As new staff at Elm House, we are asked to read a wonderful book entitled “1, 2, 3… The Toddlers Years: A Practical Guide for Parents & Caregivers” by Irene Van der Zande with Santa Cruz Toddler Care Center staff. I have read a few texts on development, first while obtaining my bachelor’s psychology degree and then as a nanny when parents have asked me to peruse the books they’ve studied to inform their parenting tactics. Never have I found a book so thorough yet light — “The Toddler Years” contains concise chapters chock full of lively descriptions of children’s behaviors and adults’ responses as examples for what to do and what not to do. At our weekly staff meetings, new staff are asked to share one thing we’ve learned, one thing we’re wondering, and one goal the book has inspired. I’d like to share with you all a few of my takeaways while reading this lovely text.
I’ve learned quite a few things that I did not know before, or had forgotten since graduating college: One of the bigger surprises to me was that rewarding a child greatly for positive potty behavior can be just as detrimental as punishing them for “failing” (i.e., having an accident) because it can cause performance anxiety (they may be worried that they will not get the reward if they can’t “go”, and this anxiety could prevent them from relieving themself). I always thought that great praise while toilet training would be a celebratory experience, but clearly I was thinking from an adult perspective.
I enjoy how often the authors attempt to translate the thoughts and rationalizations of the toddler mind — there is one section in which it describes the cause-and-effect discovery process through toddler “thought”: “How interesting.” JoJo seems to think, “Mommy gets mad if I spit on the table! . . . Was that just at breakfast or also at lunch? . . . What about diner? . . . Just yesterday, or also today? . . . It seems okay to spit in the bathtub . . . She made me spit out a bug . . . what if I spit on these papers on her desk?” Sound familiar? I found myself wondering if these caregivers in Santa Cruz have a secret Californian mind reading machine… but, seriously, I appreciate the way this book invites you to see things from a toddler’s perspective, a perspective that can be easy to forget when wrapped up in the moment. It is a personal goal of mine to remember daily, as best as I can from moment to moment, that my perspective is not more powerful that anyone else’s, and it is my responsibility to help guide the perspective of toddlers when they are lost, but only until they find their way again. I aim to foster independence in the young, growing minds and bodies of Elm House children.
One thing I wondered while reading the book was whether “baby talk” from adults has a positive, negative, or neutral effect on verbal development. I learned in my development class in college that “baby talk” is actually quite validating for babies and toddlers, because it encourages babbling, which is an important step in the process of verbalizing thought (though the opposite was popular thought about babbling in mid 1900s). The book says that toddlers learn more if we speak in simple words and short sentences, and while that is true, speaking in baby talk is also helpful for them. They will lose their baby talk voice when they are ready, like many developmental milestones. Some short research online confirmed what I learned — that baby talk is beneficial for baby!
I highly recommend this wonderful text, even for experienced and educated caregivers. The narration style is personable and I’ve found it a simply wonderful read. You’ll have to find your own copy, though, because we have this one available to staff at all times!