Childhood, Parenting

Inside the mind of a toddler…


I have a toddler. An unpredictable, inquisitive, amazing little human. Some days she drives me to the brink of insanity (granted, not a huge drive!) with her upending of every box, rearranging of each room and investigations of “what does this do?” Yet, she also surprises me every day with the things she knows and the connections she is making. 

Toddlers get a pretty bad rap most of the time. We’ve all heard the phrase “terrible twos” and have seen various memes about the trials, tribulations and frustrations of life with a toddler. Sure – toddlers are challenging, but when we really STOP and watch what they are doing, it is also clear just how incredible they are. 

This morning I watched part of a Netflix Documentary – The Beginning of Life. Although I didn’t get to watch it all (#mumlife), the part that I have seen so far was brilliant. It should be a must watch for every parent and educator. There were so many experts and parents sharing research and truths about children, but the standout comment for me was:

“We often say toddlers have trouble paying attention. What we really mean is they have trouble not paying attention.”

Let that sink in for a minute…

It is so true. I’ve often heard educators complain that they are not able to get their toddlers to sit for group time – for a story or songs or whatever. This comment above sums up exactly why… toddlers are too busy paying attention (to absolutely everything that grabs their interest) to pay attention (to the one thing that we want them to pay attention to) Makes sense to me! 

When we know that children learn through play – through doing, through touching, through exploring and wondering, how is it reasonable to expect them (particularly toddlers) to sit still and listen, to fight the urge to touch and explore?

Imagine you are a toddler sitting down on the floor… an educator is holding up a book and asking you to look at it, but out of the corner of your eye you can see a piece of sheer fabric blowing in the breeze. You can smell lunch wafting down the hallway from the kitchen and hear the windchimes tinkling outside the door. You spot a small ant crawling across the floor and you wonder where it is going and decide to follow it. Suddenly the book (as great as it may be) is just not so interesting. You have things to explore. 

I think we need to be really mindful, in all that we do with toddlers, of the expectations we place on them. When we have unrealistic expectations for toddlers (such as sitting for a 20 minute group time) – we set them up to fail. Instead of expecting that they keep all of the playdough at the playdough table, and then being frustrated when things are transported around the room (a perfectly normal part of development – Schema!), let’s set up our environments to cater for the unique, exploratory, messy learning style of the toddler. 

We need to embrace everything that is amazing about toddlers – look at our environments and programs through their eyes. When we do that, the challenges start to become less frustrating and we see those little moments of wonder and discovery that make what we do so very worthwhile. 

​By Nicole Halton

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Nicole Halton

Nicole Halton is the co-founder of Inspired EC. She is the author of several early childhood books, an advocate for children's rights and a mum to three.