I am going to keep the topic of this post on Toddlers. Each age group has such different needs for environment that this post will focus on toddlers. These things can be applied to younger children as well. For a more general discussion on controlling environments in children, be sure to come read the post tomorrow.
These young years are the years that you really protect your child and control what influences reach your child. The child is not old enough to play with another child who says a bad word and think, "Hmmm...that isn't a word I should say. I will not say it even though this friend says it." No, the child instead says, in effect, "What an interesting word! I love to learn new words. I will use this word now."
Moral comprehension does not tend to be present until about age three (some earlier, some younger). So before age three, I think it is wise to be with your child as much as possible when outside of your controlled environment of home. So if your 2 year old is playing with the neighbor children, it is a good idea to keep an ear and eye on the playing to be sure your child is making right choices.
I also like to limit the amount of time a child this age spends with friends in a chunk. Sure, some days we exceed the general rule, but most days we limit it. Doing so just seems to help keep control over the learning that is happening.
Toddlerwise says, "The difficulty...is not realizing how education shapes the habits of the heart..." (page 17). So in other words, parents need to realize that you can teach your child the right way to behave and set correct habits now. This is the time to instill those habits. We teach our toddlers to share and how to share. The toddler doesn't have any idea as to why she is sharing, but she is learning how to share. This is a habit we are establishing for her.
This is why we stay close to our toddlers as they play with others--so we can reinforce those habits and correct the child when she chooses not to follow the habit she has been taught. It happens. Your little sweetie will snatch a toy from her friend and proclaim "Mine!" It is okay! She isn't doomed for greed. She is just being a toddler doing what toddlers do. This is a prime teaching moment. This is when you step in and remind her, "We don't take toys from other people. You need to give it back to your friend." It is one thing to learn these lessons in the home--playtime with friends is when that learning is put into practice. Yes, practice. Not put into "performance" or "recital" but "practice." Practice means perfection is not yet achieved--and not even perfection, but the ability is not to the point to be able to awe and impress. This is practice time.
So for toddlers, you are pretty protective over the environment. You do your best to control the exposure your toddler has and you stay close by to correct things when the child is not following your goals and beliefs.
Are you doomed to forever stand by your child? No! Please don't! But this age is practice time. You are practicing now so that as your child ages, you can step back and let that child play with friends without you right there to correct her. While correction will still happen sometimes for sure, your goal is to get your child to the point that she can leave your side and choose to do right things without you there coaching her. You want her to learn to stand alone and stand up for what is right if she needs to. You want her to hear a friend (or anyone) say a word that is off-limits in your home and refrain from adding it to her vocabulary. This is the path you are working on. The toddler years are the time to make sure correct choices are practiced and that exposure to negative influences are minimal. As your child matures, the world will open up and she will be stronger and better able to face the world with her own convictions.
Protect the environment of your toddler. Teach your toddler how she should behave. Now. While she is a toddler. This is the time to establish correct habits. Then when the time is right, you will be comfortable letting her venture on her own and know she is strong enough to make correct choices. She will have been taught well and trained correctly. After that, it is up to her to make the right choice (scary I know!).
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