Friday, October 28, 2011

Top 10 Toddler Milestones - by Melinda Copp

Many moms worry about their child's development, especially in infancy. But as your child grows and becomes more active, you probably spend more time worrying about what they're getting into than whether or not they are achieving their developmental milestones. Even if you don't have time to think about them until they happen, the following are the top 10 milestones your child will reach in her toddler years. 

1. Object Permanence

Object permanence is an important cognitive developmental milestone, which means that your toddler knows that an object still exists even when it is out of sight. In infancy, your child would quickly forget a toy or other object as soon as you stuck it in your purse or put it away, which made wrangling the remote and the telephone from him a little easier. But when you try to hide something from an 18 month old, he will wonder where it is and want to find it.

2. Talk, Talk, Talk

Most little ones start babbling "mama" and "dada" by 1 year of age. By 15 months, your toddler probably knows several words and loves using them. For many, "no" is a favorite because as they start getting into everything, "no" is a word they hear several times a day. By about 2 years, your toddler will be able to combine two words and say simple sentences like, "daddy home" and "me bye-bye." From there, your child's vocabulary will build every day, and the ability to combine more and more words will develop as well.

3. Climbing

When your toddler starts climbing on furniture and staircases, you need to upgrade your baby proofing.  Dining room chairs, coffee tables, couches, and staircases become your toddler's favorite things to explore. And try to keep a cool head the first time you see your little one on the verge of a fall.
"Don't panic when they are in a dangerous place," says Dr. Alexander Horowitz, a pediatrician at the Volunteers in Medicine Clinic in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, who gives presentations on child development. "You can avoid falls by carefully redirecting them." If you panic, you might startle your little one and cause him to stumble.

4. Elaboration of Locomotion

Along with climbing, your toddler will be developing her ability to run and jump. These skills are part of GROSS MOTOR DEVELOPMENT, or large muscle functions that control the movements of their growing bodies. "They have no fear," Dr. Horowitz says. "Especially if they have developed trust that you'll catch them." As these skills develop, your toddler will grow more and more active and athletic.

5. Walking Up and Down Stairs

The ability to walk up and down stairs one foot at a time is another gross motor skill. Although your toddler may start climbing up the stairs on all fours as early as 1, the ability to go up and down one foot at a time won't develop until around 20 months of age.

6. Fine Motor Skills

All the smaller, more dexterous movements that involve concentration and hand-eye coordination are FINE MOTOR SKILLS. Your child starts mastering these skills with the pincher grasp. Then he develops the ability to stack two blocks and put one object inside another around 14 months. By 18 months, your child will probably try scribbling on paper (or whatever else is around) with a crayon.
"By 3, your child will be scribbling circles with crayons," says Dr. Tricia Fine, a physician with the Columbus Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "But they start working on these skills early and progress with age."

7. Getting Dressed

By 3, toddlers can partially dress themselves. But they are able to take off some of their clothes much earlier than that. Your little one may like to take off his shoes and diaper as early as 1 year, which can lead to a lot of naked toddler chasing. Your 1-year-old should also be able to help you dress him by lifting his arms over his head and holding his legs up when you put on his pants.

8. Expressing Emotions

"At around 18 months, [toddlers] may feel a sense of frustration that they don't know how to express themselves," Dr. Fine says. Your tot will likely resort to tantrums and fits to communicate frustration, which is why toddlerhood is frequently referred to as the "terrible twos."
"You should give them words to describe what they are feeling so they understand that emotions are normal," Dr. Fine says. Good communication with your toddler will help ease the challenges of this phase of his life.
Along with these negative emotions, your toddler will be able to better express his feelings of love and trust through affection. Your 1-year-old will be able to put his little arms around you, and may even attempt a sloppy, open mouth kiss from time to time.

9. Eating with a Spoon

When teaching your little one to eat with a spoon, practice is the key. And although your child is probably familiar with the idea of eating off a spoon, the concept of using the utensil on his own is completely new.
"We've been practicing eating with a spoon," says Madden, whose daughter is almost 15 months old. "She starts out using it, but then eventually ends up playing with it." By 18 months, your child should be able to feed himself with a spoon.

