Going to playschool, going on play dates, moving from a cot to a big bed – you want to do things the “right” way and at the “right” time for your busy toddler.
We bring you some of a parent’s main toddler concerns, and suggested solutions. Remember, of course, to make allowances for your child’s individual personality and your family’s unique circumstances. Here’s a round-up of parents’ biggest toddler issues
1. When and how should I move my toddler from her cot to a bed?
Most baby experts agree that a toddler will be ready to move from a cot to a “big girl” bed between the ages of 2 and 3 years old. Physically, it’s recommended that your toddler has reached a height of three feet (90 cm) tall.
Sister Barbara Constantinou, a registered midwife with the Bedfordview Mother and Baby Centre, adds, “I often recommend putting a baby who is a restless, light or generally difficult sleeper, in a big bed from about 1 year old - especially big babies who keep hitting the cot with their arms and legs, waking themselves up.”
If you are thinking of moving your toddler to a big bed before a new sibling arrives, you should allow a good eight weeks before your new baby’s arrival and let your toddler be well settled in her new bed before she sees the baby taking over “her” cot.
Barbara adds, “A good idea regarding moving your baby to a bed is to coincide the big move with returning from weekend or holiday away. Toddlers don’t generally like change in routine or change in environment. By doing this you end up having only one change for them to adapt to. Change of season is also a good time to change them. Clothing and bedclothes change, as does the environment for example looking at the presence of heaters, ambient temperature and so on.”
- Place your toddler’s new bed in the same position as her cot used to be
- Put something she’s familiar with on her new bed, like her favourite blankets and teddies
- Involve her in choosing a brand-new, “big girl” duvet set and place the bedding on her new bed
- If you have the space in your house, you can make a more gradual move by leaving her in her cot at night, but letting her take her daytime naps in the bed
- Barbara says, “It’s important to give her extra attention during this transition, and try and stick to your bedtime routine so that you don’t create any new sleep problems”
- Avoid trying to move your toddler into a bed during a stressful time, such as after the arrival of a new sibling, moving, starting a new pre-school, or beginning potty training.
2. How do I know when my toddler is ready to start potty training?
Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), reports that children don’t have the skills to begin toilet training until after age 2, but start showing signs of readiness between 18 and 24 months, though some will only show signs of readiness at 30 months or older.
Pediatrics recommends that you start toilet training between 22 and 30 months of age, and that you start intensive training after 27 months, as this can help your child to achieve daytime dryness sooner.
- There are many ways to potty train your child. There is a method which believes you can start potty training before your child is 6 months old, and another method, for an older toddler, whereby you prepare to potty-train your toddler in just one day.
- Only you can know what’s best for your child. Listen to your instinct and if you feel that your child is just not ready, relax and leave it for a while.
- In the 1940s, Dr Benjamin Spock recommended training without force and delaying toilet training until your child shows signs of readiness. He believed that starting too soon could be emotionally damaging to a child. According to him, you should start between age 2 and 2 and a half years. You need to be patient, praise your child for successes and avoid criticising her for accidents.
- Allow your child in the bathroom when you’re on the toilet
- Let your child get used to the potty - allow her first to sit on it fully clothed
- If she poos in the nappy, show her how to put it in the potty and tell her that soon she’ll be doing this
- When your child shows an interest in going on the potty, take her to it several times a day
- When she appears ready, remove her underwear and the bottom half of her clothing and place the potty nearby. Give her gentle reminders
- If she resists or has an accident, put her nappy back on
- Once she has achieved bowel and bladder control, use normal underwear
- Then start teaching her proper wiping – from front to back - and hand washing. (For a little boy, gently pull back and wipe the tip of an uncircumcised penis.)
3. How do I get my 3-year-old out of night-time nappies?
Firstly, relax in the knowledge that most children take longer to be dry at night than in the day. But once your child is reliably potty-trained during the day, you can try the following:
- Take her out of nappies when her nappy is consistently dry or just a bit damp in the morning, as this is a good sign of readiness
- Alternatively, as an experiment, you can try leaving the nappy off at night, explaining what you’re doing when you put her to bed, and why. Remind her that this means she can’t wee at night. The knowledge that the nappy isn’t there can make a difference.
Having once started down this road, if your toddler is dry in the morning, be full of praise and encouragement, but also be prepared for it not to work quite yet. Plenty of 3-year-olds still need a night nappy. If this is the case, try again in a few months. You could also think about using pull-up disposable nappy-pants, which are easy to use and encourage independence.
