Attachment parenting doesn’t stop when your kid learns to walk. The concept of AP grows as your child does, and you adapt it over time. My oldest is now two and a half, and I’ve put pen to paper in an attempt to show you what AP looks like from a toddler mom’s perspective.
Look Them in the Eye
Your kids are little sponges and they soak up everything you do and say, including your communication skills. If your head is buried in work, or glued to a screen, you’re not giving them your full attention. And when possible, you should. We make it a point to look at our son when talking to him, even if it’s a quick answer to a question. We find that he loves to show us things he’s doing… Or things he’s found on the floor. Because he knows he deserves our full attention, he does the same for us when we speak to him.
What you’re really saying: “You’re the most important thing in my life right now, and you matter.”
Don’t Baby Talk
I was reading to my toddler as I do every day, and I came to a word I was pretty sure he didn’t know. My mind spent a second thinking of a more age-appropriate synonym to use in its place. Then I realized what I was really doing: dumbing down content to keep him at the level he is right now. How is he ever going to learn new words if he’s not exposed to them? And I’m here to help him use context clues so he can discover the definition for himself. No wonder the kid knows crazy words like “mystery,” “impossible”, “pupa” and “pomegranate”. We don’t limit him to keep him in the toddler comfort zone. Any child can rise to the bar that’s set for them, so why set it low?
What you’re really saying: “You’re capable of learning new words, and I’m willing to teach you!”
Encourage Them to Explore
My kiddo loves going outside and looking around for bugs. He sometimes even does this at the park, with huge gorgeous swings and slides at his back. Nope, he’s gonna dig in the dirt and bring me the interesting things he finds. And as long as he’s safe and supervised, that’s cool with me. Our kids should be encouraged to explore their world: look for moss on leaves, feel textures of tree bark, smell wild flowers. Is this rock rough or smooth? Why does a spider build a web? They’ll undoubtedly ask questions about the surroundings, so let them find the answers too.
What you’re really saying: “We live in a pretty amazing place – let’s discover it together!”
Let Them Help
My kiddo has duties around the house – easy chores which I taught him to do. And man, if I forget and do his job, he gets mad at me! He loves to help and even tells me so, with flour on his shirt and a grin on his face. I find little ways he can be involved in my day – dumping a cup of sugar into the mixer, putting his clothes away, playing music for his baby sister, and you should see him dust! I love the help, he loves helping. Housework and other tasks around the house make the workload lighter, and our bond closer.
What you’re really saying: “You’re a big kid and you can do so much! Let’s have fun helping each other!”
Teaching my kid about a concept like “the truth” is a bit challenging. I give him opportunities to tell me the truth, and praise him like crazy when he does. I also make sure to tell him that I trust him, and I am so proud of him for doing the right thing. When he lies, I tell him how lying hurts others and I know he can do better. I never call him a liar. He’s learned that it feels good to be honest, and it earns you more freedom when you can be trusted. And there’s no temptation for him to lie to me, since we have open and honest communication with each other. We don’t punish with violence, so he need not fear telling us the truth. When he’s older and he messes up, I want him to come to me for help and advice, not turn away and hide things from me.
What you’re really saying: “You are worthy of trust, and capable of honesty. We won’t abandon you or stop loving you if you lie, but we know you can do the right thing! And we are always here to help.”
Enforce Process and Continuity
I just wrote a post about this on Create Balanced Life – the younger the kid is, the more they rely on a predictable routine. It removes stress and makes it easy for their little bodies to know when they’re getting essentials like food and rest. Schools and daycares have mastered the daily schedule, but kids need it at home too. We still give Kiddo little reminders just to ingrain our day into his mind: things like “ok baby, after we eat lunch we’re going to…” and he says “sleep” without missing a beat. Our morning wake up, naptime, and bedtime routines are all consistent too. Kiddo doesn’t have to be on alert to figure out what’s next in his little world. Children deserve that day-to-day stability as much as possible.
What you’re really saying: “I love you and want you to feel safe and relaxed, so I’ll take the guesswork out of your day. You’ll get rest when you need it, meals and snacks when you need it, and no surprises!”
Countdown to Change
Transitions for kids can be hard, even if they know what’s happening next. When it’s time for us to go somewhere or change activities, I try to anticipate him being upset by giving him a five minute countdown. Each time I say a new minute, I repeat what the new action is (like “ok kiddo, three minutes until we have to go to sleep”). I give him eye contact and expect a response so I know he heard me. It almost completely eliminates tantrums and meltdowns, and removes any surprise or shock. This is especially important if you’re still establishing a routine, like I mentioned above.
What you’re really saying: “I’m preparing you for what’s coming up, so that you can process it easily and adjust accordingly. I don’t want you to be upset or surprised by what we need to do!”
