As your baby gradually develops into a toddler, it signifies enormous changes in their development. The most striking is your little one’s ability to walk. It might feel that all of a sudden, from your baby needing to be carried around, lying on the play mat or in their rocker, they are careering around the room! They have of course for some time been expanding their capacity to move independently, the very start of it many months previously with rolling and the incremental movements babies make to help them shift from one spot to the next. Crawling emerges, followed by pulling themselves up to standing, coasting, as they use furniture to help them move along, their insistence on your help to walk, as you hold their tiny hands so they can steady themselves to take those steps. Then, they let go and they are walking by themselves! At first tentatively, a step or two before they drop to the floor safely on their bottoms. Their confidence builds and they are walking without any help around the home, along the street, into shops and at play group. You find yourself pushing your buggy and holding their hand when you are out, the buggy only used for when they become tired, or when you need to get somewhere a little bit quicker!

Around this time, other very significant changes are also happening with language and with play. You will likely hear your baby acquiring more and more words and their understanding is growing apace. Playing more actively with toys becomes an increasing feature and is a sign of your baby’s emerging capacity to represent their feelings symbolically and the emergence of imagination. Toddlers begin to be able to work through what they are feeling through their play and if we pay close attention, this provides a window into their minds. Another feature will be your little one learning to point. This is a truly remarkable development, as it shows that your little one now has an understanding that you have your own mind and theirs is separate from yours. You will notice your baby pointing to share something they are interested in, a plane in the sky, a butterfly, or a bird flying past. They point to share this with you, they think you might like to look to!

It is also around now that your toddler expresses their mind more clearly for you. What they like and don’t like becomes more apparent. Alongside this, combined with their independent movement, can emerge a testing of the boundaries you provide. For some children, the struggle to learn to walk can feel very frustrating and this frustration might be expressed in returning again and again to something you have said is not okay, for example a plug, or playing with the wheels of the buggy. It might be that once walking has been successfully negotiated, this challenge begins to subside, as your little one feels freer to explore independently. For other toddlers, this challenge may emerge once they have begun to walk confidently and comes due to needing to find out where the boundaries lie. As well as super exciting for your little one to be able to walk, in can also feel a bit scary. The world opens up to them and they can do things such as move away from you in the playground. To feel safe, your toddler needs to know just how far they can go, what it is they can do. To find this out, they test the limits of what is permitted and they often do so again and again, checking to see if they get the same response from you. This can feel super frustrating. Your consistency is crucial and holding in mind that this is not a testing of your authority, although it may certainly feel like that, it is a process for them to internalise a sense of a structure and a framework of the world around them, that they know what they can and cannot do and that you will keep them safe as they explore further afield. It is also helpful to hold in mind that your little one is revelling in their new skills, but also worried about what it means to need you that little less, to take a step to being ‘a big boy’ and wondering how you may respond.

What about you in all of this change? For some parents, it might feel quite mixed, an enjoyment of their growing skills, together with a sense of loss at their changing need of you. In many ways, being a parent is a process of gradually learning to let go, at times a source of joy, at other times quite painful and often both mixed together. You might find your toddlers growing independence a relief. That your little one can spend a bit more time away from you, that they can play independently for a little bit longer, are able to explore on their own, albeit with your watchful eye, as well as communicating in a way that feels clearer, might feel liberating. This may be your experience particularly if the early months were challenging, for you, coping with the intense vulnerability of your baby may have been really hard. It might be that being able to enjoy your child more at this time combined with a feeling of relief, brings also guilt and regret, that you found it hard to enjoy them as a baby.

Finally, it might be for you that the challenge offered by toddlers, can really test your patience. Their greater capacity for play and wider array of interactional skills means you feel they now need more of you not less, or what they need is harder for you to give.  This of course includes play (to learn more read – ‘why do I find it hard to play with my baby). Their sense of separateness might in some ways feel like a threat. You may feel as if your child will now grow away from you, that they need you less might feel as if they do not want you. Their ability to assert themselves may feel like a rejection, or even a statement of dislike or hate. This can lead to conflict emerging between you and your little one.

If you find yourself struggling in any of these ways, therapy for you and your toddler can be really beneficial. It can allow you to think about the emotional responses that are prompted by the actions of your little one and enable you to begin to make sense of them. It also allows thinking about what your toddler’s actions may mean and separating out how you feel and imagine, from what they may be feeling. This provides an opportunity for your relationship to become more rewarding for you both.

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