So often we focus our parenting energies on “teaching moments”: spouting nouns ad nauseum, choosing the perfect picture book, or refereeing toddler interactions on the playground. We fail to notice, however, that babies and toddlers really learn the most when they are given the time, space, and framework to explore, experiment, and reach their own conclusions.
Zach is transitioning from babyhood to toddlerhood, a process that’s as enthralling as it is exhausting. Meals are messy food-flinging fests; underwear and diaper changes are full of protests; getting him dressed often ends up with me chasing him across the room while he crawls away with his shirt half-on; and I seem to spend half my time averting disasters and the other half dealing with bumps and bruises.
In all this chaos, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that each mess, protest, and bruise is in reality a learning opportunity for Zach. I don’t have to do anything overtly educational to help him learn – no preaching or teaching are necessary. I just have to be consistent with the routine, establish limits, and let him experience life and consequences within those boundaries.
Last night during dinner, Zach was focused on drinking water from his glass. Every time he brought the small cup to his lips, two-thirds of the liquid would run down his chin and onto his bib and shirt. He was clearly surprised whenever he felt the cold water hit his chest, but he was determined to repeat the activity. In my state of exhaustion, I silently bemoaned the mess he was making on the newly-cleaned floors. My husband, however, pointed out that Zach had learned a lot during that meal, and that’s when I remembered that learning happens all day, every day, as long as we allow it.
Additionally, there are so many things Zach has discovered in these past few weeks because I was too busy to pay attention to him! He figured out how to walk backwards with his push wagon while I was doing dishes and couldn’t get his cart out of a corner; he discovered how to scoop sand into a container while I was chatting with a friend at the park; he learned how to transition from one piece of furniture to another when I was talking on the phone and couldn’t offer a helping hand.
Of course, there’s a fine balance between giving your child space and neglecting them, but in the helicopter parenting society in which we live, most children would benefit from a little more breathing room. So, the next time you’re tempted to jump in and teach – don’t. It might be just the learning opportunity your child needs.