Kids need to be adventurous. It’s not so much that they need to be left to their own devices everyday or taken on an expensive trip or family experience every other weekend. But they do need to be given an opportunity to explore — an important part of any baby or young child’s development.
It’s an exciting time for parents with toddlers, but there also comes the anxiety and hesitation as new parents find themselves having to so “no” when their baby is attempting to find discover a new place a experience a new sensation.
Dr. Danielle Flowers, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, said the ways in which a parent can raise and support a confident child can often stems from the environment the parents provide for their child.
“We should be taking take cues from the child, but it’s important to provide an environment that supports their sense of discovery,” Flowers said. “They find discovery anywhere they go, whether its at a park or children’s museum — basically, anywhere they can see things and touch things. And we should allow them to be more curious.”
Aid in discovery
Encouraging and applauding a baby’s taking measured risks, such as mastering a challenging obstacle — such as stair climbing or going to the bathroom on their own, or pushing through moments of frustration and failure — is healthy for the child.
“The way that we learn how to problem-solve is different if you’re dealing with consequences in the real world,” said Flowers. “For instance, if your child is playing with a sandcastle outside, it will fall over. Hands-on learning allows them to build up their problem-solving skills and have the confidence they’ll need.
Another possible opportunity where parents can further support their child’s discovery involves creating teachable moments during everyday life in order to introduce a child to necessary boundaries.
For instance, if you have a hot mug of tea or coffee but your toddler would like to touch the mug, let them touch the warm area of the cup. By gently allowing them to reach out with their fingertip, and repeat to them that the “mug is hot” in order to help encourage their sense of exploration, reflexes and cognitive skills.
“We shouldn’t let them pull down a pot of hot water or be put in a dangerous situation,” said Flowers. “But, in a safe environment, it’s OK to stumble or make mistakes in a safe way.”
Let babies be free
Some parents might want to believe that gadgets and electronics may be necessary during their child’s playtime, Flowers said. However, she would suggest re-examining those types of toys and possibly walking away from purchasing that many toys who stimulate through lights and sounds.
“When you have something like a stick, the child is forced to create everything for what that toys does. It gives them an opportunity to have imaginative play,” said Flowers. “Electronics and tablets are everywhere now, and we want to make sure our kids getting the other experiences.”
Allowing a toddler to explore their natural environment can often lead to a mess, or making your child become wet or dirty. But according to Flowers, these types of free-form playtime adventures can lead to your child developing upon their imagination and independence.
“They should have the ability to play with where they get wet or dirty,” said Flowers. “Let them play in the water in the summer and build things with their hands.”
Engage the senses
Another critical aspect to your babies development into becoming an adventurous toddler involves being exposed to new flavors and smells early on.
“I suggest Interacting with your child about experiences such as something like going to a park or a museum,” said Flowers. “Ask them, ‘How does the grass feel?’ or ‘What colors are you seeing?’”
One such example is to allow your baby, typically between 4-7 months, to experience new foods and textures, which can provide a feeling of accomplishment while also exposing him or her to different textures and flavors and then discussing with them what they’re experiencing.
“You just can’t put them in front of a television; you have to interact with them,” said Flowers.
The pediatrician went onto say that not only can you take your child to the park or to museums, but you can do things with them from inside your very own home.
“You can interact with your child through things like books as well, especially touch and feel books,” said Flowers. “You want to have a conversation with them, plus it helps with vocabulary development.”
Provide early exposure to new places
Along with allowing your child to decide on whether to explore within their immediate environment, such as their house or bedroom, but also bringing them to restaurants and other public spaces allows for positive exposure to new places people and sounds.
These things can, in turn, help build your child’s immune system, encourage social interaction and support development.
“Taking them out can show them how fast the world functions,” said Flowers. “Also, toddlers by nature are curious and will touch things, so it’s important to expose them to the public … because it also helps their immune system.”
Public places such as airports, bus stops and train stations can cause parents to feel anxious, but these are opportunities, according to Flowers, to teach children important habits that will help them on down the road.
“I really stress hand washing before meals, and if you’re out and about you can have hand sanitizer,” said Flowers. “This will help stop spread of the influenza, because we want them to learn (about germs) very early.”
Wait a moment
It’s not uncommon for parents to step in the moment they see their child start heading for the stairs, scrape their knees or start moving for the steps of the stairs.
Instead of rushing to your child immediately, however, experts have suggested that parents should try pausing, allowing the child to naturally discover his or her limits while, at the same time, managing their own fears and worries.
“I think a lot of this is that it’s so important to be present and not be distracted by our phones, said Flowers. “We need to be present with them so that can can be confident and grow in all their sensory and cognitive interactions through engaging with them.”
This tactic can allow a young toddler who has shown an propensity to explore an opportunity for social-emotional development with the parent acting as a safety net nearby.