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The Best Thing I Didn’t Do With My Toddler

All parents want to provide their children with the best future possible. This means providing their children with optimal learning opportunities. We want our children to succeed, and we encourage them to excel intellectually, physically, and socially.

But what do children under 2 really need to grow, learn, and thrive?

From conception, new parents are bombarded with information and opportunities to help our children succeed. We are told to take prenatal vitamins and read books to our growing belly bumps. We are told that our own exercise is good for the baby. Our pregnancy apps tell us taking fish oil supplements can make our kids smarter and stronger. We read that exposing our unborn children to music can have lasting effects.

Then our children are born into the world, and there are even more opportunities, perfectly curated to grow young bodies and minds. In the Greater Boston area, your toddler between the ages of 12-24 months can take part in baby yoga, swim class, gymnastics, music class, dance class (even if they don’t yet walk), general gym class, art class, science class, and bilingual classes.

Parents eager for their children to thrive, sign up for all types of classes and programs to support their child’s development-- even before the age of 2. The overscheduling of children begins in infancy.

No time to play. No time to walk up the stairs by themselves or try to zip their jackets by themselves-- they’ll be late for their next scheduled event. No time to verbally express themselves, as adults don’t have the luxury of time to understand.

Starting from birth, we need to break free from overparenting: the overscheduling that causes children anxiety and undue pressure and that lacks time for the play, creativity, and exploration so critical for development.

That’s why the best thing I didn’t do when my daughter was 12-24 months was commit to lots of scheduled programming.

We didn’t do it. It took restraint.

We didn’t commit to classes or programs outside of daycare required for me to work. We visited the library for storytime if we were available and could make it on time. And we participated in weekly Free Forest School, which I view as unstructured nature play time. Besides that, no scheduled swim classes or gym classes. No music class. No yoga.

And by not taking part in a schedule full of preplanned activities, I feel strongly that I’ve given my child the optimal learning opportunities for her age.

Making this decision has allowed us to play and tinker, be bored and creative. We’ve listened to music, made up funny dance moves, and made instruments of things we find around the house. We’ve read books about animals and acted them out. We’ve practiced yoga together on our own accord. We’ve baked pizza and cookies so often she probably knows the recipes. We’ve been free to meet up with friends for something fun and free to attend special events on a whim. We’ve had time to explore and grow outside: climbing fallen trees, collecting sticks and rocks, and observing the changes of nature over the seasons.

The best part is that we have a laid-back, predictable routine, which permits time for her to take her sweet ol’ toddler time practicing and doing things on her own without a fight. Yes, she takes at very least 5 minutes to go up the stairs every single time, and yes, it can be frustrating when I have to spot her and I have my own agenda; however, giving her that time to do it alone lets her grow in strength, ability, and confidence.

As she grows older, I know I want to expose her to lots of different people, places, and experiences. I want to give her all of the opportunities to thrive that I can possibly afford. I want her to follow her interests and engage in what makes her curious. I know that sooner or later, this will mean that we will commit to classes and programs.

But in this moment, while my only child is merely a toddler, I know that being mindful about our time commitments will allow me to make calculated decisions about where her time is best spent in the future. By consciously avoiding the trap of overscheduling a very young child, I’m starting her on the path to a lifetime of enjoying time and spending it wisely.

Related Reading:

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children by Angela Hanscom

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