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Never Judge a Toddler: How a Touch-and-Feel Book Lead Me to My Top Tips for Taming Little Monsters

toddler bookMy second born received an adorable book for her first birthday this summer, Never Touch A Monster. As soon as it was uncovered from the tissue paper, my one-year-old immediately went to touch its cover and her three-year-old sister couldn’t resist a feel, even after several coaching sessions about how this was not her party and these were not her presents.

I highly recommend this book by Rosie Greening, illustrated by Stuart Lynch, for your curious littles. It has continued to be a big hit with both of them during reading time.

During each read, I’ve found myself relating more and more to raising a little monster, AKA a toddler. Each page starts with, “You must never touch a monster,” and is accompanied by a friendly monster, textured to encourage touch. Never say never, right?

At my first born’s two-and-a-half-year wellness check, her pediatrician recommended that we seek early intervention because of her lack of words. This took me down a whole tornado of emotions, self judgments, and processes to accept and understand, but that is another story for another day.

What started as a speech delay turned into a need for, yes, speech therapy, but also behavior intervention. Another storm blew threw my motherhood, and this is a story about what came to be on the other side of emotion: how I went from fearing I was raising Dexter, despite my best efforts, to being a defender of toddlers everywhere. Let’s talk it through with all the monsters we should “never touch.”

“…it isn’t well behaved!”

What toddler is well behaved, really? You can always tell when one is going through a growth spurt, or missed a nap, or is just having a day because don’t we all. But when the behaviors hurt others it can get truly scary with your little monster.

Mine played aggressively, threw toys at storytime and sand at the playground, pushed, kicked, hit, pulled hair, and on rare, but hugely heart-breaking, occurrences, would bite and break skin.

grumpy toddler

I didn’t even know where to start with how to handle and eventually modify these behaviors. Our behavior interventionist was one of the greatest gifts in my young motherhood.

So, first, stop judging yourself, mama. You don’t know what you don’t know. And stop judging the toddler I just described.

I’m not assuming judgement, I felt it. Every finger point my way at the playground, every eye roll toward the door at storytime, every instruction to your children to not play with mine.

And I completely understand. You have to keep your children safe. You are responsible for keeping storytime under control. You don’t know me or my child. But what if we all assumed positive intent? 

“It wants to put you in a pot…”

The more we worked with our interventionist, the more I learned that all of these behaviors were normal for her age. Thank goodness not every toddler displays these behaviors, right?! I can’t imagine! I would probably never leave my house out of fear of getting eaten alive.

But just because not every child displays these behaviors, doesn’t mean they are out of the range of normal development and growth. The more I learned about my toddler’s behaviors, their root causes, and how to address and modify them, the more I began to believe that rather than being an anti-bullying mom, I needed to be a pro-kindness one.

Labels may help us keep things neatly in a box, or a pot, but they rarely define the truth of life.

“Ignore it if it smiles…”

Clearly ignoring any behavior doesn’t get you far. I had to learn that my own reactions to the dynamic that my child’s behavior created wer not helping.

I found my confidence, which again is another story, and learned to approach other moms and caregivers and be up front: “Hi! I’m this monster’s mom. We are working on these behaviors. These are the consequences for those behaviors. I could use your help.”

I stopped being the victim to my toddler’s behavior and became a warrior defending her right to play and learn.  

“…don’t look it in the eye!”

Oh, those monsters will avoid eye contact with all their might sometimes! But getting down to their level and making eye contact with any little has been the biggest game-changer in a pro-kindness approach.

It can be exhausting at times. It means I rarely get to finish an adult conversation because about every five minutes I’m stopping to kneel at a child’s level to talk about what they just did, why it was a poor choice, and what other choices would be better.

I feel like a broken record and like nothing is actually being heard because rarely do I get even a head nod back. But, it is worth it. And not just because I’ve seen results over time with the behaviors being modified, but because I am also modeling how I would like to be spoken to.

Studies have shown that those who make eye contact are perceived to be warm and personable, and perception is reality, am I right?

“…and decide to take a munch!”

It may be instinctual and primal, but every action is executed because of a decision, even in a toddler’s developing brain. The reasons behind the bite are rarely malicious, but the outcome is most certainly hurting.

toddler attention

The greatest lesson I learned in modifying this behavior was that I had to help remap my daughter’s brain — redraw her decision-making tree.

Learning her triggers was key for prevention, but life happens and I can’t always guarantee that a perfect storm won’t hit. And it did. And it was awful. Every. Time.

But have you ever noticed that even the Hulk calms down through kindness and consistency? My toddler is smart, your toddler is smart, like Bruce Banner smart! But intelligence doesn’t mean that a brain can be rewired after just one redirection.

And even though it hurts my heart that I am well practiced at redirecting my child to learn to not harm others, including myself, it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad mom or that she’s a bad kid. Instead it is a high achievement, an accomplishment, and proof that kindness and love will always win.

Now touch away

In a non-creepy and permission-given way, of course. At the end of the day our little monsters just need to know that they are loved. Find what is your toddler’s favored display of affection and give it wholeheartedly.

I discovered that mine loved bear hugs. Trust me, it was more than a challenge for me to give an affectionate squeeze with the same arms that had just been scarred, but isn’t that parenthood? We challenge them, they grow, they challenge us, we grow.

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