Two steps forward, three steps back – the bumpy road to toddler independence

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One day your child will happily wave ‘good-bye’ and another, she will cling to your legs; she may have been happily enjoying family meals at the table for weeks but then suddenly want to sit in her highchair and be fed again or, even though she has been sleeping all night long in her own bed, she may start waking and needing a cuddle in the night.

Even completely secure toddlers can take two steps forward and a step or more backwards along the bumpy road to independence. Sometimes the reasons for returning to ‘baby’ behaviour are obvious. At other times there isn’t an obvious explanation for regressive behaviour,  although a step backwards can often precede a big developmental leap as though your little one really needs that extra security before she takes two big steps forward.

Whatever the reasons behind this unpredictable progress on the path to being ‘big’ most ‘backward’ steps only last a few weeks at most if you allow your child to rest and feel safe again, rather than pushing him away and ‘be a big person’ before he really feels ready.

  • Don’t react strongly if your child reverts to ‘babyish’ behaviour. Respond with, “ oh, you want to pretend to be a baby and eat in the highchair.” Without a fuss, she will soon become bored and want to eat at the table again.
  • Encourage ‘big’ behaviour by appealing to the ‘grown up’ nature of your toddler. “I’m so happy to have a big boy who can hold my hand when we walk to the shops.”
  • Give your toddler language to express his feelings. “I miss Daddy when he has to go away to work, do you?” “Sometimes I feel angry when the baby wakes up.” As he becomes more capable of expressing his feelings in words, he will no longer have to use baby behaviour to get his needs met. Of course this will depend on his language and cognitive skills as well as your patient modelling, so please don’t expect miracles from a toddler – just because he can talk well and ‘use his words’, doesn’t mean he can contain his feelings yet.

Above all, try to see things from your child’s perspective: consider how you feel yourself when your world becomes stressful or you are about to undertake a new project. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some extra support? A hand to hold? A hug? Tiny tots who are just stepping out into the world also need a hand to hold, hugs, lots of smiles and kind words to help them face new challenges with confidence.

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