Toddlers are a lot more teachable than most people realise, writes clinical psychologist Michelle Nortje. Here are 10 vital life skills you can start teaching your toddler today.
Although the 10 values or skills that will be discussed in this article may seem more suited to older children, preschoolers are incredibly capable of managing these tasks with their parents’ guidance.
The sooner parents begin to help their small child understand these fundamental ideas, the better prepared the child will be for the world around them and the relationships they will encounter.
Sharing is not an easy concept for small children to learn. There may often be competition and conflicts between siblings and playmates over toys and time spent with a parent or teacher.
A helpful way to help children learn to share is through turn-taking in simple board games or card games. Sharing is an important skill to help children to manage friendships at school.
2. Choices are important
Giving small children simple choices helps to teach them about decision-making and planning. This can be done from early on by offering your small child a choice of two or three options. This allows them to feel as if they have some control over their world and wishes.
For example, giving a few choices of what they can wear, or which vegetable they will eat for dinner, are simple ways to help your child feel included and important, and also lets them practise, in a safe environment, how to make choices and decisions.
Remember not to make the choices too complicated or to have too many options as this can be overwhelming for them.
3. Please and thank you
Manners are an additional skill that parents can help their small children learn from an early age. This can be done most helpfully by modelling how to speak and behave in a polite way in your own engagements with other people and your child. The more a child is treated with respect and politeness, the more they will use this same behaviour.
Children can be included in everyday activities to feel helpful and valued as a member of the family. Sometimes parents end up doing things for a child because it may be quicker or easier. However, allowing children to try to help in age-appropriate ways, even if it takes longer or is a bit messier, can increase their self-esteem and self-confidence.
For example, if you allow your preschooler to help you make dinner by stirring the pot or finding ingredients, or to help put their dirty washing in the laundry basket, you are helping them learn the basics of self-care and working as a team to share responsibilities.
It is important for children to begin to learn from a young age that other people have their own thoughts and feelings just like they do. This can be quite a complicated skill to develop. Empathy, kindness and the ability to think about the feelings of other people is at the heart of the value of respect.
Parents can help their children learn this by using ‘circular questions’ to facilitate them thinking about the mind of the other person. For example, asking your preschooler, “How do you think Amy might have felt when you took her doll without asking?” can start a way of thinking and behaving that is mindful of others and their impact on them.
As life gets harder and more complex, the more responsibilities, chores and tasks there are to complete. A really helpful skill to instil in your small child, that will aid them as they grow older, is that of perseverance.
We have all had more than one occasion where we would have liked to have given up and thrown in the towel! Helping children learn to complete tasks and develop a sense of pride, satisfaction and self-motivation, however, is necessary to get through the difficult tasks in life.
Parents can help start off this process at home by encouraging children to complete small, age-appropriate tasks (even if it takes a few days). For example, when your preschooler is finding a new puzzle very demanding and they want to give up, this is a great teaching moment to help them manage their frustrated feelings and keep on trying. This is so helpful to encourage small children to take on challenges and push their own limits as they learn new skills.
7. Winning and losing
Preschoolers often struggle to remain calm and motivated to play games if they are not comfortable with the ideas of winning and losing. Many board games and card games can be played regularly as a family: this is helpful to teach children about healthy competition.
This means children can feel proud of their input and attempts to try their best, but this also means that children can learn about congratulating others when they have not come first. This stands a child in good stead to manage the failures and successes they will surely encounter throughout their lives.
8. Ask questions if you don’t understand
A valuable skill to teach your preschooler is to be curious and interested in learning more about themselves, others and the world around them. This is such an exciting time for children as their brains grow and become more and more complex.
Your children’s questions about how things work and why they work that way, are wonderful moments to share your knowledge and to harness your child’s natural interests and strengths. Reading books to your child on their latest favourite topic (for example, boats and cars) and sharing information about your surroundings (for example, talking about the animals at the local zoo) is a fun way for children to enjoy learning and to boost their confidence in preparation for big school.
We live in a multicultural and multiracial country, so it’s hugely important to help your child to learn from an early age to respect and understand difference. This is largely about your views and behaviours as a parent. Children learn most of their values and ways of understanding the world from watching how you interact with others. Modelling respect, kindness and tolerance will promote these same valuable behaviours in your children.
Small children often fib and tell small lies to get out of trouble if they have misbehaved. It is important to begin to help even small children take accountability for their behaviours and choices to begin to form a sound understanding of right and wrong. This needs to be done in a kind and supportive way, by highlighting for the child how much you as the parent value their honesty.
These 10 skills to teach your preschooler are only the beginning of the many values and behaviours they will need to learn as they grow older and their world becomes more complicated.
As parents you can help to create a stable and consistent framework from which they can develop and grow. Remember to look out for the teaching moments each day to help your child lead their best kind of life.