Communicating with a toddler: My child is a joy to raise. Why? I tell him the truth
The real-life experience of a mother with a 1-year-old son who just started practicing open communication together.
“Look for ways to work with your children, not what will work on them,” says Unparenting. It took me a while to decode what that actually means. Just recently, it finally clicked, and that’s when everything changed.
Loving tricks: Wooden spoon instead of scissors
I used to trick my son in all sorts of ways: “It’s time to sleep. Your bed is waiting, and it’s warm and cozy!”; “This book is boring, but look at this paper; that looks like a lot of fun!”; and “Scissors are no fun. But look at this wooden spoon! You can do all kinds of things with it!”
I wasn’t trying to be mean. I was just using a lot of innocent tricks to steer him in the direction I needed him to go. Whether or not I was telling the truth didn’t seem important.
No wonder I wasn’t truly enjoying motherhood. Most of the time, I felt stressed rather than happy.
The success of every single situation depended solely upon whether or not my son “bought it.” Only recently, everything has changed. And here’s how it happened.
Honesty above all
Filip is learning to walk, and he loves stairs. He can spend a solid half hour walking back and forth while holding my finger. Once, we went to a café, and he discovered an amazing thing: a spiral staircase! I wasn’t really that into it, but he wouldn’t give it up, so up and down we went.
It got really boring after a while, so I tried to get him to stop:
“Honey, why don’t we go back up? Daddy is there, your toys are waiting …”
Nothing, he just kept walking. And because I couldn’t think of anything better to say, I just blurted out:
“I really don’t want to do this anymore, and I want to sit down!”
Filip stopped, looked at me, let go of my hand, and even waved me off – almost as if he was saying: “Just go, mom!” He grabbed the handrail and went down the steps on his own.
I was rooted to the spot. Not only does he understand my needs, but on top of it, he is way better at finding solutions than I am!
You might be thinking now: “Did you really let him walk up and down the stairs unsupervised? Are you out of your mind?” I had the same thoughts, so I crept behind, ready to catch him. Filip managed to go up and down the spiral staircase by himself several times. He didn’t even trip!
It made me wonder …
What else wasn’t what it seemed?
Everyone knows that 1-year-olds can’t walk up and down the stairs by themselves. Well, mine suddenly could! What about those other truths everybody knows (and no one thinks to question)? What about all those musts, can’ts, shouldn’ts, and ought-tos …?
I will never forget the look on his face. Suddenly “look for ways to work with your children, not what will work on them” took on a whole new meaning. I’ve decided to be more alert and figure out for myself what works and what doesn’t.
A dream come true: Time alone when you have a 1-year-old
The stairs were just the beginning. Once I started paying closer attention, the surprises kept on coming.
I’ve always thought that toddlers require constant attention.
“He’s too little. We can’t just go through the day each doing our own thing!”
Now I can laugh about it. :) You might not feel like laughing if you haven’t had any time for yourself in the past year or so. But trust me – I’ve been there too. This is our story about how we did it.
It happened like this. My husband and I needed to get some work done one weekend – so of course Filip wouldn’t sleep. I thought back to that day in the café, and instead of making the usual excuses, I simply told him that his mom and dad needed some time to work without being disturbed. His reaction took my breath away.
He gave me the same look like on the stairs in the café and went to bed on his own. Filip lay there with his eyes closed but couldn’t fall asleep. So he got up and started playing with his toys. I told myself this was a great opportunity to see whether he truly understood and wanted to help or whether I was just fooling myself. I turned on his favorite songs, and my husband and I got down to work.
Filip spent almost an hour playing on his own.
He only peeked in to check on us and then went on doing his own thing.
It’s hard to believe how much has changed in such a short time. When I think about our life just a few weeks ago … it feels like we’re living in a completely different universe!
Subtitles for baby babbling
I often hear that things will be easier once Filip starts talking, and we’ll be able to have a real conversation. I can’t tell whether it is going to be easier, but if I really pay attention, I can understand him even now.
There are days when I need to leave him with a babysitter because my husband works really late. I used to dread the moment when I had to leave the house. I would sneak out of the door so he wouldn’t see me.
