3 reasons you shouldn’t rush a toddler

Why rushing a toddler is futile
A few weeks ago, my family and I visited a children’s museum that could have kept my toddler’s attention all day long. He opened and closed the doors to a bus, inserted circular discs into slots, floated boats on water and pushed a bazillion buttons. The museum was an amazing place for my toddler, and he made sure to take his time on each and every single exhibit. In the meantime, here I sat thinking, “Wow, when is he going to move on to the next one?”

Let me back track: I absolutely appreciated the museum for what my toddler was able to learn and explore from its many exhibits. I loved watching his inquisitive mind try to figure out how things work and hearing him squeal at every button he pushed. I love all that. But as an adult who has long ago figured out why doors open and close and that boats ride the currents of the water, I don’t exactly hold the same wonderment as my toddler.

Why rushing a toddler is futile
Other times, I’ve found myself rushing him through activities that for me, are simply a means to an end, but to my toddler, remain an untapped resource for enjoyment and learning. For instance, I practically dragged him by the hand back home from the park because he insisted on looking at the stoplights flashing behind us. We also take walks around the block or explore at our nearby park, and in the past I would urge him to continue on, saying, “Come along, we’re almost around the corner.” And each time, my toddler politely refused to budge and instead stayed put touching sprinklers or took his time collecting sticks and leaves.

None of my pressings were ever successful in actually getting my toddler to move on, and I’m all the more thankful for that. I’ve since done my best to stop rushing him through his activities, however much I would rather move on. Instead, I keep the following points in mind:

  • Everything is new in a toddler’s world, so even the simplest activities to us can be potentially mind blowing to them. Every environment provides them an arena to learn something new or practice a skill or drill a concept they had been working on.
  • In being allowed the time to discover, children come to learn that we support and encourage their explorations and critical thinking skills. Their play time isn’t merely some silly activity that we brush aside but instead are honored for the teaching purposes they serve.
  • Given a few years’ time, these “slow” events will no longer intrigue toddlers, and I would rather take advantage of what they can offer my still-young toddler while he still appreciates them and can expend the interest and focus he currently does.

I’ll admit—taking my time isn’t always so easy. As a busy mom with a running list plastered in her head of all the things she still has to do, sometimes the last thing I need is spend 20 minutes standing on a sidewalk watching my toddler pick up acorns. And there have been days when we really do have to get somewhere and I have little choice but to rush him along.

That said, I still try to consciously remind myself to let him explore at his own pace because I sure wouldn’t want someone rushing me should I land on some amazing find. And I’ve realized that rushing him isn’t exactly effective—the little guy is quite adamant about staying put or, even if he obliges to quit picking flowers, will still take his time observing the rocks and holes the next second.

I’ve stopped bothering with hurrying him along. Now, a walk around the block isn’t simply a means to an end, a destination to reach. Instead, we take our time as I do my best to block out all the to-dos running through my head.

When have you found yourself rushing your toddler through an activity? What benefits have you seen by allowing your kids to explore at their leisure?

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20 thoughts on “3 reasons you shouldn’t rush a toddler

  1. The morning routine is a constant rush – even when we’re not late! I struggle with my adult mind that thinks we need to go, go, go in the morning with little time for chit chat or anything other than eating & dressing. The best mornings are the ones where I let go a little, make pancakes, sit with the kids and talk with them! I think that’s the best start I could give them each morning.

    • I feel the same. Just this morning, the little guy was running late, taking his good old time instead of eating his breakfast. I resolved not to rush him, and that if we were truly late, I could always pack up his food for him to eat at a later time. I’ve since accepted that rushing to meet a timeline is almost always going to cause more hassles, so we might as well save it for when we truly do need to be somewhere and there are no easy alternatives.

