing it day in, day out for years at a time.

So as an adult, if you’re trying to learn a new skill, you’ve got to be patient and put in the time to learn something new. Toddlers thrive on doing the same things over and over again, and that’s how they become master walkers and talkers. Don’t get me wrong – toddlers are rarely patient. My daughter can cry with the best of them when she encounters a container she wants to open and can’t. But she works at it constantly until she does eventually open the box (usually to my frustrated sigh as I go find a broom).

3. There is opportunity in destruction.

Before my daughter was born, I saw the world as a place where I could create. I could find connections and establish a career. I could open up my computer and write a story. Opportunities abound in this world because I can build in it.

Toddlers like creation, but many value destruction even more. I stack blocks, my daughter knocks them down. At first, this frustrates an adult, especially when something you cherish has been ruined by your child. But there’s opportunity in destruction too. When your child scribbles marker on the wall, you have a chance to paint it a nicer color than its original boring beige. For a more adult-oriented example, perhaps you’ve been pigeonholed as a great accountant, but you’d rather be a carpenter. Casting away your old career for a new one can be more rewarding than building upon what you already have. Sometimes the greatest joy is found not in the creation, but the destruction, of something you’ve built.

4. Go outside as often as you can.

The outdoors is a magical place for a toddler. It doesn’t matter how many toys, books, and interesting things I shove in a room, it can only hold her attention for about 30 minutes (if I’m that lucky). Then I’m stuck either listening to her whine or taking her someplace else. This rule does not hold true if my toddler plays outside. We went to the beach the other weekend, and my daughter had no trouble entertaining herself for nearly 4 hours.

I used to spend a lot of time outdoors through my college years, but once I entered the “real world,” I’ve been less committed. I feel a lot healthier now that I spend more time outside with my daughter. Even if it’s just sitting on the front steps, the outdoors is at once more relaxing and exciting at the same time. It’s relaxing because natural noises lull you in the place of electronic ringtones and computer clicks. It’s exciting because all sorts of things can and do happen: you chat with your neighbors, a helicopter flies overhead, or a large butterfly catches your eye. I now value outdoor time as much as exercise and eating right.

5. Love like there’s no tomorrow.

Toddlers have little emotional restraint, and as parents, it’s our job to teach them how to work through emotions so they can live a normal life. But when it comes to love, toddlers have the right idea. They have no qualms springing a hug on you, even if it means nearly tripping you in the process. My daughter’s kiss is the best gift I have ever received in this world. She gives it at a moment’s notice, and it is always accompanied by the most genuine smile. The feeling it evokes cannot be described by ordinary words.

Imagine the world with more toddler love. It’d probably involve more chases and tickling, but I could live with that.

What have you learned from your children?

Photo by makelessnoise

Deborah Fike

Deborah Fike is the Director of Educational Outreach for Spotkin, an educational games company that marries fun with learning.  She’s also the founder of Avalon Labs, which provides marketing consultations and writing services for start-ups and online businesses.   She carves out a significant portion of her time to raising her two younger daughters.

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31 Comments

  1. This is really nice ;) We could all learn to let go of some of our conditioning – and that is the magic of children. They do not have conditioning (yet). Try it, your world will become more interesting.

    Reply
    • That’s the best thing about toddlers…they’re in the process of learning themselves. It can be frustrating when you want them to understand something (like good manners), but it’s also very liberating.

      Reply
      • Agree here too. The most enjoyable moments we had with our children were when they were yet small… chasing them around, coddling, bathing them, rocking them to sleep in my arms… it was such a huge time for me.

        I miss those moments…

        Reply
        • Richard, I’m trying to enjoy it as best as I can. I hear those teenage years are rough, and I’ll need the memories. :)

          Reply
    • I agree whole heartedly. I facilitate Art with children and also with Adults having aquired brain injuries. The inhibitions of brain injured people are often lowered and I see a fantastic similarity in the Art of the children and the brain injury groups. We need to be more open to freedom of expression and coice of subject matter in Art making and Art viewing in all of the creative Arts because our society has frightened people into expressing their true, emotions and views in even’safe’ creative out lets. Children are not worried who will judge them and who they may offend when they express how they feel in their art.

      Reply
      • Your work sound fascinating, arty becka. It sounds like what you’re doing is great for the soul. As a professional writer, I know exactly what you mean about adults worrying about who will judge them when they write. I feel I have to restrict myself sometimes as to not offend people I know, who may not want me to share their stories in an open forum. I wish you the best of luck with your students!

        Reply
  2. I LOVED this! I totally relate because I kept my grandson for six months and everyday was a new adventure. He was quite the little teacher once I tuned in and more than often the same things I was teaching him were being taught right back to ME! Our children/grandchildren gift us in that way. Before nap time, I’d always get him to pick up all his toys and put them away. On some days he would look at the toys and look at me and say “I can’t”. I’d tell him, “Sure you can” and he would get that little look on face and say again, “I can’t”. One day I got the insight that this is how it looks when there’s something very easy for me to accomplish, but for whatever reason, I feel I can’t do it.
    There are many of these lessons that I gleaned from my sweetheart. Same thing with watching my 12 year old granddaughter play soccer and basketball. I’m always looking for the “lessons” they teach me in a plain and simple way. The other day she was showing her little brother how to ride his skooter and I asked her how she learned to come down the hill and land safely. “I kept inching down and I did it like 100 times!” Same for us as adults…a step at a time and practice, practice, practice!” Thanks for the good read and the reminder!