- Put a waterproof sheet under her usual sheet to protect the mattress
- Make your daughter go to the toilet last thing before she goes bed
- If she still wants a bottle as she’s falling asleep, make it a smaller bottle than before so there’s less liquid going into her bladder
- Make sure that she can get out of bed and reach the bathroom easily in the night or the early morning. Putting a night light strategically in or just outside her bedroom will ensure that she feels safe and can see where she’s going in the dark
- Remind her to go to the toilet again in the morning, whether she’s dry or not.
4. How can I stop my 2-year-old from kicking and biting?
Many 2- and 3-year-olds go through an aggressive phase. You must show them how to behave lovingly yet firmly. Toddlers hit, bite and kick because it’s a guaranteed way to get your attention – even in a negative way. You need to show them that it doesn’t work.
Barbara comments, “I believe in firm, consistent and loving discipline. All caregivers of a child must respond to this behaviour in similar manner, otherwise toddlers will start manipulating parents or caregivers with their kicking and biting. They soon learn who they can manipulate.”
- As soon as she hits or kicks, tell her that because she has hit (or bitten or kicked) she must now sit in “time out” for two minutes (use a minute for each year of her life)
- Look your child in the eyes and call her by her given name, not by her pet name.
- Say this as calmly as you can and then don’t say anything else
- Next, lead her firmly but kindly to a designated chair or spot on the floor (not in a draught of course) and leave her to sit there by herself. Don’t send her to her room where there are distractions that might keep her occupied and happy
- If she gets up, take her back immediately. Don’t let her off if she says she’s sorry – she still needs to sit still. Don’t talk to her during his time out or allow any one else to either. Use the two minutes to calm yourself down, if need be. When the time is up, ask her to apologise and then kiss, cuddle, forgive and forget!
- Barbara advises, “As difficult as it is, try and ignore crying. It is just another form of attention seeking and manipulation. It’s not easy! But your child will soon learn that you will not respond to crying.”
5. What should I do if my toddler has a tantrum?
Firstly, try to listen to your toddler and read her signals. If you can see that she is getting tired, hungry or over-stimulated, the first and best thing to do is prevent the tantrum from happening in the first place, if you are able to, by letting her lie down (and hopefully sleep), or giving her something healthy to eat, or removing her from the over-stimulating environment. However, if it’s too late and the tantrum explodes after all, make sure she doesn’t hurt herself.
- Try to hold her gently in your arms. As she calms down, she will realise that she’s close to you and as she starts to relax, the screams will gradually subside
- However, a few toddlers can’t bear to be held while they are having tantrums – the physical restriction seems to make them even angrier. If your child reacts like this, don’t insist on overpowering her
- Don’t try to argue or use logic with her - while the tantrum lasts, she is beyond reason
- Try not to scream back yourself! Anger is very infectious and if you shout at her, you might just prolong the outburst because you will upset and frighten her even further with your own out-of-control behaviour
- Don’t let your child feel either rewarded or punished for a tantrum. You want her to see that tantrums change nothing. Don’t change the way you intended to act because she threw a tantrum. At the same time, try to be reasonable. Rethink your time requirements.
- Don’t let tantrums embarrass you into kid-glove handling. Many parents dread tantrums in public places, but you mustn’t let your toddler sense your concern. If you treat her with unusual sweetness whenever visitors are present, she will soon realise what’s going on and learn how to manipulate you.
- Barbara comments, “If your child is having a tantrum in a public place, if possible leave immediately. You may have to leave shopping trolley or abandon shopping. Take your child home to a nanny, parent or any other responsible adult. Leave your child there and go back alone to complete your shopping. Explain to toddler what you are doing. This may happen once or twice and soon toddler will realise she’s being excluded and punished.
6. How can I prepare my toddler to sit nicely with us at family meal times?
Barbara advises, “From the time your baby starts eating solids, preferably around the age of 6 months, try and eat together as a family at the table. Sit your baby in a highchair from the beginning. Try as far as possible to make meal times fun, family times. Talk to each other with no TV or other distractions.
When eating at home I personally don’t like toddlers to play with toys, read or watch television. Meal times should remain just that. Bad habits are easily developed and difficult to get rid of. Once you start bad habits like watching TV and eating, they become difficult to break.
- Take your baby out with you to family restaurants from an early age.
- Take a few toys with you as a distraction when your child gets bored. Books are great, and from about a year of age you can take colouring in books and crayons.