  2. I definitely struggle with slowing down for Eli. There are so many days that I feel like I spend the whole in a rush! I do try hard, though, to let him take his time to explore things, touch things, be inquisitive about what surrounds him. Funny… Eli likes to take a good hour or so to eat breakfast. At first, it annoyed me. Now, I realize that he needs that time to gather himself after a long night’s sleep. If I rush him through breakfast, he is cranky. If I let him be, he is so much happier.

  3. I found it was a lot easier to slow down with one child. Now that they have doubled their numbers, they both have to suffer a bit for it. First, we can do what Kid #2 wants to do (play with dirt) and then we can do what Kid #1 wants to do (get to the playground). It’s harder for Kid #1 to be patient with exploration than me, but a lot of times, I can get Emilia interested in whatever her little sister is interested in (playing with dirt). We take a lot of baths. 🙂

    • It is even harder when you have more kids to juggle and schedules to align. When you’re trying to get out the door to get #1 to school on time, you can’t always give #2 the time to get his own shoes on. I try to leave an hour for the four block round-trip for school drop off when we walk. I’ve labeled it “zooming” when I have to pick up my younger child for things he prefers to do himself or use the stroller when he wants to walk (e.g. I’m going to zoom you into your carseat or we’re zooming super-fast to school today) .

      At my oldest son’s preschool the teachers explained once that they have the freedom to let kids move at their own pace more than we do when we’re trying to get things done during the day. They are in a fixed location and have several staff to cover different parts of the campus. I wish I could do this more but I’m glad he’s at least getting it there. I try to make our weekends less structured so we can go more with their flow. Happy kids make happy parents!

  4. This post couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time for me! Today I had so many things to get done between swimming lessons and errands and Josh was driving me insane, stopping to look at every tree and pick up every rock. I try to stay patient and appreciate that he is curious, but man, it’s just a given that whatever used to take five minutes before will now take 20! 🙂

  5. Thank you for posting this. Such a great reminder that no matter how busy we are, we just need to slow down & let our children take their time to explore and learn.

  6. I love this post. I too would rush little dude before realizing that all he was doing is exploring. I learned to let go and we pretty much do things at his pace now. Barely any tantrums and it is so much better for all of us.

  7. I used to rush all day long and still do once Livi sleeps in the evening but during the day I completely slow down to her pace.
    Going for a walk is nice for both of us and I don’t care how long it takes her. It is just amazing for me to see her walk and explore on her own. I do have the advantage of being a SAHM and the days are usually planned around Livi’s needs, so that probably makes it easier for me. When I watch her, I try to see what she sees or I show her new things to explore or help her find sticks and leaves. Often, I also use the opportunity and take pictures of her since she’s normally too fast and all over the place to take a decent picture.
    I guess it is just nice for me when she is occupied without my help and really enjoys something. For the longest time, we didn’t have that so it is a refreshing break for both of us, one we both truly savor.

  8. One of the things you can do is to start a “to do box,” some people call it a “bored box,” (things to do when you think you are bored). When you noticing your toddler picking flowers and you have to get to your doctor’s appointment, write on a piece of paper: “go back and see the flowers,” and then put it in the box. Sometime on a lazy day, have your toddler draw one of these things out to do. You can then remind him when he had fun doing it and also remind him that you did promise to come back to that activity. This will help him understand long term things, also.

  9. If you want to slow down, try riding public transportation. You don’t have to drive yourself, by the time you get to your destination you will have answered all of your toddler’s questions and weirdly enough, you can call it “family time,” in a way… … (smile)

  10. Yes, and when it’s fun to get caught up in my older set of kids and their more advanced intellectual abilities… I have to remember my yougest and all the “newness” that is still to be discovered.

  11. It was just really hard to slow down as a full-time working mom with a toddler when the evenings and weekends were packed with all the “to-do’s.” Good to aspire to do so!

  12. My toddler has a way of redefining time that seems to run exactly counter to my own schedule. I’m a SAHM, so most times we don’t rush, but when we have to get to an appointment–or I just want to do something quickly, it can be frustrating. This is a good reminder that I need to slow down most times and enjoy this age of wonder!

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