Meltdown, Aisle Two!” or Baby Steps into Toddlerhood

In my last post to you, we talked about the ninth mental leap (@64 weeks), which brings your little one from babyhood into toddler-time. Well, now that we are there, let’s explore what this time brings and how we can make the most of this mental developmental leap.

Toddler-time
As you already know, all babies in the world go through 10 leaps in their mental development during their first 20 months, and all leaps start with a fussy phase in which the three C’s (Clingy, Crying and Crankiness) dominate your child’s behavior.

These fussy phases are difficult for both the baby and the parents and in the second year they often lead to real arguments between parent and baby. As we discussed the last time, it’s important to realize that this period is just like puberty in teenagers – they will manipulate, push, cry and scream, trying to hold their ground until they get their way. It will blow over.

By explaining what “wonder weeks” are and arming parents with as much information as possible, they can ease into the second year and toddlerhood with their child. The ninth leap around 15 months was described earlier. The tenth leap is even more difficult than the ninth with all parents reporting real arguments with their “teenaging toddler.”

The Tenth Leap: 17 months
With the tenth leap, 75 weeks after due date (or 17 months), your toddler gets the new ability to perceive and handle “systems.” He is now able to see clearly over the world of principles. He no longer applies principles as rigidly as before. He is able to adjust his principles to changing circumstances. He also starts to understand that he can choose how he wants to be: honest, helpful, careful, patient, etc. Or, he could choose to be just the opposite. From off this age you can see him develop the earliest beginnings of a conscience by systematically upholding his values and norms.

As adults, we use the term “system” if the parts it consists of are interdependent and function as a whole. There are tangible examples, like a grandfather clock that needs winding, an electrical network or the human muscle system. There are also less tangible examples, such as human organizations. To name just a few examples, take the scouts, the family, the drama club, the police station, the church, our society, our culture, and the law.

The Discovery of “Me!”
Of course, it will take years and years before your toddler learns what our society, culture or laws are really all about. He starts at a very simple level and stays close to home. He develops the idea of himself as a system, and together with mom and dad he forms a family. And his family is not the same as that of his little friend, nor is his house the same as that of the neighbors.

The system in which your toddler lives day in and day out, and that he can discover the best, is the system of “me.” When the world of systems opens up to him, he starts to develop his notion of self. This has several consequences. For instance, your toddler now discovers that HE owns and controls his own body, that HE can orchestrate things, that HE can do things himself, that HE can control things, that HE can show his own desires and that HE can make decisions. All these are examples of his growing concept of self.


Copycatting and Comparison
Your toddler now starts to understand that mommy and daddy are separate people, too. He starts using terms as “you” and “me” and is also very interested in both mom’s and dad’s physique. He discovers that mommy and daddy are “built” differently, and he is more like daddy than mom. He sizes up all the similarities and differences to a tee.

For the first time in his life, your toddler can put himself in someone else’s place, now that he realizes that not all people are alike. For the first time he sees that not everyone likes the same things as he does. That would have never occurred to him when he was younger. He has become less egocentric and that has all kinds of ramifications. For example, he is now able to comfort someone. He is at his high point in mimicry. He copycats anything and everything around him, including your behavior, and his fantasy play comes to life.

You may notice at this stage your child is a bit of a parrot, with behavior and language. So, as a parent, this is your opportunity to start being a role model and show behavior you want you child to possess.

One Family is Not the Other
Your toddler is now fascinated by all other living beings, from ants to dogs, as they are all systems. Your toddler starts to realize that he is part of a family and that his family is different from his little friend’s family, whom he visits twice a week. His family is the first human organization he gets to know from the inside, and he makes no mistake about noticing that his little friend’s family doesn’t necessarily have a salad with dinner like his own family. In his family they have a different set of rules.

Master of the Arts… With a Capital “A”
There are great actors, brilliant scientists and amazing artists… and then there is your toddler. At this stage of the game, he is the greatest artiste of them all.

Just as he recognizes his family as a system, he begins to distinguish his family from others. He already does the same with his friends, house and neighborhood. Het is getting better at finding his way around in the familiar surroundings outside of his house.

He also starts to be very conscious of his clothes. He can be pretty vain and can be very possessive if it comes to his “things” (like his toys).

At this age, a lot is happening: He starts making art with a capital “A” – not just chicken scratch and scribbles anymore, but now he draws “horses,” “boats” and (of course) “himself.” He also begins to appreciate music – that, too, is a system. He starts to get a sense of time and starts to remember past experiences and is able to anticipate future happenings.

He will now begin forming his first sentences. Not every toddler does this, though. Just as with other skills, children differ greatly in the age at which they start. All toddlers now understand a lot of what you’re saying, but some are not ready to start speaking. Others use several words and constantly mime, but don’t talk in sentences yet. Whether or not your child does depends on how you interact with him.

Values and Norms
Your toddler is learning at a fast and furious pace – he almost can’t even keep up with the amount of incoming information! So, now is a good time to make sure he learns good behavior, for what he learns at this age “sticks” and is hard to change later on in life.

During this period a start is made with developing a conscience, which is a system of norms and values. If the groundrules are not set now, and in the right way, negative consequences will be visible in the near future, to begin with the ‘Terrible Two’s.” As difficult or even impractical as it may seem to give this rule-setting and conscience-building so much of your time and effort at this early and changeable stage of your child’s life, it is an in-depth investment for the future. It will save you, your child and everyone around him a lot of misery.

You can’t spoil babies, but you can toddlers! By understanding what is happening inside that little head of your newly formed toddler – and remember, they are pretty savvy – you can shape the future behavior of your toddler and set values and norms that will carry him through life. To learn more about how to do so, be sure to read the new, extended edition of The Wonder Weeks.

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