Parents are always on edge when a flower picking toddler is in a beautiful botanical garden with other plant enthusiasts watching. There is nothing worse that watching the disgust on a photographer’s face as your toddler picks a giant hibiscus flower. Thankfully this didn’t happen, but was I pretty on edge.
We all want our children to be able to explore their environment, especially when in nature, so how do we draw the limits? To a toddler mind it makes no sense that he can pick a dandelion but he can’t pick a rose. Why can he pick a flower in our yard but not in the neighbor’s yard that is 10 feet away?
It is important that our toddler learns that some behaviors are socially unacceptable, for if they don’t, we risk leaving them and us alienated from society. So unless we all live on 10 acres to roam, we probably need to teach boundaries.
The Beauty of a Fence
Unfortunately boundaries have been hard for our son to learn, but the one method that has been effective and painless for everyone is to make physical boundaries.
We have a fence around our vegetable garden already, to keep out the dog and rabbits, so this was an easy one.
We built a fence around our blueberry bushes to keep little hands from picking and eating not ripe berries.
We put netting around our blackberry and raspberry vines that line our property fence, which keeps his hands out and the birds out.
I don’t like struggling with my son over things his little mind can’t process, so this way everyone is less frustrated.
When we go to the botanical gardens, I tell him that he can touch the plants with one finger but he can’t pick them. This only works for about 10 seconds before the urge to pick takes over, so I normally just try to distract his hands with food, rocks, sticks and other items that are acceptable for picking up.
As for my neighbor, I hope they don’t get too mad about the missing pansy…
As it happens more and more these days, I am learning not to be surprised when my son shows me he is ready to help with a new chore or activity rather than me introducing it first. This is how we stumbled upon helping him learn how to care for our family dog. These two are inseparable when we’re at home, and while our pup does seem slightly irritated by our son most of the time, she also seems pretty attached and secretly in love. We’re grateful that she is so patient with his learning curve. The following activities are what he has been learning to be apart of:
Feeding breakfast and dinner
Dehydrating (to our dismay)
Walking and hiking
Petting gently (not hitting)
Feeding the dog
I have tried to get our son to practice scooping by giving him Cheerios or Rice Krispies, but he normally just throws it around (or at the dog), which is why we only eat cereal with milk and not dry. My son is obsessed with our dog’s meal time. The minute he hears the utility door open up, I think he runs to the food bowl faster than the pup. While we used to grab him and take him out of the room kicking and screaming, we started letting him scoop the food and place it in the bowl. What intention and focus on this little toddler’s face! He is so proud to scoop and pour. The tricky part is that when he is done, he immediately wants to grab the food. Occasionally we will use a tiny scoop so that he can scoop many times, but have found that his attention span isn’t that long. This task definitely requires supervision by a parent. He is slowly getting better about not grabbing Walden’s food while she is eating (we’re trying to prepare him for a world that is not as passive his dog thankfully is).
2. Dehydrating the dog
While our child loves to feed the dog, any attempt to give water results in our son immediately dumping the container over. His curiosity with water overrides any introduction on our part to leave water bowls alone. Other than making sure our dog gets water when the little one is sleeping, we haven’t found a solution to this problem yet. Let me know if you have any ideas!
Brushing our dog is probably our son’s second favorite dog activity behind feeding. He loves to come over when we our brushing our long-haired pup, sometimes kindly and sometimes unkindly asking to take the brush from us so he can have a go. We hadn’t yet gotten him a brush for his hair, so this prompted us to start giving him a brush to groom himself.
4. Going for walks
As our son started to have shorter attention spans with going for stroller walks, we started handing him our dog’s leash to hold onto. He loves holding the leash now. When we go for hikes or walks, he will ask to hold the leash. We make sure to hold halfway down to make sure our pup doesn’t get excited and knock the baby down. Hopefully this will help to keep his interest in hiking and maybe one day we’ll make it farther than a quarter mile!
5. Learning to have gentle hands
We have been lucky to have a dog that has always played so gently and age appropriately with our son. She knows not to pull to hard or get too aggressive. Unfortunately, our son is not this attuned to gentle play and had to be taught to pet gently rather than hit aggressively. He learned this pretty quickly but still needs constant reminders. Now that he is much more active, he can get too handsy and think that our pup is his personal jungle gym. While our dog is extremely patient, all animals have limits, so we sometimes separate the two if our son is not able to calm down. Most of the time, he responds to our requests to treat her with care.
All of these activities helping to care for our dog are a wonderful way for our son to be involved. He already adores the dog, and now he can help take care of her. As an only child, his relationship with our dog is helping to teach him empathy and care. I am grateful that he has her to play with and learn from. Now if we could only teach our golden retriever that she is supposed to bring the ball back… but for now we’ll let our child chase her around.
Cost: No more than the dog already cost
Advanced Learning: Take your child to the vet with you when your dog goes for their check-up, this is a great learning experience to see what veterinarians do and to help them understand that we all go to the doctor; get a book on pet anatomy and learn about their body structure; teach your dog tricks and let your child learn the commands; watch dog shows together or go to a local dog show; volunteer at the humane society; get your dog trained to be a therapy dog and visit local hospitals together.
My son used to like Cheerios but for some reason will only throw them on the ground now if we give him dry cereal- put milk in it and it’s another story! He cherishes his cereal with milk, I can’t argue with him there. If my husband or myself pour a bowl of cereal he runs to us with glee excited to get some cheerios soaked in milk. I thought that he would enjoy learning how to pour his own bowls.
First lesson in pouring milk from a pitcher and scooping cereal with a spoon: while it was a success in that he didn’t become frustrated and he remained concentrated, it was not a success in actually eating cereal. Maybe Lesson #2 will result in more caloric intake.
He has only poured one time (see blog post here on homemade pouring kit)- a fault in my not having a real location in my kitchen for his glass pitcher and cups and giving him exposure. The lack of experience showed when he went to pour the milk and I couldn’t resist the urge to keep the pitcher from spilling all over him by guiding it to the bowl. I would recommend having lots of practice with pouring water before introducing milk. I believe with education it is important to realize when children need to take a step back, or where you jumped too far ahead as a parent or educator.
The next and more complicated task comes with using a spoon to scoop, stabilize the spoon and bring it up to the mouth.
Attempt #2 and 3 with eating cereal went much better. I suppose I can’t expect him to not spill the first time. It is easy to forget how difficult new tasks are to small humans.
I have noticed a big difference in his ability to properly eat cereal depending on the spoon that I provide him. All of the spoons we own were hand me downs, so I don’t know all the brands. Shown in the picture below, the easiest spoon for our toddler is a plastic one with a loop handle. The loop makes it harder to dump out, meaning he is more likely to get it to his mouth with the cereal still on it! The munchkin spoon is the hardest because it is so long, he has trouble maneuvering it around; the shorter the handle the better.
Fun fact: The two spoons on the left that are the easiest for my son were hand-me-downs from my husband’s grandmother.
Letting your toddler do things by themselves is an act of iron will. It is very hard to watch someone use a spoon upside down and not intervene, or bring a spoon to their mouth and dump it one inch too soon. Teaching a toddler is a messy experience, but without this experience, we don’t give them room to grow. So get your sponges and cloths ready, because they are going to make a mess! Next lesson up? Cleaning up after ourselves!
Cost: Price of one small bowl of cereal
Advanced Learning: As my son grows, we can add steps to this: getting cereal out of cabinet and pouring it ourselves (baby step: providing a small tupperware of cereal to pour into bowl, big boy step: pouring from the box!), wiping up spills, cleaning dishes, shopping for cereal, learning where wheat and milk comes from.