Helping your little one master new skills can be a daunting task. As parents, we put an unnecessary amount of pressure on ourselves as they reach an age milestone without yet meeting the prerequisite skills. More pressure builds when your friend's baby walks at 8 months or has an extensive vocabulary by one, and your baby doesn't. More pressure builds when your parents tell you, with the best intentions that you were sleeping through the night when you were six weeks old, and your baby surely wasn't. Even more pressure builds when the pediatrician tells you that your child, who isn't speaking yet, should be saying 5 words by his 15-month visit.
We react to this pressure by turning every opportunity into a learning event, which would be great if we weren't so stressed about making sure our child preforms. When my son was 10 months old and not crawling yet, my husband spent all of his free time trying to prop our baby up on his knees and show him how to crawl. His efforts were futile and resulted in a frustrated baby, and carpet burns on hubby's knees. Yet here they go again, my husband and now 13-month-old sitting with the ABC book, hubby repeating the letters while baby boy tries to crawl away and play with his toys. This more recent event is due to an online video of a 14-month-old baby identifying and saying all the letters of the alphabet- more pressure.
Recently my husband and I have decided to continue encouraging learning, but stop pushing, and try to exercise patience when teaching our little guy new skills. We follow his lead. We may still bust out the ABC book once a day, but only once. We tell him the letters, but we don't get frustrated if he doesn't repeat them. The truth is, we know he's taking it in. When he is ready, he'll show us what he knows, but we can't make him do it on our time.
Working with a toddler can be a frustrating experience because they can't tell you when they understand or when they don't. At the same time, these little ones are developing a mind of their own, so even if they do know what you're saying they may not feel like showing you when you want them to. You know, like when you want to impress your family with all of the adorable animal sounds baby knows, and they decide they aren't interested in playing along. You may not be able to make them perform, but continue to offer learning opportunities- trust me, they're taking it all in.
Look for opportunities to build on what baby already knows how to do, or focus on something he is particularly interested in. For example, my little guy loves playing with his animal magnets and he loves babbling. We turned some of his babbles into animal noises simply by listening to noises he already knew how to make and assigning them to animals (like "ba ba ba for a sheep). When your little one already feels sure that he can succeed, he is more likely to try the task.
It's ok to practice new skills a few times a day, but make these sessions short, fun and free of expectations. When your little one does respond, celebrate, a lot. Cheer, dance, clap, offer hugs and kisses- that celebration will encourage him to do it again, maybe not right away, but at another time. If your toddler doesn't seem to get what you're trying to teach, that's ok too. Keep exposing him to it, but don't over focus on it, instead look at everything he can do and know that in his own time he'll develop each skill. You've heard the old adage, "Practice makes perfect, but with a toddler, patience can go a long way too.
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