Feed, bath, cuddle, clothe — as the mum of a young toddler, these are the things you think about when your little one wakes for the day. But what about bonding?
As important as it is to make sure that your child is physically cared for, it’s also just as important to ensure you’re nourishing their emotional development, too.
“It’s very easy to see your toddler as an independent little person and to get busy until they do something that upsets you. Often they are simply trying to reconnect with you — as though the invisible umbilical has stretched a bit far for their comfort,” she says.
To maintain that bond, “try putting all your ‘to dos’ aside,” she suggests. After all, hanging out the washing or returning some emails can wait an hour or so, whereas your precious little one is growing older by the minute — and those are precious moments you can never get back.
Get down on their level
When you’re spending time with your toddler, how much attention are you really giving them free from distractions like the television, your iPhone or your laptop?
“Spend time doing absolutely nothing else but being present and watching your child — how they play, how they look, the expressions on their little faces, how they try and communicate,” advises McKay, who runs a private practice in Melbourne and provides a free website, www.pinkymckay.com.au, which specialises in gentle parenting techniques.
“Then gently enter their world and play on their terms. Show them you are focused by getting down to their level, making eye contact and following their lead.”
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Remember: Touch is powerful
There’s a good reason why many experts recommend so much “skin to skin” contact when your little one is born — because touch is a “powerful bonding tool,” McKay says.
“It releases endorphins, those ‘feel good’ hormones, and oxytocin, the love hormone,” she explains.
“Massage is a beautiful bonding tool but your young toddler is probably spending so much of his time practising walking and running, that he is unlikely to keep still for long. So play finger and toe games, like round and round the garden and this little piggy.”
Develop shared routines and games
When your baby is tiny, it’s important to establish consistent routines so that they know what to expect throughout their day. But when they get a little older, you can get away with changing their daily routine every now and then.
“Take a bath together, or you could even take a nap together some days, and enjoy those sweet cuddles,” McKay suggests.
“Toddlers over two years of age enjoy massage games. Make a pizza on their back as they choose ‘ingredients’ — sprinkly strokes for cheese, chopping strokes for meat, sliding strokes to spread tomato paste — and don’t be surprised if they ask for ‘exotic’ ingredients such as chocolate or apples!”