Screaming, cuddling, racing around, making a food mess. Welcome to the world of the toddler! The teachers and I are witness to one, two or even three of the above every day at the Center, and we are just delighted to know that, yes, it could drive you crazy, but it’s a wonderful kind of crazy.
Here’s an article I found that was written in 2011 by Tovah P. Klein, a psychology professor and the director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development that proves just how lucky we teachers are, to have so many kids in our Center who show us everyday how much they love us, in their very quirky “toddler” way.
If you have a toddler in your home, you will certainly be more appreciative of this special kind of love. You will be surprised with the many ways toddlers express their love, from making you chase after them to surprising you with a sticky lollipop. Below are the nine different ways Professor Klein has discovered how toddlers say “I love you.”
1. Getting you to dillydally and delay a journey. It seems like whenever you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, your toddler suddenly dawdles and takes her time. It could take a half hour just to walk a block with your toddler, for example, because she would show you every ant, leaf flower or stick she sees, squat or jump off every step, and then look at you, beaming with pride. Toddlers live in the moment and lack a sense of time. At that moment, they are with you, and nothing could be better than that.
“Separation is the main task of toddlerhood,” says Patricia Shimm, author of Parenting Your Toddler: The Experts Guide to the Tough and Tender Years, “and toddlers would rather be with Mommy than anyone else.”
2. Challenging you to chase and catch them. Running away with glee and exuberance is a toddler’s way of celebrating their newfound independence, but only if she has the firm confidence that you will follow. She runs away, strutting her freedom, but then she stops and thinks, “Wait, I need to be sure Mommy is still here.” By playing the run-and-chase game, toddlers show that they are their own persons and firmly believe you will be there to catch them.
A toddler’s running away is actually a way of showing just how much she loves you. They have the freedom to run because they have a secure home base – you! – the most important person in the world.
3. Bringing loveys everywhere. Some toddlers have a stuffed animal or blanket that goes wherever they go. Others take different objects each time they leave the house. These transitional objects (or loveys) represent you and your love for them, especially in your absence. Your child loves you so much that she wants to keep you close. Shimm also explains that these objects help a toddler feel safe, “A piece of you is with her. That gives her security.”
4. Making a mess with food. It seems your toddler spends more time touching, mashing, squishing and jabbing food than ingesting it. Toddlers see food as a place to explore and experiment; they are sharing their pleasure so you can enjoy it with them.
“For toddlers, life is about possibilities and curiosity, and food is one place they can be curious and try different things. They love to show you what they’ve discovered,” says Dr. Bennett-Murphy. So, when they extend their cereal-covered hands out to you, it’s actually their way of letting you be delighted in their discoveries.
5. Cuddling and snuggling with you. Just when you can’t deal with one more tantrum or one more “No!” your toddler plops herself down on your lap, snuggles closely, and leans her head on your shoulder. She looks up at you with a sparkle in her eye and a sweet smile.
“As much as toddlers are doing many things to show their independence, they also need to refuel in the comfort of Mommy or Daddy’s arms,” says Bennett-Murphy. When your toddler cuddles with you, she is showing that she knows you are always there to provide her comfort. This is her active way of saying “I love you.”
6. Screaming (that translates to: ‘Welcome Home!’). Have you ever walked through the door to be greeted by a toddler racing into your arms with a shriek and scream that could be heard blocks away? All that screeching is sheer delight at seeing you return home.
“Toddlers build trust every time the parent says they’re leaving and later coming back. It’s why you can never sneak out,” says Shimm. The emotional core of toddlerhood is learning to trust that the adults in their lives will always return. These screams of elevated joy are just another reminder of their love for you.
7. Surprising you with a sticky lollipop. Toddlers don’t share, except on rare occasions, and only with their most trusted loved ones. Your toddler may take several licks of a bright red, heart-shaped lollipop as his face radiates with joy. As the gooey lollipop drips down his hand, he turns to you and reaches out his little hand to present you the lollipop. By giving you his most prized possession at the moment – sticky and half-licked – he is being selfless and sacrificing what he loves. He is expressing “I love you” by sharing what he loves.
8. Scribbling crayon art and making crafts. Toddlers love putting crayons to paper and mixing together random marks, dots, and colors as much as experimenting with paint or glue. When a toddler hands you the scribbled masterpiece, gluey mess on paper, or other craft she has made, it’s one more reminder that she’s sharing her creative happiness and success with Mommy and Daddy. Her love for you is expressed through making something special from the heart. You are always on your toddler’s mind; creating drawings or other crafts for you shows just how much she thinks about you.
9. Repeating routines and rituals. Toddlers like routine, consistency, and rituals: reading the same book every night, wearing the same shirt every day, putting stuffed animals in the same order nightly.
“Toddlers will ask for the same book every night because they love you, and they love the routine that you are part of. The routine represents you,” says Shimm. Routines give toddlers a feeling of security, in the same way that you always provide feelings of security, safety, and, of course, love.
As they make new discoveries, toddlers are excited to share each one with you as a way of showing their love and trust. In sharing life’s joys and pleasures with you, they feel good about themselves because these are constant reminders that “Mommy and Daddy always love me!”