    Reply
    • Great stories, Sharmaine. I love thinking about your granddaughter inching around “100 times.” :)

      Reply
  3. Such a sweet ending here! We could all stand to learn a little more from little kids. Thanks for such a great article for starting the day with my own toddler.

    Reply
  4. Deborah, what a beautiful and insightful post. We could all use a good dose of holding onto that toddler we once were. I’ve never been a parent but I know from my niece and nephew that being with them, on their terms, can be the most freeing and wonderful reminder of all the things we do to hold ourselves back. They do indeed teach us as they learn.

    Reply
    • You don’t have to be a parent to benefit from being around little kids. Before I became a parent, I learned a lot from my niece and nephews. It’s fascinating to watch them grow.

      Reply
  5. 1.When u fall u get up and do it again.
    2. when it hurts cry like a baby and the pain is over laugh like u were not hurt
    3. Always speak ur mind (even if it’s gibberish)
    4. Say no
    5. Hug and kiss mommy and daddy all the time

    there’s some much more. But on a note being a mother and aunt has taught to be grateful, patient, to find a reason to laugh and to never hide how i feel.

    Reply
    • Great additions, Gugu. I’m sure we could find 101 life lessons if we worked at it.

      Reply
  6. I stumbled across your blog Deborah, ive found myself captivated by it and to be truthful it has left me embarrassed, I rush around all day long thinking of nothing but my career working sometimes 18 hours a day but nearly always 15, seven-days a week. I never knew what was in front of me, what I was missing out on and important life lessons that I should be learning. I am determined to make changes, I go though life being selfish, not really caring about others but about my career, about money, about success, hmmmmmmm think I have forgot what is really important. Never read anything like this before but seriously want to say thank-you

    M

    Reply
    • I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being career-oriented. I’ve been there myself with long days at a start-up company. I have friends that thrive in that environment and will probably never have kids. Nothing wrong with that.

      If you do want a slower pace life, though, that’s okay too. I decided to give up full-time work to raise one (or two, fingers crossed) children. It was hard for me. I still struggle sometimes wishing I were working. Ultimately, though, I know I want to balance family and career, so right now, family gets my time. It will probably be more equal in the future. And even with a few doubts, I know that I want to be one of the primary caregivers in my daughter’s young life. It’s my top goal until she gets a little older.

      So do whatever’s best for you, knowing it’s not the same for everyone, and it will be a journey of self discovery along the way.

      Reply
  7. Deborah, I love these tips! The destruction one reminds me of when my daughter was 3 and my son 1 1/2. My son loved to build! He would stack his blocks high. Then his sister would come and run through the stack, knocking it down. My son would just smile and start stacking again. It allowed him to keep doing what he loved, building!

    Now I watch my grandchildren and re-learn some lessons. So my contribution to your 101 lessons are:

    -Be Fearless
    -Ask for what you want, you are more likely to get it then.
    -Imagination is what improves the world.

    Reply
    • I love how your son would build and daughter would destroy in perfect balance. The image is priceless. :)

      Your additions are great too. I can see from my own daughter why you would add these into the 101. Thanks for the contributions!

      Reply
  8. Nice list. I agree with asking “why” a lot. I also believe that great things can come from destruction. I recently quit my job so I could start my own business. Destroying my “corporate image” is opening me up to something much bigger and brighter.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading, Sage. And good luck with your business!

      Reply
  9. Deborah, I loved your post and had a teary-eyed smile on my face the whole while through. You hit the nail right on the proverbial head! I’ve experienced all that and more watching my daughter live and grow. It is an experience like no other and I can never count all the things I have learned from her.

    Reply
    • As a fellow parent, I’m sure you have memories that could bring some tears out for me too, Lisa. Glad you enjoyed the article and, more importantly, you enjoy your daughter in your life.

      Reply
  10. Nice post… makes me want to have baby too :)

    Reply
    • Ha, I remember when the “I want a kid” bug bit me. I actually wanted to go straight to toddler. Raising a fragile baby terrified me. But it wasn’t as bad as I built up in my mind. ;)

      Reply
  11. I really like this and have learnt from it.

    Reply
  12. What a wonderful post! I enjoy it with all of the lessons people can draw from it. This is one of the most interesting posts that I have never read. I am imaging how amazing it is having a son or daughter calling,” Daddy Daddy and so on”. life seems meaningful Just have a baby by your side.
    Thank you Deborah for a such sharing!

    Reply
  13. Really enjoyed reading this article….its stuff one would never just think about but once you read its seems so true.

    Reply
  14. A really great read. I don’t have any kids of my own but I have two nephews that I am pretty much the main male figure in their life and they live with me.

    I feel like I can learn so much by just watching them throughout their day, this article was a great reminder that I should always make time to spend with them and learn from them.

    Thanks again.

    Reply
    • Enjoy those nephews. I’m sure they get as much from their uncle as you get from them.

      Reply
  15. Thank you for the wonderful insight.
    I am what I am today mostly because of what i learnt from my two children. In our busy world of routines and changes, it is often difficult to realise and value the ultimate blessing we have in the form of our children. Too often we shelve a moment we could have had with our child and find with regret that the moment has gone forever.
    The easiest and most rewarding way to appreciate a child in your life is to ask yourself the question, and imagine the situation:
    What if he was gone from your life, forever, by tomorrow?

    Reply
    • I understand what you mean. My husband and I have decided to make family time a priority in our lives so we don’t miss out on these moments. That means other things have to take a backseat to raising children. It’s hard some days, but I mostly enjoy being able to be a big part of my child’s life.

      Reply

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