Toddlers can be a puzzling and changing mix of confidence and fear. One minute they are trying to climb up supermarket shelves, and the next they are hiding behind you from a beloved grandparent.
It is a big world, and every child has to find their own balance between exploring it and being safe. We are all different in this – some of us are more explorers and risk-takes, while others prefer the familiar. It is a big part of our character and personality.
This section is not about making your toddler into a different person – it is not possible, and trying to does not do any good to you or to them.
But everyone can grow in confidence, and we usually need a good mix of three key ingredients. Here are some tips to help your child become more confident over time:
You are the “secure base” for your child. They will be braver “out there” if they know you are always there for them when needed
The more you can play and talk with your toddler, the more confident they will be – both because they feel safer, and because they are learning more things they can do
Show that you enjoy and value your child for who they are – and that you enjoy and value what they are doing. Ten minutes of phone-free attention will work wonders
When things go wrong, especially with behaviour, try to see your toddler’s point of view – how they might be feeling, what they can/can’t do – some ideas for this are here
Give your toddler space – let them lead and explore when it is safe to do so. And get them out of the buggy – not just for exercise, but so they can range around!
To manage change, we need a background of sameness. If your child’s day is basically predictable, with routines around meals, bedtime, etc, then they will cope with change more easily
This goes too for the little routines, around how you tidy up, get ready to go out – lots of repeated patterns to the day
Let your child know what is happening, and what will happen next
Interesting things to do and see and talk about
This is the fun bit. Even things that are very boring for you are amazing to your child. You may have seen them thousands of times, but it is new to a toddler.
Take time to notice the small wonders, and to talk about them. The smell of toast, raindrops on the window, puddles, clouds …
Read and tell stories together – make this a shared experience with lots of chat – try acting some of them out, or “doing the voices”
Get out and about – the house is boring all day, and so much more outside – let your toddler explore, but do keep an eye!
Introduce new things – foods, places, people, ideas – gently. It is normal for a toddler to be shy or reluctant at first. Model what to do, let your child know it is OK to hesitate – give them space to explore
For example, a toddler may well “hide” from a new, or even familiar, adult – give them time to come out by themselves without pressure – they will learn from this that they are brave and can manage