The speed at which toddlers learn can be amazing. Speech, language and cognition are all increasing, almost overnight. The baby babble of last week could be real words today. The problem with the rapid pace of toddler development is that adults often tend to think it is a continuous linear process. It is not. The pace at which understanding and internalization occurs, varies from day-to- day and from subject to subject. Adults do not consciously put pressure on the toddler to learn quickly. But young kids are very sensitive and often they instinctively know when adults are disappointed in them. A toddler’s emotional development may be at a nascent stage, but he or she can sense when an adult is disappointed. This can have a negative impact on the developmental process.
Here are five things that parents and teachers can do to support a toddler’s development.
- Slow down. An adult’s need to achieve targets, adhere to schedules and meet deadlines is beyond a toddler’s understanding. When talking to toddlers, the pace at which communication is done is as important as the words that are used. A toddler will appreciate the meaning of the words, but not their import. And this can lead to confusion in the developing mind. When talking to children, either individually or in a group, ensure that you are communicating not at the speed you want, but at the pace that they are happy with.
- Do not talk down. This does not mean do not be rude to a toddler. Talking down is used here in a literal sense. For a toddler, an adult is a huge person with immense power to do what they want, even if what is being done is not understood. This is why adult movement and actions are often blindly imitated. This is natural and harmless. But interaction with a toddler is not something that the child should think of as another unfathomable adult activity. Do not talk at a child. Talk to him or her. This includes literally going down to their level. It is not possible for an adult to communicate with a child only when kneeling down or lying on the floor. But going down to the child’s level as much as possible means something like making eye contact; it is easier and increases the focus on the message that is conveyed.
- We live in a world of instant responses. Whether online, at work or with friends we demand immediate answers. This does not work with toddlers who have their own pace. When asking a question or telling the child to do something, be patient. Give enough time for the child to understand what is being asked; and to demand clarification by asking things like ‘Why’, ‘When’, ‘How’ etc. This is how obedience becomes understanding.
- Do not evaluate a child’s development based on the number of new words learned. Children learn new things at their own pace and no two toddlers are the same. What is more important is to appreciate how well they can use the words they do know and how coordinated they are in the movements they can do. Do not push a toddler to do or learn more than he or she is comfortable with. Often a slow learning speed turns into a strong foundation for rapid learning later on.
- Upgrade toys regularly. Infants love brightly colored plastic toys that light up and make sounds. But these toys do everything on their own instead of requiring inputs from the child. This is fine for an infant but a toddler needs to have toys that stimulate the mind and require some kind of inputs from the child. The change should be gradual but in time the toys that require inputs will become the favorites as the challenge of playing with them increases the enjoyment.