- From about 9 months of age you should encourage your baby to eat finger foods
- The use of safe utensils should be encouraged from the age of about 1 year.
- Remember that children learn by example from a young age – they mimic and copy all the time. Parents should eat a good balanced diet and they should eat at the table with good table manners and correct use of eating utensils.
- Bad behaviour of toddlers at restaurants is not to be tolerated. This is family time and a treat. If your older toddler doesn’t behave, leave the restaurant and get your food as a take-away. The next time you eat out, leave your toddler with a babysitter, but let her know she’s being left at home because she couldn’t behave appropriately in restaurant.
- Reward good behaviour with small treat, dessert or ice-cream. Also lots of praise!
- Family restaurants help parents relax and are a great treat for toddlers. But it’s also important for babies and toddlers to be exposed to more formal restaurants, so they can learn how to behave appropriately.
7. When should I start thinking about play dates for my toddler?
Between the age of 2 and 3 years old, you’ll see your child beginning to play with other children and not just alongside them. Encourage your child’s sociability and friendships by arranging short play dates with other children. Don’t expect too much at this age, though. A 2-year-old can become annoyed with other children, and sharing toys can be hard for her.
You might find the children become aggressive towards each other, often over disputed ownership or taking turns. This is normal, although you’ll need to stop any hitting and hurting.
Barbara adds, on a cautionary note, “My feeling is up until the age of about 5 years of age, if at all possible, moms should remain at their children’s playdates – unless perhaps the playdate is at the home of a very close friend or family member. Security is important and your child will feel more secure.”
- If you are hosting the play date, try to prepare your toddler in advance. Tell her that you expect her to share her toys, but emphasise that even though the visiting friend is going to play with the toys, he’s not going to keep them
- Put away her most precious possessions before her little friend comes over. This might make her feel more willing to share the toys that are left out
- Keep reminding her throughout the playdate that her toys will still belong to her alone when the playdate is over
- If your toddler does grab a toy from the other child, step in quickly. Firmly, but without anger, return the toy to the child who had it first and tell your child, "No grabbing!"
- Then remind your child that if she wants something that someone else is already playing with, she must wait her turn
- Don’t make playdates for toddlers last too long. One to two hours is probably close to the limit for any two toddlers, at least at first
- If things are getting heated, try the gentle art of distraction. Failing that, take the particular toy away, bring out a duplicate (if you have a close enough match), or call an end to the playdate.
8. How do I know when my toddler is ready for playschool?
Barbara comments, “You will probably find that your toddler is ready for playschool when you can’t stimulate her enough at home any more on a daily basis.”
As a rule of thumb, between the ages of 2 and 3 is probably a good time to think about sending your child to play school. However, be cautious about sending a very sickly child to play school too early. Premature babies are often especially vulnerable to illnesses carried by other children. In general, children under 2 are more prone to infections because their immune systems are still very immature
- Consider your own and your child’s individual circumstances and personality when you are thinking of starting your child in playschool
- Some playschools only take children who are potty-trained. Others will assist with potty training your child and expect you to carry on at home
- Look to see high standards of cleanliness in the playschool and that communal toys all appear to be cleaned regularly
- Once you’ve introduced your child to playschool, stick with it. Taking her once or twice a week doesn’t allow her to get into the routine. On the other hand, she’s just not ready, then remove her from playschool, give her some time and start again later
- Overall, it usually takes about a week to settle a child into play school if everyone is patient and she’s ready
- Make sure that there are enough people in the school who are trained in CPR. In an emergency you want your child, in your absence, to be helped immediately. For more information on CPR courses, you could IESA (the Institute of Emergency First Aiders) on (011) 822 3428.
9. How can I encourage my toddler to be truthful?
Until she’s 3 or 4, your child isn’t really able to distinguish between reality and fantasy. What that means is that it’s impossible for your 2-year-old to grasp the concepts of lying and telling the truth. She has an active imagination, which should certainly be encouraged, and in addition, she might have actually forgotten that she made those crayon marks on the wall! Or else she so fervently wishes that she hadn’t made them, she convinces herself that she didn’t.
Try not to punish your 2-year-old when she embellishes the truth. Instead, enjoy your child’s tall tales. Highly embroidered fantasies are generally harmless and part of a 2-year-old’s normal development. The same goes for imaginary friends – they are quite normal, and signal a child’s well-developed imagination.
