Pearls of Wisdom: Emotional Bonding Part 2- The Toddler Years

shutterstock_113693497Social and Emotional Development in Toddler Years

I can’t count how many times a mother comes to the office in tears because she feels that she has run out of tricks in her bag to deal with her toddler. Feelings of frustration, bewilderment and guilt come hand in hand with surviving the toddler years.  One of the major dilemmas for parents is how to balance discipline with freedom, and create limits. Parents are left to follow their hearts, gut feelings and of course, their children’s cues to guide them.

Social and emotional development involves three major areas: the home, school/daycare, and the neighborhood. Of all of these, the home is the most influential in a child’s life: it is here that parents and children establish a secure foundation from which to venture forth confidently. The challenges that face a toddler include acceptance of limits while maintaining autonomy. Toddlers learn how to rein in aggressive impulses and interact with a growing circle of playmates and adults. Success in attaining this goal is based on prior emotional development, occasionally using images of trusted adults to give them security in times of adversity or stress.

Many parents find their toddler perplexing and difficult to understand and children of this age have rapid, frequent shifts between clinging dependence and defiant independence; between sophisticated-sounding language and infantile helplessness, and between pure joy and uncontrollable rage. These confusing behaviors can put a toll on the parents’ confidence and patience. Your pediatrician can offer you guidance emphasizing realistic expectations for behavioral and emotional development as well as acknowledging parents’ feelings of guilt, anger and confusion. A lot of moms and dads are hesitant to raise such concerns during their doctor’s visit because they feel embarrassed or assume that this is not an appropriate topic for discussion.

Toddlers, in general, need leadership. They need clear, realistic, firm but gentle guidance as well as praise and support when they are due. Sometimes, the best way to lead is simply to serves as a good example. Watching parents clean up spilled food or, even better, allowing him to help (when old enough) is an effective teaching tool. The old-fashioned message of “do as I say, not as I do,” is being rejected by many modern parents with whom I speak. Modeling the behavior that you hope to elicit from your child is the best way to teach the lesson. And remember that your commitment to establishing order, discipline, and responsibility should be modeled with or without your toddler’s participation. In other words, even before your toddler is old enough to clean up after herself, she will watch YOU creating an environment that is orderly and has limits. Eventually, she will want to mimic this herself.

shutterstock_10029688The first step in emotionally bonding with your toddler is to acknowledge, understand, respect, and meet their needs. Toddlers love to play and experiment and they need their parents’ votes of confidence. For instance, allowing a child to occasionally make a “mess” within acceptable boundaries during playtime allows him to feel worthy as well as trust your leadership and guidance. When limits are set, children respond, not out of fear or because they were  threatened with punishment, but because they want to reciprocate the care and love that’s been given.  Again, there must be a healthy balance between empowering your child by allowing him free expression, and saying” no” when the child wants something that may pose harm to himself and others, or is unhealthy or simply not feasible.  Your toddler can handle accepting the limits of reality as long as he knows that you understand his feelings and love him unconditionally.  Another pearl of wisdom I share with parents is that toddlers are not much different than we are in many respects; after all, what adult doesn’t like to have their feelings acknowledged and accepted, even if they are irrational?

It’s wise for parents to master the art of ”trusting and waiting.”  Try to trust your ability to teach and lead and wait for your children to model your behavior at their own pace. Children respond best to modeling and following leaders as opposed to control. Look at the long-term goal for your child’s sense of self over momentary convenience. Enjoying your toddler for who he is and not what you want him to be is key. Parents have to separate their own emotional needs from what their child feels and needs. Lastly, embrace your child’s uniqueness as well as your own.  Your toddler is his own person with his own motives and individual qualities. Every stage in a child’s life has its own purpose and we simply need to acknowledge and respect their needs fully during every stage, allowing them to mature and move on to the next phase.

*The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the writer.


Dr. Pearl


Dr. Pearl Cenon

A pediatrician in private practice in New Jersey for over 15 years, Dr. Cenon (we like to call her Dr. Pearl) also has two children of her own. Dr. Pearl’s husband, Kevin McDonough is also a pediatrician and they work together. She writes basic posts about topics that interest many parents, from skin care and nutrition to seasonal issues, such as allergies and colds. Her kind, approachable tone in each blog post will have you looking forward to the next one.

Dream Deferred


Yesterday, since we were “trapped” in the house by sickness, I decided to tidy up a little. I saw Meg’s closet and how there was no more room on the rack for any hanging clothes. I decided to put some of her 18 month summer clothes away. It got me thinking about a blog entry that I have wanted to write… about the dream deferred. I have been thinking a lot about this, given our latest happenings with Meg. Putting away the dresses and the slightly too-big tanks and tees reminded me of the visions that I had had of Meg when I first bought them all last year.

