Is there a toddler 'golden age'?
Raising young children is filled with ups and downs, but is there a ‘toddler golden age’? Father of three, Chris Pavey, believes there is.
Having three children in quick succession has provided me some amazing insight into toddler development. Every parent goes through similar experiences, but they can quickly be forgotten as the next stage of parenting comes along. As my youngest has come into the 18–24 month stage, I’ve noticed once again how incredibly precious this particular period of development is. Here’s why I believe it’s a ‘toddler golden age’.
You’re no longer flying in the dark
While you’ve probably learnt every nuance of your child’s cry, and they may have even started using a few words to express themselves and label things, from 18 months onwards communication can get really interesting and fun!
Your child typically starts to understand simple instructions and they learn to ignore them too! You could even find that crying and tantrums decrease as your child becomes better at expressing themselves. Who wouldn’t welcome that? And best of all, you are likely to find yourself having conversations with them - getting to know their unique little personality.
My youngest is an intense little fellow who loves to make people laugh. It’s common for Alexander to shout out at the top of his lungs, “Dada!”, and then once he’s got my attention, proceed with a stream of unintelligible babble, delivered very earnestly. He’s definitely trying to say something, but all it serves to do is bring a smile to my face. This in turn has him grinning from ear to ear - pure joy!
All the new words, unusual intonation and pronunciation is just a delight. In many instances you’ll hear your own language idiosyncrasies spoken back to you, much of which you possibly didn’t realise you used! Phrases such as “That’s ok”, “Come on dada”, and “All right”, have been repeated back to me in recent months. Some of the intonation Alexander uses makes me cringe and wonder how I must sound to others. Some of it just makes me laugh! He especially loves the word “No”’ as most toddlers do, but he uses it when he means “No” and when he means “Yes” - you can imagine the farcical conversations going on in our house at the moment.
You’re caring less and teaching more
By 18 months you’ve changed thousands of nappies, dressed your child every day (probably multiple times) and flown aeroplanes filled with veggies into resistant mouths on more occasions than you’d care to admit. But as the 18-24 month period takes shape, your child will be keen to do more for themselves -partner with you more in the day-to-day stuff so that they can get out and play!
Your child may want to feed themselves and become more successful at it.
They’ll perhaps help you with getting them dressed, if only to speed up the process and get back to the ‘important stuff’. And if you’re really lucky, you might be the parent of a child who shows an early interest in toileting. Alexander isn’t such a fan of the potty (although he has taken to walking about declaring, “My pop!”, when he’s farted), but he loves helping us get ready in the morning by retrieving everyone’s shoes and hats so we can get out the door quicker.
And playtime is becoming so much more fun. I’ll never forget the moment when Alexander stopped eating the playdoh and started actually making things with it - bliss! We’ve been able to explore more of the local playgrounds together; I’ve been able to teach him to climb ladders, and he’s shown me how he can go down slides by himself. He’s been dragging me about finding fascination in the smallest and (for adults) most ordinary of things. The moon, ducks and aeroplanes are his favourites, and when you take a moment to really appreciate them, they truly can be most wondrous!
A real ‘little person’ has arrived
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The first 18 months of a child’s life is a lot about you selflessly giving them your time, energy and love. The rewards can be huge, but it can often feel a little like a one-way street. Most of your child’s behaviours are parent-led.
You may get a smile if you do something funny. You might be able to convince them to crawl and walk to you if you encourage it (or they need something!). You might be able to get them to play if you initiate it. Hugs and kisses may happen if you give them one or ask for one back. But at about the 18 month mark this all changes, and it’s beautiful.
The moment when Alexander unexpectedly wrapped his arms around my neck as I was getting him down from the dinner table almost brought tears to my eyes. He was really hugging me for the first time, totally unsolicited. I didn’t want to let him go.
If being loved and wanted by your child is all we really hope for, it doesn’t get much better than this age. They are more likely to come to you and ask you to play with them than the other way around, and they’ll probably set the agenda. They might even start going off by themselves and doing more self-play.
I remember when Alexander started doing this - my initial instinct was relief and the temptation of going off and making myself a much needed coffee, but this turned quickly into feelings of guilt. “I really should go and play with him. Don’t be so lazy, Chris!” But what I did end up doing, and found incredibly rewarding, was sitting back and watching him play. It was remarkable.
While there is no doubt being a parent has many challenges, I think it’s also really important to enjoy and appreciate those ‘golden’ moments. Take some time, if you can, to really watch your child play by themselves at this age. Watch them act out all that they have learnt. Watch their imagination at play. It may provide a window into who they are, a reflection of yourself as a parent, and reveal a glimpse of the adult they will become.