A New View of Toddlerhood

Three watershed developments characterize toddlers: mobility, self-awareness, and language. This article will focus on mobility. We are talking about toddlers. So what does “toddler,” or “to toddle,” mean?

Toddle — to walk with short tottering steps in the manner of a young child.
Toddler — one that toddles, esp., a young child.

This phase — toddlerhood — is named after the infant’s capacity to become more mobile. But this is not just physical mobility — there are psychological aspects too.

Physical Aspects of Mobility

Real mobility is first ushered in with crawling — although these days pediatricians urge babies to sleep on their backs to prevent crib deaths, so crawling may be delayed or not be present much at all before walking. The crawling baby can really “scoot”! This baby is exploring, enjoying her newfound freedom and independence. This theme will recur, with walking, riding a bike, and driving a car!

And, then, the baby takes its first step, and soon more and more — and off they go! For the baby this can be an exuberant time — the feeling of interest is mobilized, and she has the capacity to explore at a speed and distance she never imagined before.

For the parent, one main concern is that of safety. The baby can get into things so much more quickly than before. She can disappear in the blink of an eye.

The parents’ task?
To support the exploration and learning of the baby, while keeping her safe at the same time. This is not always so easy — enhancing the exploration without constantly saying “no!” or threatening punishment.

When my son was little, he would crawl/scoot over to the stairs, glance at me before I could get to him, and go sliding down the stairs on his tummy, laughing all the way, having a great time. I, meanwhile, was terrified. Ultimately, we worked out a system so that I would be present when this “tummy tobogganing” was going on.

Parents can talk with their child about the newfound mobility. Children understand language and words long before they can speak, so it can be very helpful for parents to discuss the pros (exploration, learning) and cons (safety) of walking and greater mobility. If the child can talk at an early age, one can even have a bit of verbal back and forth.

Psychological Aspects of Mobility

Actually, we discussed some of the psychological issues previously — supporting the exuberant exploration of the child, dealing with the safety issue, and tolerating the feelings which occur with a child who can now disappear suddenly.

There is another issue — the feelings of separation which occur with this increased mobility. The parents may experience a sense of loss as their baby is able to come and go, be attached and then disappear. The baby is also developing his own sense of self at this point — likes and dislikes, interests, and so on. This change can also leave the parents feeling a loss. Their baby is becoming more separate and more of an individual — hence the term separation/individuation. This sequence will occur over and over as the child grows up.

Parenting is said to involve giving one’s children “roots and wings.” Many parents experience a sense of loss as their child becomes more mobile and begins to gain wings.