How to play in the second year – it’s gonna be a messy move!

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This could be the worst or best year of your life... 0911_gt_art_regdepending on how you interpret your toddler's need to mess and move...everywhere...all-the-time!

Whilst the first year is dedicated to attachment and gaining motor control, the second year is dedicated to separating, gaining independence and exploring the big, wide world AKA your Tupperware drawers.

Not feeling particularly excited about a year of hiding precious objects, cleaning up spills and following your little mover-and-shaker around like a bodyguard? Here's how to make the best of what will probably be the messiest year of your life.

How to Play with your Toddler

1. Create safe spaces that allow your toddler to move.

Whilst your baby may have loved lying in your arms or sitting and watching you cook, your toddler is going to get excited about getting away from you. Securing your home and creating some free play space in your garden (if you have one) is an exceptionally easy way of reducing your toddler's frustration (read: your frustration).

If everything is off limits, all the time and the only message you give out is 'No, don't touch that' or 'No, don't go there' your toddler is not going to be happy (read: you are not going to be happy). Luckily your toddler will only be interested in something until they conquer it so don't feel too hopeless if you seem to be spending all your time on the stairs. At least it's not the burglar bars... or electric gate.

2. Embrace the mess, where it's easiest to clean up.

A toddler on the go is going to make themselves and their environment rather colourful. Their endless need to move and explore can easily be translated as 'bad behaviour', but it's really a great sign that your baby is motivated and keen to seek out learning opportunities. Your baby learns through trial and error and experimentation... and will soon become a demolition specialist. This sensori-motor play (or playing for play's sake) will pre-empt their arrival at constructive play (playing for a purpose) and role play which will happily bring on behaviour such as packing away, cleaning up and sorting.

Sensori-motor play is a stage that cannot be skipped without creating long-term learning difficulties so embrace the mess nowand try to recognise useful, albeit messy play opportunities.Please-Excuse-the-Mess

Here is my second year of play cheat sheet. Your toddler gets to let loose and you get to tidy up without much fuss.

  • Sand pits (or a corner of a garden bed or a box of sand that your child sits in). Take it up a notch by adding water to make it into a mud pit. Do this just before a bath or swim.
  • Bubble baths (or shaving cream showers) where you get your toddler to use the bubbles/foam to cover the walls, shower door, floor etc.
  • Finger painting with washable paint on newsprint. Take it up a notch by letting them paint with their feet or letting them paint their body. Keep a hose pipe or plenty of newspaper nearby for easy clean up.
  • Drawing with chalk on bricks/the driveway. Chalk washes away pretty easily, all you need is a little spray bottle or rain fall.
  • Salty Playdough plus rollers and cutters. Stay far away from carpets and soft furnishings and add glitter, large buttons and stones to keep it novel and fun.

3. Foster independence, pride and self-esteem

Each family unit will have different needs and boundaries. If your toddler's sensori-motor needs are being met, then there's no harm in having certain areas that are no mess, no touch (like your jewellery box or watch collection). But, if everything is off limits all the time then your second year is going to be a battleground rather than then the delight-filled playground it was intended to be.

Trying to keep your toddler still, quiet and clean most of the day is going to create problems. Other than putting them at risk for tactile defensiveness and developmental delay, it can create secondary emotional problems such as deep guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy. Toddlers may become aggressive or withdraw as they come to believe that their need to move and mess are undesirable and that their best efforts to play/learn are not good enough. This insecurity may prolong many baby-type behaviours like wanting to be carried or using a dummy and may also make milestones like potty-training and sleeping in a big bed harder to achieve.

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