Toddler Skills for Personal Responsibility
There are three skills that are very important for our little ones to learn early in their lives.
1) Children need to be able to fall asleep on their own. Infants and toddlers who are always rocked to sleep, or breastfed or bottle fed to sleep, learn to depend upon others for falling asleep and do not develop their own falling asleep mechanism. This can cause much distress for parents who go through the nightly nightmare of trying to get their infant or toddler to sleep. Instead of always picking up and rocking a crying little one, which only reinforces the child’s dependency on you putting him or her to sleep, try patting the child and then leaving for a few minutes. If you keep coming in, patting your child and reassuring him or her that you are here, eventually your child will stop depending upon you to rock, hold or feed him or her to sleep.
2) Children need to learn very young to play by themselves and amuse themselves. It is not healthy for children to be constantly dependent upon others, or upon the TV, to amuse them. I work with many adults who never learned to “play by themselves.” These adults feel lost when they are alone, having no idea what to do with themselves. Instead of turning to creative or learning opportunities, they may participate in addictions such as eating, drinking, drugs, TV, work, spending, and so on. When children learn to play by themselves at a young age, they tend to be more self-sufficient and creative as adult.
3) Children need to learn how to self-nurture. This means that they need to learn how to take some responsibility for their own feelings. Infants often self-soothe with their blanket, thumb, or pacifier. But as they grow older, they need to learn other ways of self-nurturing because they will not be taking their blanket or pacifier to school.
Even children as young as 2 1/2 years old can learn to attend to their own feelings. You can help your young children start to take responsibility for their feelings by giving them a doll or stuffed animal that represents their emotions. You can tell them that the doll or stuffed animal is the baby inside them that has a lot of different emotions. When they are feeling sad or angry, they can learn to talk to the baby inside and find out what that baby needs from them or from you. As they get older, they can learn to connect their thoughts with their feelings. They can learn that if they judge themselves by telling themselves that they are bad or stupid or ugly, they will feel very badly.
It is vitally important for all of us to connect our thoughts with our feelings. Most of us grew up believing that others caused all our good and painful feelings. If someone yelled at us or told us we were bad or stupid or ugly, we certainly felt badly, and if someone approved of us, we felt good. So we learned to believe that all our feelings are being caused by others. It is important for children to learn that their feelings are also affected by what they tell themselves and how they treat themselves. For example, if an older brother tells his younger brother that he is stupid, the younger child might start to tell himself he is stupid, without realizing that he is causing himself to feel very badly. By talking with his “baby”, he might realize he is treating himself in a way that is hurting him.
He also might also be able to understand that his brother is not telling him the truth. The way he can learn to realize this is by learning to access his “Source of Love and Truth.”
Small children can easily learn to open to a powerful Source of Love and Truth. You can ask them to imagine a wonderful friend, a guardian angel, or a fairy godmother. It is very easy for most children to imagine a wonderful being who is here to love them and guide them. They can be encouraged to ask questions of this loving being, such as “Is it true that I am stupid?” They can learn to bring through true and loving statements to themselves when they open to learning with their spiritual Guidance.
These skills, learned early in life, will do much to foster personal responsibility in our children.