Toddler years (12-24 months)
Spiritual development of a child
“I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.”
For Christ-followers, the role of parents and caregivers is crucially important. Not just for the growth of baby’s brain, emotions and body, but also baby’s spiritual journey. God is at work in the womb with baby, even to the point of John the Baptiser leaping in Elizabeth’s womb in the presence of unborn Jesus (Luke 1:41). Spiritual development is something that we may believe only takes place when a child can reason, can engage and understand Biblical truths. Whilst it is easier to observe and engage at that stage of life, investing spiritually in a young child bears fruit many years into the future. Psalm 78 reminds us to be telling our children about the glorious deeds of the Lord. Even the youngest children are to be included in the faith life of the family. Praying with and for the toddler shows something of dependence upon God. We show something of how to set our hope in God and not forget his works.
There are new and different milestones in little one’s life. As covered in in an earlier post, entitled ‘Parents First‘, parents and caregivers need ongoing support, connection and encouragement. This is typically a season when caregivers receive little outside support, often ‘getting through’ and feeling like parenting is about surviving and not thriving. Family units that did not have strong social ties and support before this stage are unlikely to be growing that network whilst in the middle of this stage. It is important, therefore, that carers, supporters and encouragers ‘lean in’ during this stage, ensuring that families feel like there is a supportive, caring network around them. Many of the ideas and resources in another post the 3-12 months period are also applicable during this stage. What follows is more actions that you can be taking to support these families in this stage.
Journeying with families in this stage
As a whole, be encouraging of parents and what they have done and accomplished. An article like this one can help you know what parents can be doing in this particular stage. Feel free to refer to service providers that give specialised input for caregivers.
It is easy to think that reading to children should only be necessary once baby can talk. Powerfully, reading to and with baby at this young age if an essential part of the child’s brain development. Not only reading, but storytelling is a powerful part of baby learning and growing. Watch this short video, explaining the heart behind it. In journeying with parents in this stage, do all that you can to empower parents to be reading to and with their children and telling stories. This could look like opening a library membership, collecting books on their behalf and connecting parents and caregivers to resources to inform, empower and equip them to grow baby’s brain through reading and stories.
Pray with and for parents and caregivers. Oftentimes, the care provided for mom, dad and other caregivers does not stay as intentional into the second year of a child’s life. Be sure to ask for how you can be praying for the family. Parents need to feel supported, cared for and ‘seen’ in this season, to be carried when they need it. Send encouraging messages, scriptures and prayers to embody Christian love and compassion as parents go through this stage.
Play is an essential activity for baby to learn a range of skills, watch this video and this one to see why. As a supporter and encourager of parents in this stage, this isn’t about buying all the latest gadgets and toys for baby. It is more about leveraging everyday, simple things to help baby be stimulated. It is about intentionally giving baby things that will develop exploration, activities and interaction with others. It could be collecting leaves of a tree, making a pile of stones, making shapes in sand and so on. This is not about entertaining baby, but allowing her to explore, discover and make meaning of the world around her. Your role could be to help point mom and dad to these kinds of resources and proactively think of play that could work for the family in their context.
In this stage, it may feel like the routines and rhythms of baby care are boring and just ‘going through the motions’. Many times, the interest of others and the offer of care and support may wane. Yet this stage has its range of challenges and risks for mom and baby. As a supporter and encourager of baby, mom and dad, be sure to keep visiting. Keep asking how the parents are doing. Keep offering practical support to allow mom and dad to bond
Be sure to check in with dad. Encourage him to prioritise quality time with his young child. There are always pressures on time and dads should be gently reminded and encouraged to make the one-on-one time with his young child. This bonding is crucial for the child to feel safe and secure. Take that this is not communicated in a condemning, judgmental way, but rather in a positive way. Nobody is guilted into relationship.
There is some overlap with the previous stage in terms of how you can be organizing toys and books. Naturally, it is good the range of books and toys to grow as the child develops.
Help mom with the emotions of parenting an age when their child is experiencing big emotions and don’t yet know how to process them. Parents may feel judged by others when their child is emotional. What may look like a tantrum or ‘meltdown’ to others is part of baby learning how to experience and respond to the world around him or her. Talking to mom and dad about their experience and their own emotions through this can help them feel more confident in their parenting and exploring other ways to engage with their child when he/she is in that space. Older, more experienced parents may be able to both listen and give appropriate tips for how to parent in those moments.
If you are close enough to the family, you may offer to regularly ‘babysit’ the child so that mom and dad can attend social gatherings, spend quality time together and generally engage with life outside the home.
Church and life around parents
Baby is busier now, and mom’s multitasking is stretched – offering to watch and play with baby during a church service may help mom engage with others. If relevant, offer to sit with baby in the parent’s room/cry room so that mom can worship during the service. Remember to use baby talk and serve and return interactions that we covered here.
It may be possible to connect moms and dads in this space during a church meeting. This peer to peer support is good for parents to share experiences and find a network of people in a similar life-space.
Organize play-dates where families can be connecting with each other whilst their little ones explore new social interactions with other little ones.
As baby grows, there will be a need for larger clothes. In a community of faith, a ‘clothing bank’ can easily be arranged, where gently used clothes can be stored centrally for new families to access.
This is the next generation
The first thousand days of a child’s life is a once-in-a-lifetime period for a child’s development. The investment in the well-being and care of parents in this stage of baby’s life will lead to them responding to baby and providing the necessary nurturing care. This care sets up a powerful bond that brings ongoing flourishing, resilience to stress and growth in baby. In addition to this, passing on faith to future generations takes place. As faith communities surround families, they demonstrate the love of God in practical ways. The next generation will know the good deeds of God, and tell their children, who will set their hope in God and not forget His works (Ps 78:6-7).