Little Ways I’m Teaching My Toddler How To Be Less Of A Cave Baby And More Of A Semi-Civilized Human Citizen

My little Budgie is a full-on toddler now. He is charming, joyful, energetic and always moving and learning. He laughs and throws tantrums with equal abandon. (There he is in the photo above, having a very picturesque tantrum in the grass.)

And he’s kind of…crazy! In the delightfully anarchic way that very small humans have, of course. He constantly throws everything on the ground, shouts and shrieks at random intervals, babbles nonsense to himself and yet demands everyone around him understand his every need RIGHT NOW.

It’s a lot of fun, raising a toddler — and a lot of work. Sometimes I watch Hurricane Budgie in action and wonder how in the world am I ever going to turn this little crazyface into a fairly considerate, civilized human being who is also independent, resourceful and has initiative? How do I teach manners, politeness, consideration, sensitivity, resilience?

As someone who grew up with books as my best friends and mentors, I got him some books — Clean Up Time, Manners Time, Listening Time, etc. — to read and learn from. But of course, toddlers learn best through example, action and repetition. (Oh, the repetition! Endless repetition!) So I’ve been slowly giving him more ‘tasks’ to get him into the mode of doing things for himself. And, of course, trying to help him to learn eventually to be considerate of others. (Sorry, Budge, but other people exist in the world for reasons other than to do your bidding! And hands are not for hitting!)

Here are a few of the things we’re trying, but experienced mothers and fathers out there, let me know if you have any other ideas or ways you’re teaching toddlers how to be helpful and civilized! So far, a lot of these been a lot of fun, actually — toddlers love to feel competent, and many of these tasks are almost like a game for my little one. Of course, the fact that it helps me a little — and assures me somewhat that Budgie isn’t a sociopath — is a huge bonus!

+ Teach him to throw away his own diaper. This was a suggestion from one of my sisters, who has three kids of her own. I change his diaper, bundle it up after I’m done changing him and then when I set him back on the floor on his own two feet, I hand him his diaper and he tosses it in the diaper pail. And then we cheer and “yay!” together, because lots of encouragement is GOOD.

+ Have him go get or hand me the books he wants me to read. Budgie loves to read his books and is always demanding me or his papa to read him one. I love reading to him, but now I tell him to get the book he wants to read. I’ve sort of created a monster, though, but now he walks around the house with a book in hand, ready to give me the minute I sit down for a moment!

+ Let him get his own shoes, and put them away. This is a little less fun for Budgie, because while he loves shoes as an object, he’s less fond of putting them on his feet! So now I’ve asked him to put his shoes back when we come back home, and he’s much happier to do that.

+ Wave hello and goodbye. Budgie is such a little goofball that sometimes we’ll leave someone and he’s too distracted to say goodbye…and then minutes later — in the car, or something like that — he’ll say “Bye bye!” Ach, too late, goofball! This is one of those things where modeling the behavior you want to see helps a lot, so my sweetheart and I try to give each other warm greetings and goodbyes. I also make sure to say hello and goodbye to Budgie, so maybe he’ll connect the love and affection to the exchange and do it himself.

+ Put ‘clean-up time’ as part of the routine. I don’t really expect Budgie to do a full-on cleanup routine every evening before his bedtime routine, but I do think it’s a good habit to put a ‘place marker’ early on. I have him maybe put a few items away — I hand him some of his Legos and tell him to put them in the toy basket, for instance —

+ Let him play with the broom. I’ll be damned if Budgie grows up to be one of those slobby dudes who don’t clean up after themselves and wait around for some female in his orbit to do it! So when I’m cleaning, I try to include him in some way — hand him a duster or a cleaning cloth, let him play with the broom.

+ Let him wipe his tray clean. One of the most tiresome things about having a toddler is how constantly they throw food on the floor — and how constantly I have to sweep sometimes! (I’m tempted to borrow a friend’s dog to eat all the scraps off the floor at times.) But at least Budge will wipe the tray of his high chair clean with a napkin. Not perfectly, of course — but it’s definitely a case of “It’s the thought that counts.”

The idea of civilizing a little toddler sounds like a tall order, but the result — life long skills that he can use for the rest of his life — is so worth it in the long run. The key to all this, of course, is patience, tenacity and fortitude…and low expectations! I have to be willing to let Budgie make mistakes and get it wrong — I don’t expect perfection, especially from someone still learning the ropes, so to speak. And I also try to break down tasks into small digestible actions — like, seriously, I’ll go “Stop…turn around…walk back to Mama.” And of course offer praise and encouragement for what he does do.

Hopefully it all adds up — but if you ever meet Budgie and he tosses his dinner on the ground and demands you lift him up so he can flip on some light switch, please forgive me and know I did my best!

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