• Emma

Whatever next?

Have you had one of those days where your toddler seems to resist everything you say and you feel like getting anything done with them is a battle? They finally go off to bed and you collapse in a heap full of guilt.

Everyone has heard about the 'terrible twos' - the age of tantrums, battles and mega melt-downs over what seems like the most trivial of things. More often than not, this kind of toddler behaviour happens when you ask your child to do something like get dressed or say no to something such as watching Peppa Pig (for the 47,598th time!). Of course we all like to get our own way but, as adults we have learned that's just not always possible but for your one year old, they have neither the experience, understanding nor language to accept this.

Why can't my toddler just go with the flow?

Maria Montessori's observations of how young children learn suggested that, at certain times, they are much more predisposed to learn particular concepts and skills; she called these times the 'Sensitive Periods'. For example, the sensitive period for walking peaks around 12-15 months and the sensitive period for movement is present all the way from birth to five! For toddlers, from around the age of 12 months to three years, they are considered to be in the sensitive period for 'Order'. This may seem to you the absolute opposite of how a toddler behaves; where is the sense of order in the chaos they seem to create every day?

The Sensitive Period for Order

Have you noticed how your little one loves to put items into containers, boxes etc ? Maybe they become frustrated when you give them a different cup than usual at breakfast time? Perhaps it's that impromptu trip to the park after nursery that results in a complete tantrum (and there you were, thinking it would be a lovely surprise!). If any of these ring a bell, you can see that so many of the things your toddler resists or becomes frustrated about are linked to them noticing that things are out of place or happening in an unexpected/out of the norm way.

To your little one, this drive to have an ordered environment and routine is what brings them peace and helps them to make sense of their ever expanding world. To them, it is unthinkable that you should go to the park after nursery when every other time you've picked them up you've gone home, had a snack and played a game. Without the verbal language skills to ask why this is happening nor the level of understanding language needed to hear your explanation, it is no wonder that changes such as this often end in a melt-down.

So how do you help your toddler to navigate the day whilst respecting their need for order?

Not surprisingly, it's all about the preparation. Change is an inevitable part of life and brings richness and variety to your child's experience but the crucial thing to bear in mind is that they will not only accept something new but will thrive on it, if they know it is happening and are able to be involved in the process of making choices about it. This applies to all sorts of situations which we might not necessarily see as 'change' - for example, when your child is busy playing with some bricks and you tell them lunch is ready right now, they have to transition from the activity they are engaged in to one they are not currently interested in.

One of the most effective ways to help your little one move from one thing to another is by using images in advance to explain what is going to happen as a means of clear preparation. During my years working in Early Years settings we always used 'Visual Timetables' which are basically a short series of images showing what we are doing now and what will happen after that.

How to make your own Visual Timetable

We created a simple timetable using stock images and taking photos of key times of day and places in a toddler's life such as their breakfast bowl, their cot,