Once, I wasn’t careful enough, and he saw me leaving. He came running to me, grabbed me, and started wailing. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I just sat down on the floor and hugged him. I wasn’t even trying to come up with any sort of trick.
Because I wasn’t comforting my child but saying goodbye to my wonderful friend
who just wasn’t in the mood to be with anybody else but me. Suddenly, it was like having subtitles. I didn’t care about what the babysitter was going to think about us.
“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” he screamed. (Subtitles: “Don’t leave, I don’t want to be here without you!”)
“I know,” I told him. “But I have a doctor’s appointment, and you can’t come with me. I really need you to stay here and have fun together. Your sitter is really nice, you know that.”
“Booo hooooo…” (“I really don’t want to stay here. I want to be with you! We are not going to have fun!”)
I thought about how much I hate changes and how long it takes me to get used to new situations.
“I have a little bit more time,” I said to him. “I can wait with you, and maybe then you’ll feel ready to be with your babysitter. But I really have to go to the doctor.”
He held on to me for another minute or so and then left to play with his sitter. He was 1 year old.
I talk to him differently now. I know he understands me and doesn’t do things out of spite. He really wants to find a solution that works for both of us. I just need to pay close attention to see it.
“This would never work in our house!”
You might be thinking that your child is different. That yours is too strong-willed, and there’s no way to work it out together. That’s what I also used to think. Really! But all I had to do was give him a chance. You might be wondering how to start.
Imagine a person you trust with your life. Maybe your best friend. You would most likely never question whether or not she loves and respects you, right? When you want to go to a restaurant, and she wants to go to a movie, you don’t think she is purposely trying to stop you from doing things you like. You just talk and work it out.
Now imagine the same thing with your child. There are times when things don’t go the way we want them to for way too long, and we start to think our children are doing it on purpose just to upset us. Don’t believe it! The children are no different from your friend. In some things, maybe, but not in this. They are sometimes ruled by their emotions, they can’t fully express themselves, and they might be too tired … but they still love you and want both of you to be happy.
Maybe you’re thinking your child is too little and thinks only about herself. In my experience, that is not true. How do you feel when you get what you want but your partner feels unhappy? It doesn’t feel right, does it? Your child is no different.
Life is way better with a happy mom than an unhappy one.
Is it a little easier now to imagine trusting your child the same way you trust your friend?
You might say that you don’t have to constantly watch your friend so she doesn’t hurt herself in some way.
Yes, your child is a friend who happens not to know certain things just yet. You still have to keep an eye out for anything dangerous. But don’t you do things with your best friend that you can do and she can’t? Maybe it’s when she goes rock climbing with you for the first time or when you’re sharing your grandma’s fried chicken recipe. Would you get angry with her when she doesn’t get it right the first time, or would you try to find a different way to explain it to her? How would you handle it with your friend?
And how would you handle it with your child?
How to understand your children – whether they can talk or not
Why don’t you try this at home? It helps me a lot. The next time something comes up that you have to work out with your little one, first try to imagine trusting your child the same way you trust your friend – that they aren’t trying to irritate you or pull you down, that they want to have a good time together, same as you. Then simply say what you need and why – and how your child can help you.
When a child knows that mom needs to go shopping, and a mom understands that her child needs to finish building a castle, it’s much easier to work out a solution than when neither of them knows what the other person wants and why. But if we don’t say it, how would they know? ;)
How do you know you came up with the right solution? Both of you feel good and happy. Neither of you is holding a grudge or feeling uneasy.
At first, it might feel weird to look for different ways. It might even feel like too much work. But trust me, you will quickly get used to how children react, and you won’t want it to be any other way! At least, that’s how it was for us.
It may not always go smoothly, that’s true. Your little one may not always be in the best mood – they might be tired, overstimulated, or teething, you know how it goes. And it’s good to be understanding when this happens. But still, Unparenting helped me see that so many times it really is possible to work things out with my little one.
If that sounds good to you – opening up to your little one – then go ahead and try it. Here are other stories from parents who have gone on this same journey. They may offer some inspiration for you as you start off. If you like the results you get and want more, you can do the whole course.