Human development is a process of self-liberation from dependencies of any kind toward freedom. This process starts at birth, and ideally, it never ends. During the first exciting year of life an infant liberates himself from dependence on adults toward independence. From what he has learned already the most visible is his new ability to walk. A child walks! And he is in the next stage of self-liberation, the toddler stage. What should parents know about the self-liberating toddler? While exploring new opportunities of his walking ability a toddler works hard toward his next level of freedom – the talking ability. And in this process a toddler learns whether the world is a safe place to live or not.
Patient and observant parents notice what is happening with their child. It is not just physical growth, which is, of course, very exciting. It is also growth of their child’s internal world, its expansion and enrichment. Imagine the excitement of a disabled person, who has just been cured and now is able to stand straight and walk without fear of falling! That is how our toddler is feeling in the beginning of this new stage of development.
With the new freedom of walking, a fearless toddler explores his world further, the world of new opportunities. He is excited to discover that everything has a name and that the visible world is surrounded by an invisible ocean, called human language. He is now in the stage of self-liberation toward the spoken word. Nobody does that for him; nobody stirs his tongue and exercises his memory. He does it himself and liberates himself from his wordless existence. Imagine a tourist in a foreign country, immersed in the foreign language – this is how a toddler feels now.
Parents can help their child to victoriously go through the process by providing an environment rich in language and by keeping faith in the child. The richer the environment the faster the toddler starts speaking and the richer is his vocabulary. The stronger the faith is the stronger is the child’s confidence in his abilities and that the world around him is good and just.
Even if babies are cute and seem clueless, they take themselves and the world around them seriously. With their first steps and words they learn about this world and whether it is safe or not. Unfortunately, “The first footstep of a child is also the first No-no,” says Simon Soloveychik in his book Parenting For Everyone. Things around the child may be dangerous and scary. Careful parents remove most dangerous things from his reach. But, some parents “to ease life, want their child to learn their prohibitions.” While parents endlessly argue about how much permission should stand against prohibitions, the toddler self-liberates himself from being clueless about what is going on to being aware of it, in his own way. The toddler forms his own idea of the world. What must it look like?
For a little toddler the most significant person in his life is his mom. She is his whole world. If mom is happy, the world is safe and bright. If, for most of the time, mom is unhappy, or grouchy, or stern, or sad, the world is unsafe and a sad place to live. Keeping that in mind, a general rule for parents is: the happier a parent is – the safer a child is. The safer a child is, the more strength he will have for his development. This applies both to the visible and invisible features of sense of security, physical relationship, and emotional atmosphere between the child and the parent.
A toddler grows by self-liberating himself toward independence. Each single little step of his liberation is a great excitement of victory. His body can hold itself and navigate through the space. And his tongue and lips are slowly learning to copy the words of adults. Each word which is spoken and understood is a success and a new step to freedom. Celebrate these moments! And in the meantime, remember to introduce to your child this wonderful world, which is a safe place to live, and not just one to survive in.