Don't Underestimate Your Toddler...
...or your kid at any age, for that matter! This is mostly about babies and toddlers, just cause that's as far as my personal scope of experience goes. I am going to tell you all a story that got me thinking about this. Story time with Lauren! YAYYY!!! Don't worry - I'll make it quick.
Yesterday, my husband and 1.5 year old were in the living room. Husband starts saying something to the 1.5 year old and then says, "Look! Look!". Me being the person who usually is speaking to a toddler all day by myself, and being in the other room, I assumed he was just talking to the kid! He was actually talking to me, and was irritated when I "ignored" him. How could I possibly think he was talking to a baby? Babies can't understand things, right?!
This sparked a conversation about how our toddler CAN and DOES understand way more than probably either of us realize. It never really crossed my mind because I'm with our son all day and I just talk to him like an adult because I hate that cheesy, condescending voice people tend to use towards kids. I'm also that parent who sang Carol King and Adele songs to a screaming newborn because baby songs made me want to hurl.
Husband assumed that since the tiny human can't articulate HOW to go get his shoes from his room, close the front door, put "x" back where he got it, etc...or repeat the command himself, that he surely doesn't understand what we are telling him to do. Uh, WRONG. This goes for soooooo many other things with these small people! You know those endless questions in mom groups about pacifiers, food, sleep, or anything else that begins with "How do I..." or "When is the best time to..."? ALL of us underestimate how much our toddlers can understand and do. What they choose to listen to is a whole other story, but they are definitely able to comprehend what we are saying most of the time, follow directions, and adapt to changes.
Pacifiers, for example...raise your hand if you got around to "ditching" the pacifier by taking your 3 year old to Build-a-Bear and stuffing that stupid paci into some overpriced piece of animal-shaped fabric. Yeah, you're not alone. Let me guess...she "wasn't ready" to let go of it before then? What exactly constitutes "ready"? If you realize that she just emotionally didn't WANT to give it up, then good for you! If you're thinking she wasn't developmentally ready, or didn't understand why it was being taken away or where it was going, you mayyyyyy be underestimating your kid's intelligence. Same with potty training.
Yes, I'm going there. NO, I am NOT going there to try and shame anyone. This shit is hard. Momming is hard, I'm just being realistic here. I'm sharing because I MYSELF have caught myself underestimating my kid, and it's taken me a while to learn what someone could have just freaking told me! So I'm telling you.
Don't handle your child based on culturally-created milestones. Handle them based on what you see that they can do. Challenge them! Even the 1 year olds! It's not some magical miracle when kids hit these milestones super early "for their age". It just means those parents aren't giving a shit what every other parent and their kids are doing. Some kids start using a fork and spoon efficiently at 16 months old, while others (like mine) frantically stab at their tray because mom and dad didn't give them utensils until recently because it just didn't cross our minds. Neither is better or worse than the other, it just makes life a million times easier if you let your kid learn to be more self-sufficient with stuff like this earlier. Our 18 month old knows how to clean up and put his toys away, and has for months...because I am freaking lazy and refuse to clean up after him 15 times a day! That's the same reason he knows commands like, "Put the pen back on the table, please!", or "Your water is in the living room". It's not going to scar him for life to go get his own damn water cup from the next room! Hell, I hand him a towel and tell him to go clean up when his cup leaks on the ground (don't worry, he loves it)!
I can almost hear all the, "Ohhhhhh but they're so little and they grow so fast and you should baby them and enjoy every moment of the littleness while it lasts blah blah blahhhh never cut the cordddd and don't ever let their precious snowflake feet further than 3 inches away from yours!!!" Um, suck it. Hindering my child's learning is not "cherishing every moment".
Anyway, back to what I was saying...STOP underestimating your kids. Involve them. Teach them how to do things that are "above" their age level, because honestly, those things probably aren't above them at all. Obviously, don't be expecting your 2 year old to go cook his own dinner or anything crazy, but test him! It can actually be really fun! These small people aren't stupid. You know as well as I do that they are so clever it can be horrifying and amusing and heart-wrenching all at the same time. A good principle that I try to apply as far as momming goes is, "Start as you mean to go". Now, don't take it to crazy extremes. You have to be sane and use your judgement (like not leaving young kids home alone or expecting them to do things that are just impossible), but try it out! Easy things like cleaning up, retrieving specific items (I know...woof!), not touching certain things, waiting for you, or being directed to a certain place/room are all pretty easily tweaked to fit increasing toddler abilities!
Maybe your kid didn't walk as early as others, but can now say twice as many words as is "normal" for her age. Or maybe she is very quiet and is "behind" on words but can climb the playground and go down the slide on her own like a damn Olympian, while all the other kids her age sit and eat dirt and say all the words. I'll say it one more time: DON'T underestimate your kid! They're all different, most are cute, and they're all smart in their own adorable, terrifying way.