As newborns grow into more mobile babies and then toddlers, everything and nothing changes. They watch us so closely and want to try everything, but of course they can't safely do all that we do. This is the stage when 'no' becomes a big word, first from us, then from them. Our role is still to be in loving presence with them and this is the time to establish loving leadership.
Leadership with a baby or toddler looks like guiding them toward safe and wise experiences rather than trying to control, force, or punish them.
So when a toddler grabs something that isn't safe for them, we may gently put our hands on theirs, holding them and the object, look softly at them until they look right back at us, and say "This is not safe," or "Not for you." We don't need to scold or yell, just teach. They may let go easily or not. When they clutch the object, we can hold them and it firmly and invite, "Can you let go now? This is not for you." Rather than grab and pull, which invites a pulling contest, we can move slowly, holding the object safely and giving a firm, clear, and loving form of 'No.' Sometimes we may need to remove the object, but we can do it gently.
They will often want to do things that are possible (but likely to slow us down), and this is a great time to teach, guide, and support. Their drive to learn, imitate, and master new things is so important! We are wise to support and guide it rather than fight it.
When a child cries, yells, or even seems worried or frightened by a limit we set or the way we help, we can just listen and allow those feelings. We can hold them, offering reassuring sounds and simple words ("That feels hard, huh?"). There's no need to distract them from their feelings or to fix the situation to change their feelings.
During this process, we don't need to say much. If you find yourself explaining, pleading, scolding, or threatening, step back. Speak in the spirit of being with our child rather than against them, clear inwardly that our purpose is to help them. We affirm our love, leadership, and presence with each exchange, and deepen our connection with our child.
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