10. Playing Make Believe

At some point, between ages 2 and 3, your toddler will start playing make believe. As your toddler develops, you'll notice him sitting and keeping busy with one or two favorite toys. And before you know it, he'll be in a world all his own.
"As soon as they can sit still you can play with a doll together and tell your child stories about what they're doing," Dr. Horowitz says. This will help develop her ability to make believe all on her own.
Toddlerhood is the phase of your child's life when he gains mobility, independence and the desire to see how everything works. "Toddlers are like scientists exploring everything," Dr. Fine says. "The world is an amazing place and you can't stop their curiosity."

Teaching Toddlers To Be Independent

Teaching toddlers to be independent is all part of the growing-up process. With each new task learned and mastered-or at least improved upon-confidence grows.

"Toddlers get a lot out of being given the opportunity to do things independently," says Kevin Osborn, father of four and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing up Baby. "Doing something all by himself will probably surprise him the first few times while at the same time filling him with joy and delight … Success (no matter how many times it was preceded by failure) in doing something he wanted to do will boost the toddler's self-confidence—making him more willing to take on new challenges tomorrow."

When Does Independence Begin?

Opportunities to learn begin at birth and should be offered consistently. Simple tasks, like eating with utensils and undressing, are early skills toddlers can learn, usually by around 13 months of age, according to Dr. Elizabeth O'Connell, a pediatrician practicing in Newport Beach, California. "Most toddlers will begin to do these things on their own, given the time and opportunity," she says. "Undressing can take a while when they are first learning, and learning to feed yourself using utensils is always messy (but fun!)."

Sometimes it's easier (and faster) to complete a task ourselves. But it's best to allow extra time for them to do it themselves—and to let them express their creativity along with independence. "I have a rule in my house," says Hazel Larkin of Dublin, Ireland. "As long as the child dresses herself, then I have no business to comment on what she is wearing, as long as it is weather-appropriate. I am not entitled to comment on her [color] coordination. She has saved me a job. If I want her dressed in matching stuff, then it's up to me to dress her."

Osborn believes there's nothing wrong with parents doing things for their toddler—even when she could do them herself. But a parent who insists on doing it all may unwittingly deny a child the opportunity to learn. "A toddler will develop more skills more quickly the more opportunities she is given to practice them," she says.

Nurturing Independence

What's the best way to teach toddlers independence? There are as many answers as toddlers. Every child is an individual, learning at his own pace, showing interest in different tasks. Dr. O'Connell says toddlers are great mimics, and this is a good place to start teaching them. "When they are beginning to feed themselves, you can help them grasp the spoon or fork with the correct end, point toward their mouth, and they may even need a little assistance in hitting that target," she says.

Other tricks include dressing them in elastic-waist pants when they seem interested in helping remove their own clothes. "Some toddlers may need help figuring out how to pull down their pants, but will master it quickly when they are ready," Dr. O'Connell says. "Of course, this new skill will lead to the challenge of keeping the pants on, but it is one of the first steps toward being able to toilet train!"

Jennifer Waldburger, a licensed social worker and co-founder of Sleepy Planet, believes in offering lots of choices throughout the day. This allows toddlers to practice independence and express their own opinions. "Always offer two choices that work for you," Waldburger says. For example: "It's time to get in the car now—do you want to put your coat on by yourself, or do you want me to help you?" (Don't ask "Do you want to get in the car?" This allows them to say no.) At bedtime: "Do you want to wear the green pajamas or the blue ones?" If your toddler is preverbal, he can point to his choice.
"Another upside to offering choices is that toddlers who are beginning to want to make their own decisions will be less likely to get into power struggles with you when given the chance to flex their own muscles a bit," Waldburger says.

Encouraging the Reluctant Toddler

Not all kids naturally desire independence. But there are ways to encourage them. Dr. O'Connell suggests making tasks fun. "Sometimes it will be more fun for them to feed you with utensils ('Give Mommy a bite and then you take a bite')," she says. "Another example of this would be picking up toys, which can be made into a game or done to music."
Waldburger warns that toddlers tend to have a low frustration tolerance. "So you are always trying to walk a fine line between allowing some independence/encouraging creative problem solving, but not allowing your child to get so frustrated on a regular basis that he gives up," she says. "As long as he's completing most of the tasks you're giving him, he's doing well. If he's more frustrated than not, then you're probably a couple of steps ahead of where he is, and it's time to lower expectations a bit."