Welcome to toddlerhood. In these two whirlwind years kicked off by the first birthday, your dependent little baby will become a competent young child. Parenting a toddler is a heart-melting, fun and funny experience.
Walking is the milestone that divides baby and “toddler,” but there are many other physical advances challenging your child right now. One- and two-year-olds are very physical little people, learning through plenty of hands-on exploration, and expressing emotion with the whole body.
Once your child is upright, the world is a different place with many new possibilities. When she is up and steady on her own two legs, watch for these next steps:
- Walking while dragging or pushing a toy
- Squatting to pick up an object
- Climbing — not only stairs, but anything scalable
- Jumping — off a low structure, then from standing
- Kicking a ball
Toddlers are still too young to understand many things. This can be frustrating for parents but it is important to understand that they are still very young. There is a long list of things toddlers are not ready to understand. Among them are:
- Untidiness and cleanliness
- What things cost
- Why people have to go away
- Why chores have to be done
- The need to visit the bathroom before leaving home
- The need to hurry
- Deferring gratification
Toddlers have little ability to control impulses, predict consequences or remember rules, which makes behavior management a challenge for us and them! Still, by about 2½, something seems to click into place and you’ll start to notice that all that repetition is paying off: You remind your son not to throw sand at the playground and he doesn’t, or you realize that your daughter’s finally stopped trying to scale the bookcases.
- Babyproofing. Yes, still. Babyproofing keeps your toddler safe and reduces frustration for both of you. And it’s a lot less work than taking her away from the wastebasket 150 times!
- Practice prevention. If something is forbidden, whenever possible, don’t let him do it. Then your child doesn’t even have the chance to break the rule. That may mean having to physically intervene (but gently) sometimes as verbal instructions don’t mean much to a toddler. If, for example, you can see that he’s about to jump on the couch, sit him down beside you while reminding him, “We need to sit on the couch.”
- Communicate simply. Be at your child’s level. Get eye contact. Use touch to focus attention. Speak clearly, calmly and simply, and give positive instructions. Complicated sentences and negative constructions are hard for toddlers to understand. So instead of, “No running in the house,” say, “We walk in the house.”
- Redirect. Once you’ve interrupted the misbehavior, help your child get involved in something more acceptable.
- Catch her being good.Young children crave their parents’ approval, and constant criticism is discouraging. When you tell your child you appreciate how she shares with a friend or comes home from the park without a fuss, she feels proud and wants to do it again.
- Use routines. There’s a lot toddlers don’t understand about the world. Routines give a sense of security and competence by helping them know what to expect. Consistent routines can ease difficult transition times — like saying goodbye at daycare or bedtime — by making the change itself familiar.
- Offer safe, easy choices. Nobody likes to feel powerless, not even (or maybe especially) toddlers. Your toddler doesn’t get to say no to his bath, but he might feel more kindly toward washing if you let him pick which bath toys to play with. Small choices can turn balkiness into co-operation. But don’t overwhelm your child with constant or complicated choices.
- Make it a game. Discipline doesn’t have to be unpleasant. It’s OK to turn tidy-up time into a game or sing silly songs to help your child stay patient in a long lineup.
- Rescue your child when she can’t cope. Tired, hungry, bored, overstimulated or anxious toddlers can’t control their behavior. What they really need is a cuddle, a snack or a nap — not discipline.
- Set a good example. Toddlers imitate us — that’s a big part of how they learn. So behave the way you expect your child to behave.