- Encourage truth-telling. Instead of getting annoyed if your toddler was naughty, thank her for telling you about it. Praise her for admitting that she ate the biscuit and try not to scold her
- Don’t accuse. Make your comments in such a way that they invite confession, not denial: "I wonder how those crayons got all over the living-room carpet? I wish someone would help me pick them up."
- Build trust. Let your child know that you trust her and that you can be trusted. You need to be a role model for your child, so try to be truthful yourself and when you can’t keep to a previous arrangement, explain why (if your child is old enough to understand) and apologise for breaking a promise.
10. How do I get my toddler to give up her dummy?
The issue of when and how your toddler should give up her dummy can be an emotional one for many parents. The UK’s “Supernanny”, Jo Frost, believes that it’s good to give a dummy to a newborn – if she’ll take it – because it aids soothing when going to sleep, as “a baby’s natural instinct is to suck and then fall asleep,” she says. She warns that not every baby likes a dummy, so play it by ear.
She also cautions that many parents use their dummy in the wrong way – to keep their baby from making a noise when she’s awake – and comments further that some parents use the dummy for too long.
She says, “No baby should go past a year with a dummy, and the sooner he can sleep without one, the better. Overuse of dummies can stop a child from learning other ways to comfort himself. It also arches the mouth and can cause mouth sores and buck teeth, and delay speech. So wean it away at no later than 12 months during the day, and 18 months at night.”
A different approach
However, local businessman and father, William Wertheim Aymes of NUK, has a different approach. He is a firm believer that dummies need not be the “demon” that some people would have them.
He comments, “Some children absolutely need a dummy and some don’t, and then there is a whole spectrum who fall somewhere in between regarding their feelings on a dummy. I don’t believe that there is a particular age by which a child should be encouraged or even forced to give up a dummy.”
He continues, “All children need a form of comforting. They can choose to use any one of the five following things as a comfort object: their mother’s breast, which can be impractical for the mother; a blankie or soft toy, which can get lost or become very dirty and unhygienic; using their bottle as a comforter, which causes problems particularly regarding the contents of the bottle potentially eroding the enamel of your baby’s teeth; a thumb or other finger, which is potentially a severe problem because over a prolonged period of time, it can substantially change the shape of the mouth; and lastly, an orthodontic dummy, which has been specifically designed for the purpose of exercising your baby’s jaw in the correct way in between feeds. Orthodontic dummies are designed specifically to ‘fill the gap’ in the mouth while the baby’s sucking without damaging the formation of the mouth over time.”
William further comments that the use of a dummy in your young baby has also been clinically proven to halve the incidence of cot death, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Etiquette for dummies!
William therefore strongly advises the use of an orthodontic dummy as a pacifier, and says, “Let your child give it up when she’s ready and expect this to happen at least by the age of five. However, you must remember – and I stress this – that every child is different. Let the decision to ditch the dummy be driven by the child, not the parent.
“And use dummy etiquette! Don’t allow your child to talk to you with a dummy in her mouth. When a baby can talk, she’s capable of learning, and she can learn not to talk with her dummy in her mouth – you must instill this discipline in your child.
“Remembering always the unique personality of your child, there will come a time when your child needs to learn that the dummy is for sleep times and not for use during the day. I would say that the age of 3 years is a rough indicator.
“However, don’t traumatise your child by forcing the issue - when it comes to dealing with a dummy, it has to be a negotiation, not a parent-driven task The psychological damage of forcing a child to remove her soother too early is almost impossible to repair.”
But you still want your toddler to ditch her dummy...
It would seem that “when” to ditch that dummy is a very individual thing and parents need to assess whether their child is emotionally ready to give up his dummy. Here are some tips on “how” to do it when you’re all ready.
- Gradually limit the times your toddler has access to her dummy, until you are giving it to her only when she’s settling down to sleep
- During the day when she’s demanding it, try to occupy her in other pleasurable ways with stories, songs and games. She should start to enjoy the interaction with you more than the dummy
- For a child aged 3 to 4 years, a star or sticker chart can be very effective. Initially give her a star or sticker if she manages to get to lunchtime without her dummy, and again before bedtime. Make sure she gets positive reinforcement by showing the chart to other family members and the teacher at her nursery school and praise her for her efforts
- In addition, try to substitute the dummy with a new cuddly toy or other comforter
- When her use of the dummy has finally been pared down to the bare minimum, you can ceremoniously discard the dummy – for example, you could give the dummy to the “Dummy Fairy” - in exchange for a present for your child