What Can Adults Learn from Toddlers

By Robin Bush, ISR Communications

Young children ask questions—lots of them. Ask any parent, and they will tell you they spend their day answering questions. For children, asking questions is a key force behind their cognitive development. According to Dr. Hanan Merali, an associate professor of pediatrics at McMaster University, it may provide a key to maintaining cognitive abilities for older adults.

Sometimes, people worry when an older adult acts like a child. It bears asking if positive child-like behaviors are really a bad thing. Child-like behavior could be a new way for us to find joy and experience the world with a child’s sense of wonder. There are benefits to positive child-like approaches to life that could make us live a more innocent and enjoyable life. Negative toddler behavior, such as tantrums and uncontrollable emotions, could be signs of serious conditions and should not be ignored.

What are some positive child-like behaviors we might try to emulate? 

The first is self-talk.  Do you find yourself talking out loud to yourself? This is something toddlers do, producing a near-constant monologue of positive self-talk. We can use positive self-talking to help us solve our problems and improve our self-confidence and awareness.  Have you ever thought that that person you see muttering to themselves in the grocery store could be someone we might want to emulate?  Likely not but talking to ourselves might actually help us.  It might help us remember everything on our shopping list.  No one questions a toddler chattering to themselves, so why not us?  Maybe try it in your home as you move through your day before you try it out in public.  See if it helps you remember, see if it builds your sense of curiosity about why things happen in nature that you observe, and see if it makes you feel better.  It might help, it might not.  Let anyone you live with know you are trying something new, so they don’t get concerned by a sudden change in behavior.

There are some other techniques for being like a toddler:

Activity.  Two-year-olds are active. They are on the move for about five hours each day.  If adults look for ways to move, even for a few more minutes each day, we can improve our mood and health. “Brief bursts of activity have been shown to increase longevity if they add up to 10 minutes per day.” (“What toddlers can teach us about happiness and well-being” New York Times, March 29, 2024)

Ask questions.  It is reported that toddlers ask an average of 107 questions an hour.  If adults try the same thing, we will learn more and build better relationships.  The best conversations come from asking someone you are with a question.  Asking puts you in listening mode and draws them to you because they feel welcome to share their thoughts.  Questions build connection.

Sleep.  Having a routine of sleep and waking hours helps toddlers thrive, and adults can as well, according to Dr. Alberto Ramos, a sleep neurologist and researcher at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.  He advises that napping has many benefits, so don’t hold back when your eyelids droop.

Laugh. The last piece of guidance on how to live more like a toddler is to laugh as much as possible.  Young children laugh as much as six times more than adults.  They find the world to be silly. They act silly to make their peers laugh.  They crack themselves up when they tell a joke they made up.   They don’t worry about what others think.  It’s time to find ways to belly laugh each day.

Give it a try – let loose a little, shake your head at everything you were told you are supposed to do as an older adult and recognize how many people find their stride in their older years.  Check out these inspirational stories at https://laterbloomer.com/late-bloomer-success-stories/.