Repeat New Things… Often
Piggybacking on the previous tip, we talk to our kiddo for days about new things or changes coming up. A recent example is the vacation we went on, which included a long car drive and sleeping in a new place. We talked to him multiple times a day for a few days about how “we’re going to the beach but it’s far, so when we get in the car after lunch you’re going to go to sleep ok?” By the time it was trip day, he could fill in the blanks on what we were going to do. And even though it deviated from our normal routine a whole lot, he wasn’t phased at all. Because he knew what to expect. The same could apply for a new baby, a special event, guests coming over, etc.
What you’re really saying: “Something new and exciting is going to happen so I want to prepare you for the changes! Let’s be happy as we look forward to these wonderful new things!”
Give Them Ownership and Accountability
Kids definitely have a concept of ownership from a very young age. Try taking their toy from them and you will see what I mean. But that’s OK – it is totally normal for a child to claim something as their own. And we try to respect that by asking to use Kiddo’s things. This opens up dialogue for us to talk about how to take turns and share, as well as being accountable for our things. Kiddo learns how to care for his toys and books. He definitely has a sense of pride now! This is also a great precursor to introducing chores.
What you’re really saying: “This is yours. I respect you and your things, so I want you to follow my example; I will teach you how to care for your things, too!”
Exhibit Emotional Intelligence
Kids are going to be angry. And upset. And jealous. And feel lots of other complex emotions, some of which they won’t completely understand. It’s up to us to give them vocabulary to express themselves, and teach them how to handle their emotions appropriately. We had a book when kiddo was younger with kids’ faces and emotions, so he could start seeing them as unique and independent feelings. We would reference it later and let him point to how he was feeling. Now, when he acts like he’s angry, we name that emotion and encourage him to do the same. “Do you feel angry because we have to leave the park?” Now he’s consciously aware that what he’s feeling is anger. We use lots of varied vocabulary to help him tell us what he’s feeling. You must remember that toddlers are experiencing so much so quickly in the ways of development; it’s almost like they’re turning into the Hulk but don’t know why it’s happening. Teaching kiddo how to vocalize what he’s going through makes it easier for all of us to weather the storm.
What you’re really saying: “We want to help you with whatever is hurting you or making you upset. We will teach you the tools you need to communicate with us so that we can get through this difficult moment together.”
Acknowledge Their Feelings
We acknowledge Kiddo’s feelings and let him vent to us, or express it in a healthy and safe way (for letting out angry energy, we have a bean bag he can beat up, for example). We don’t tell him he’s not allowed to feel a certain way because that’s not in our power. We can’t make someone unfeel an emotion. Even if we didn’t intend to hurt his feelings, for instance, they’ve already been hurt. What’s important is how we help him in that moment. Kiddo doesn’t understand that it’s getting cold and too dark to be outside anymore; he just knows he doesn’t want to go inside! We could just tell him to come along with us and drag him in the house, or we could spend a moment down at his level to talk with him. In the end, we know what’s best and what has to be done, but we validated him in the process instead of just saying “because I said so.” He will learn empathy and be inclined to help others when they are feeling down, because we modeled that for him first.
What you’re really saying: “I recognize that you are feeling this way right now. I don’t want you to feel that way and I’m sorry you’re going through it. I’m here with you, for you.”
We had Kiddo saying “please” and “thank you” from before he was two years old, just because we encouraged it all the time. And we modeled it. He gets the same respect that we expect him to show to us. On his own, he’s picked up “excuse me” and “bless you” (after a sneeze). Like everything else with raising a toddler, repetition really helps ingrain the habit that you want to teach. Want a polite kid? Lead by example. They can do it! And they’ll rise to your expectations beautifully.
What you’re really saying: “This is the respectful way in which people speak to each other. We show you respect and we expect you to do the same. You’re deserving of respect and capable of manners!”
Balance Out Criticism
I’ve often found myself doing a mental count of how many times I’ve told my kid “no” versus being encouraging. I don’t let him just do what he wants, of course, but I need to maintain a healthy balance of criticisms and compliments. (I know I’ve worked in jobs where I never got validated or praised, and it was awful). Similarly, if I correct my child I make sure to praise him when he gets it right. And don’t sweat the small stuff: sure he may not be holding a crayon correctly, but is he in danger? Is he hurting anyone or anything? No, so I let it go and enjoy the moment with him!
What you’re really saying: “I love you and want you to be successful and safe. But I don’t want to always be on your case either, so be yourself and I’ll celebrate your individuality while helping you grow!”
Attachment parenting is a lifelong commitment to raise emotionally intelligent, compassionate, responsible adults. But those adults start out as children who look to us – their parents – to show them the way. More than anyone else in the world, we shape how our kids react to emotions, how they verbalize their feelings, and how they treat others. We must always remember that our kids are little human beings, and they will grow up with us as their primary example.
What important lessons do you teach your toddler?