It feels like he was just a tiny baby, and now he is walking, talking, coloring, eating on his own, and acting like more of a little kid than a baby! Welcome to the toddler years. This can be an abrupt transition for some parents as your once sweet baby now has opinions, desires, and agendas that don’t always correspond with yours!
The Magical Transition from Baby to Toddler
Technically, what is a toddler?
A toddler is typically characterized as a young child just starting to walk. The term is often much more applicable to a child’s temperament. In my opinion, as a mom and an occupational therapist who works with babies and toddlers all the time, as soon as a baby begins to understand that they have control over their world and can start to act on that, they are a toddler. The walking (running, climbing, hopping) part is just physics.
As babies make this transition, it can almost be like getting to know a new person. He is no longer in the same place you left him, eating the food you put in his mouth and staying in his crib at night. With his new ideas about how things should work, he now has the physical ability to act on them.
Parenting Your New Toddler
Parents of toddlers really have two jobs, keep them safe and provide experiences for enrichment.
Let’s start with safety. Now is the time to child-proof your home if you have not already. Think about all aspects of safety. Baby-proof locks on cabinets, safety gates at thresholds, and outlet covers are all critical but also think about teaching your child safety. Begin the conversations about stranger danger and what to do in dangerous situations. They may not have a firm grasp of language yet, but it is important to start talking about these things very early. They understand more than you think. Also, start instilling a sense of self-respect. People don’t often think of this as “safety,” but as a mom of teenage girls, I have learned that self-respect can be their strongest suit of armor, and this begins early. (Related: what to have in your toddler’s first-aid kit)
As far as providing enrichment experiences, remember, those brain cells are still connecting at a lightning-fast rate. The experiences you provide her with now will set the foundation for a lifetime of future learning opportunities. Continue to think about what she sees, hears, tastes, smells, and experiences through all of her senses. Keep it fresh, new, and engaging.
Her natural-born sense of curiosity and wonder makes her prime for new learning opportunities to engage in daily. Encourage this through activities and conversations. Give her unconventional toys and see what she can create. Stimulate all of her senses with things such as colored pasta to play with, shaving cream to write on the walls during bath time, and activities to activate those early fine motor skills, such as crayons and child-safety scissors.
How to Discipline Toddlers
The biggest question of parents of young toddlers is usually how to discipline and handle behavior. Here are a few general rules of thumb:
1. Keep it simple. One-step directions, demonstrate what you want from her, and remember her grasp of language is still developing.
2. Show him the respect you would like him to show you. Ask him if he is ready to get out of the bathtub before you reach in and grab him. If he says no, say, “Ok, you have five minutes,” then remind him at two minutes, then tell him what is coming next so he can focus on that instead of focusing on having to get out of the tub.
3. Provide distractions when possible. If she tends to have temper tantrums at the grocery store, print out some pictures of items for her to find while you are there so she is distracted from asking for you to buy her things.
4. Be consistent. Ensure you and your partner have the same rules and expectations for your toddler.
5. Follow through. Do not give out any more snacks if you say no more snacks. It may be hard to stick to this at the time, but this follow-through will help your child know what to expect, and he will respect you because he will have boundaries.
6. Make sure your toddler gets enough sleep. This may be the most important. Toddlers should still have two naps per day for at least an hour and sleep for 12 hours at night. All that activity during the day is exhausting, and they need time to recharge (as do you!)
Celebrate this new milestone because, in the blink of an eye, you will have a preschooler on your hands with all new thoughts, ideas, and agendas!