It hasn’t been the most exciting summer for Johnny Pickle. A knee surgery for Dad (again!) at the beginning of June really put a damper on his outdoor activities just when the good weather was starting up. Sure, he went camping for the first time at the end of May; it rained the whole time) and never got above 60- not ideal pool weather. And he had a lot of fun at the Fourth of July parade and after, with all the grandparents in town for his birthday.
But the everyday summer stuff has been decidedly lacking. The stuff Dad always prided himself on doing with Johnny’s older sister at this age ( an older sister who is now at the age where we never see her during the summer between the pool, the mall and sleepovers- but that’s a different story). Things like daily long walks around the lake, stopping to play on one of three playgrounds in our local park or simply running through the open meadows. Things like Toddler Time at the local pool, a chance to get a little crazy and share an ice cream at the snack bar. Even simple things like kicking the soccer ball around the backyard.
Johnny’s been missing all of these until just a week or so ago when the doctors finally cleared Dad for full-time, full-bore toddler patrol again. And once we got moving again, good old Dad quickly remembered there’s another thing that comes with outdoor activities for toddlers. In fact, it’s pretty noticeable in their behavior all the time but the great outdoors definitely illuminates it.
It’s called independence. And if you haven’t experienced it yet with your own children, get ready for another wild joyride in the long drive through parenthood. All toddlers crave independence to one degree or another; they can’t help it, it’s hardwired into them http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/attachment-parenting/helping-toddler-ease-independence Becoming independent is a huge milestone for your toddler. However, it’s also both an exciting and frightening time for them. And mom & Dad.
Johnny Pickle has charged right into independence. My first clue that he was of the “full-steam ahead” school of thought came on our first long saunter through the park. When we stopped at the “Tot” playground to play Dad assumed that he would enjoy the bucket-swings for little ones or the toddler-knee level train kids can climb in. Ah, no… Johnny immediately headed for the ropes course on the big kids playground! Needless to say, many tears ensued and we ended up taking a rather sullen stroll home.
The same thing happens when we try to ride his new birthday Big Wheel in the driveway. Obviously, in his world, the driveway is nowhere near big enough, even though he hasn’t come close to mastering that whole peddling thing. Instead, we spend most of our time in a fruitless game of chase and redirect (or Border Guard v. Master Spy, as I’ve taken to calling it). It doesn’t matter that he’s wiped out a few times either- he just keeps coming back for more.
This kind of quest for independence can drive a parent completely crazy, especially when you know it’s not safe and probably won’t be fun. But… we’ve got to let them try, in as safe a way as possible. Your toddler doesn’t know that every outside activity has limits to it and has certain rules that apply to everybody- they just want to explore their world and take some ownership of it. They want and need empowerment, even at the cost of their parents’ sanity.
They will figure out those limits, with your help, but it takes time. In the here and now, keep redirecting, keep distracting, keep your cool, walk away and ignore the tantrum when it’s safe to do so (and not too embarrassing), let them scrape a knee or skin an elbow, count to ten (or a hundred) when they come at you like a crazed spider-monkey because you won’t let them run down the middle of the street and, generally let them find that balance between independence and anarchy. It’s called interdependence and it’s only a few years away!