Today E and I had a lovely outing. We watched lawnmowers, skateboards, people and cars. We lay in the sun and the shade, on our tummies and on our backs. We said hello to ladies and dogs and the postman. We were out for two hours and we didn’t even make it to the end of our street.

Slowing down to toddler time is not always easy for me. My natural rhythm is quicker and much more productive. But forcing myself to slow down to E’s speed has brought so many benefits for both of us.

wandering through the park

wandering through the park

What it looks like: Stopping to smell, touch and taste every rose. Staring at seemingly insignificant scenes for a long time. Moving at a glacial pace.

Mistaken for: Trying to be difficult or obstruct adults’ plans.

Why she does this:

Time – In her post on toddler stalling, Janet Lansbury describes toddler time as being ‘fully present each moment, yet blissfully ignorant of the moments passing.’ Time is a complex construct and means very little to toddlers. They are not necessarily trying to slow us down, their schedule just isn’t dictated by time in the way that ours is.

Everything is new – So many mundane events (e.g. cutting the grass) are still fascinating to kids. They may seem simple to us but that’s because we have years of experience to help us understand. Toddlers are just beginning to build up that bank of experience through hours of observation.

Repetition builds understanding – I am continually amazed at how many times E feels the need to repeat certain experiences (talking about her trip in the airplane, watching the garbage truck, poking the same patch of dirt over and over and over). But each repetition seems to cement the experience in her mind and further develop her understanding of the world.

How to support: There is not always time to smell the roses. Sometimes we need to get home for supper, sometimes we need to pick up siblings at school, sometimes its time for a nap. But trying to schedule some toddler time into the day or week can really bring peace and joy to adults and children.

What do I mean by toddler time? Simply following a child’s lead. It doesn’t have to be a toddler, but toddlers are especially good at this. For E and me it often means dressing for the weather, packing a snack, opening the door and following E’s nose. Sometimes we end up at the park, sometimes we end up around the corner. I find the outdoors to be a great place for toddler time because there are endless resources to explore. (We once spent 30 min. exploring a hotel parking lot – I had no idea all the wonders it held!) But indoor explorations can be just as fruitful, especially in a new environment.

What is the adult’s role? To observe, describe and provide boundaries – nothing more. It can be a challenge to spend time with a toddler without playing with her but it is a great opportunity to learn about and from her. Narrating what’s happening will help her attach words to her experiences even if she doesn’t say anything herself. Try to only offer ‘help’ if she explicitly requests it. Don’t be afraid to clearly identify boundaries (‘I won’t let you throw rocks at the house.’) but try to set limits rather than banning things outright (‘You can throw rocks into the water instead,’ rather than ‘No throwing rocks.’)

What are the benefits? It’s still not something I can do all day every day (which is good, because I’m not a toddler) but choosing to experience the world through the eyes of a toddler for a couple of hours each day brings our whole family such peace. E feels that her preferred way of moving through the world has been respected and is more willing to move at my speed for other parts of the day. I’m able to understand and provide for her better after observing her interests and moods. And we fill those long hours at home with a toddler that I used to dread before becoming a mum. No fancy treasure baskets, no trouping around to playgroup after playgroup, no DVDs.

I encourage you to try some toddler time with a child today. Start small – plan for 10 minutes and go from there. Sit back and observe, narrate or don’t. See the world through the eyes of a child and you might just find you like it.