If you know me, you know that I buy clothes well in advance. Maybe sometimes too far in advance. The strategy always served me well with my son. He has been pretty easy to predict in the growth area, staying constant and consistent throughout his three and a half years.

Meg on the other hand, has been super little from the beginning. I brought her home in a newborn outfit that was waaaay too big for her. The outfit that fit her best for the first month was a sleeper for preemies. Trying to predict seasons for her pre-bought outfits is like trying to predict which way the wind will be blowing five years from today in some far-removed, remote village.

Well, when I see a sale, I try my best in the prediction department. At the end of summer last year at my favorite Target, I found a rack of dresses that were just fit for a princess (I had a little girl! I could buy these beautiful dresses now!) at the bargain price of one dollar, two dollars and three dollars. What a deal! I started getting these visions of Meggie as a toddler, taking her steps slowly and awkwardly, getting her bearings as new walkers tend to do, her sweet little dresses bobbing up and down with her as she walked across the room to offer a toy to me with a smile. Or her in this pretty striped dress, toddling across the beach that we were almost certain to visit before we moved back to Ohio. Or her in the pretty purple dress, walking across the lawn on a beautiful summer day, her mom searching for that perfect photo op with the expanse of green lawn behind her and the sun high in the blue sky. I imagined her going to Sunday school in dresses. Maybe there would be a heat wave at Easter, and the possibility of a strappy dress for the kids’ Easter egg hunt. Imagine 18 month pictures in a beautiful dress! The possibilities for putting my perfect princess in dresses seemed endless.

Endless, that is, until reality comes crashing down, in my case. If I am being 100% honest, we will find that I have secretly been putting off my disappointments. It is not just dresses that were ultimately never worn. It’s the milestones hit a little too late… late enough to evoke a feeling of suspicion in me. It’s those moments where Meggie just doesn’t seem interested in something. Or the baby dolls we got her for her first Christmas, and the little accessories to go with them that have yet to be used or examined. Or that my two year old has yet to walk independently or eat solid foods. The dresses were ultimately never worn, because my daughter is still just crawling.

It’s that I have been hoping that, like in so many stories, the magical age of two was when things were just going to somehow align and work out, and she would start growing and fitting into the clothes that she was supposed to fit in two or three seasons ago, or she’d find some interest in the dolls, or she’d even magically start running around the coffee table in the same fashion her brother used to cruise, and by birthday number two, she’d take those steps across the room from Mommy’s arms to Daddy’s arms. That would save me the dreaded calls to the pediatrician, seeking services for a delay that I didn’t want my daughter to have… didn’t even want to believe that it was possible for her to have. Two was going to be my magic number… a glorious time. A truly, truly thankful Thanksgiving time.

Instead, we are now on our way to a destination into an unknown land. My tentative arrival there is marked with much anticipation. I feel ill-equipped to be traveling here. I don’t speak the language; I am not sure where I am going. I have never imagined myself sitting on these beaches or even in the homey little cafes. I am not sure which road connects with what… have no idea if a shortcut even exists. There is no map, and that makes me uncomfortable.

All road analogies aside, I say all this in hopes that the dresses are just a dream deferred. You know, just thoughts that came to my head…well, hopes really. Thoughts and hopes that may not have happened yet, but eventually will.  We’ve had some moments…some really great things…they’ve just not been what or when I was expecting them.

 And you’ll never believe what happened to me the other day: I found some dresses on sale and I bought them. Now if I could just find some fancy walking shoes to match…


About the Blogger:

Jen P. lives in Ohio, with her husband, son, and daughter.  Being a parent of a child with special needs is an incredible blessing, and she is glad that she was chosen to be Meg’s mom. 



The Joys of Staying Home!

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Lucky Lady Legwarmers

There are days when I question my sanity and my decision to be a stay at home mom. Let’s be honest, toddlers are no joke!

My daughter is almost 2 and I feel that this age is very fun because she is so curious! However, it is also an age where most children discover the art of screaming and throwing tantrums when you say ,”No you can’t have candy.” or something as simple as ”Wait a minute, I can only do so many things at once!” As I sit here writing this blog, I think about the future PTA meetings I’ll be attending and future ballet practices I’ll be driving her to and honestly, it makes me feel great that I will be able to do that!

But then reality hits me in the face – or was that mashed potatoes that my toddler threw because she decided it’s time to play with her food instead of eat it? This is the life of being home with a toddler. Messy hair, food all over your clothes and floors, toys all over the place, and your Tivo set to record every episode of Dora The Explorer or Blues Clues. I have to say, it’s challenging but I am all for it and I would definitely give it all up just to see a smile on her pretty face everyday.

Whether you decide to stay at home or return to work, being a parent is a challenge. How do you manage your life with kids?


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