6 life lessons I learned from my toddler

A father accompanied his toddler son to the playground and came back learning these lessons for life

Child playing in sand

I stood back and watched him lazily amble towards the centre of the large sandbox with his toys in tow. He briefly tripped on a large, stray pebble and immediately my “daddy” senses started to tingle. If I was Spiderman, I’d have shot out some of the miraculous web-like structure from my wrists and supported him. But alas, I’m a mere mortal and a slight gasp escaped my parted lips as I watched him stumble onto the playground pavement—bucket and all.

It took every ounce of mental prowess that I could muster to stop myself from running towards him. As any parent would be, I too was torn; after all, he was my son. And I was a duty-bound father who had sworn to protect him at any cost. But I didn’t move. Part of it was instinct and the curiosity to see how far he would go. Another part of it was the fact that I wanted to prove my wife wrong. You see, she always believed that I was a helicopter parent and that unless I let our son do certain things on his own, he would never learn. And while I vehemently voiced my displeasure at being boxed with such a tag, I knew it was true to some extent.

But little did I know, that in my endeavour to show her that I could let go, my toddler would end up teaching me some important life lessons as he went about his playground adventures. Over the past two years, every time that I’ve accompanied my son to the playground, I’ve had the opportunity to see some of life’s greatest lessons being inadvertently demonstrated by these little ones.

Today, I’d like to share a few of them with you.

1. Friendships are simple, uncomplicated and come in all shapes and sizes

My son was all of 18 months when the above incident happened. Up until that point, he’d been to the playground a few times, but we were his only friends. This would have been the first time that we had let him venture into the sandbox without us for company. I was petrified. Most of the kids were elder and larger than him, and seemed to be oblivious to his presence. But he surprised me. He nonchalantly strode into the sandbox and, within seconds, had started a conversation [in toddler speak] with another toddler of the same age. All it took was a smile.

As adults, we often get tongue tied and are unsure of how to take the first step. Why not just break the ice with a smile and a hello, like he did? Simple, isn’t it?

2. Failure is not defeat

Have you ever seen a kid give up? If I’m honest, I have lost count of the number of times my son has been unsuccessful in climbing the jungle gym or pulling himself up the monkey bar on the playground. In fact, I’ve often felt my heart beat like a set of percussion drums when watching him jump from one bar to another and land face first on the sand. But he dusts himself up and tries again. And again. And yet again. With children, no matter how many attempts it takes or how many times they fail, defeat is never an option. With us adults, all it takes it one failure to make us feel low.

As adults, we often get tongue tied and are unsure of how to take the first step

3. Fight, forgive, forget. Repeat

Ever think that arguments and fights are adult-only territories? In fact, I see kids fight a lot more with each other than adults probably would. But there’s a big difference. As adults, we tend to take a more “cold war” like approach to it. Kids on the other hand are brutally honest and tend to talk it out a lot more easily than we adults seem to do. I’ve found even my three year old embroiled in a “war of tantrums” with similar aged kids. But minutes later, once all the crying is done, they are back to being friends. The ease with which they forgive, forget and move on is nothing short of a miracle, and we adults could definitely take a leaf out of their book.

4. Dirt is good. Literally

I often spot my son and his merry band of other three-foot-tall toddlers, fervently digging in the strangest of places—from the sandbox to the bushes that surround the playground. While I’m not entirely sure what they’re searching for, they seem to enjoy getting their hands dirty. And often it leads to the most unexpected discoveries. The other day they found a limited edition Hot Wheels car; one that had not been manufactured for almost half a decade. Needless to say, they were very excited and there was some pushing and shoving, with each wanting to keep it. [But hey, that’s where point three comes handy.]

Of course, the lesson for us adults isn’t to literally go dig in the mud; the essence is not to be hesitant to get our hands dirty and to try something new. We are often so set in our ways and hate to move out of our comfort zones that we rarely risk trying something new. Who knows, you might find an alternate career, much like I did.

With children, no matter how many attempts it takes or how many times they fail, defeat is never an option

5. Of sharing, patience and turns

I’ll admit it. I’m a rather selfish person at times. In fact, there are even times when I refuse to share food with my wife. But, if you ever spend a few minutes observing some of these toddelrs at the playground, they can put you to shame. Yes, they have their moments of “This is mine!”, but largely they share their toys and play. All you need to do is ask nicely. Patience is another virtue that they all seem to pick up, while waiting for their turns to use the swings or climb up the ladder to the slides. Somehow, as adults, we seem to value these traits a lot less.

6. Anything can be useful; if you can imagine it to be

As an adult, you pick up that broken branch in your path and toss it away as waste. Kids pick it up and see possibilities. And an infinite number of them, at that.

A mound of dirt can be a castle and dew drops on the leaves can be jewels; the swings can be rockets that propel them to the skies while the broken branches of those trees could be swords.

What these toddlers, with their almost limitless creativity and imagination, teach us is that from time to time we must look outside the confines of the boundaries that we have boxed ourselves into. They teach us that there’s beauty in everything; you just need to clear your mind to see it.

But perhaps the most important life lesson that we could all learn from kids at the playground is that sometimes we just need to take things a little slow. In our bid to survive, save and secure a future for ourselves and our kids, we often forget to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of those little things.

And often, it is perfectly okay to fall flat on your face and ask for help when you get stuck.

But most of all, we need to realise that all of these little lessons will come handy when we’re tackling that large playground called life.

This was first published in the January 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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  1. Loved the pointers. Specially 2 and 3 – about trying again and again and that no fights are permanent. I love that about kids – even slightly older ones have the knack to forget and move on.


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