Help Baby Reach Those Toddler Milestones

Your child will gain independence by learning daily routines.

With our first child, we went strictly by the book. When our daughter was 18 months old, we were so adamant about her giving up the bottle, we told her she wouldn’t get a bedtime story if she didn’t drink her milk from a cup. Since books were her favorite toy at that time, she decided to try it. After that, the bottle was history.

But with our second, we missed those magic windows of opportunity. Even now, at age 8, our son still needs supervision when it comes to self-help routines, like taking a bath.

 “Children love ritual,” notes John Hill, a pediatrician with U.T. Le Bonheur Pediatric Specialists. “If parents start early and do it consistently (when needed), then the child acquires the skill.”

A study by the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning at Vanderbilt University indicates that young children need to be taught how to do simple self-help activities. First, clearly understand what you can expect of your child and then provide simple instructions about how to do a task.

“All children develop their own individual trajectories,” observes Amy Brode, Toddling Tots lead teacher at the Early Childhood Center at the Memphis Jewish Community Center. “It’s our job to assess their current skills and help them advance along their own path.”

Memphis Parent spoke to Hill and Brode to find out when a child should reach the important milestones that mark the growth and development of toddlers.
Brushing Teeth  
Pediatrician John Hill: Dentists recommend starting as soon as the teeth come in. If nothing more, a parent can use a finger with a little toothpaste on it to clean the teeth. Most importantly, this should be done after the final feeding before the child is put to bed. And no baby should go to bed with a bottle of anything, except water.
Hand Washing
Toddler Teacher Amy Brode: Hand washing is important because it helps to prevent the spread of germs. Starting around the age of 18 months, children can participate with many of the steps such as putting soap on their hands, putting their hands under the water, and drying their hands with a towel. We make sure they use soap and water well.

Taking a Bath
Hill: If you are comfortable and happy with bath time, your tot picks up on it. Singing songs and playing with special toys, while avoiding unpleasantries such as soap in the eyes, can ease the way.

Using a Fork or Spoon at the Table
Hill: This requires gross and fine motor maturity in addition to the child’s actually wanting to do it. By around 12 months, children usually want to try using silverware on their own. The parent will need a good sense of humor, since it’s tempting to clean the baby, high chair, and eating area with a hose at the end of the meal. By age 2, children should be proficient enough with spoon and fork to allow them to try it in public.
Brode: Typically, it’s the parents who want to do things for their children because it’s quicker, and parents sometimes have a hard time letting go of their “babies” and realizing that they are capable of doing things for themselves.

Drinking From a Cup
Hill: Obviously, there is no set answer here. The child who is fed on a bare linoleum floor will probably be allowed to try this at a younger age than one being fed in the dining room with an antique oriental rug on the floor. Usually, by age 2, a child can handle a partially filled glass or cup. It is just a matter of how many accidents you are willing to clean up after.

Dressing Themselves
Hill: This skill varies with each child. Some learn to button, snap, and zip using their own clothes, others learn on dolls. Children can usually dress themselves with help at around age 3; however, it takes another year or so to learn to do it solo. Tying shoes is usually that last primary dressing skill learned, at around ages 5 to 7.

Hill: To be honest, a child can be successfully potty trained only when he or she is ready. Remember, being “trained” does not just mean knowing and communicating the         need to eliminate. It means being able to communicate the need and still “hold it” until he or she can be put on the toilet. Being told to “wait a minute” should not precipitate an “accident.”

Brode: During potty training, we encourage parents to send them in clothes that children can independently pull up and down. This helps them become independent and saves time when they need to get to a potty quickly!

In what ways can parents partner with the teachers to help toddlers reach the important milestones?
Brode: Have open communication with your school. Talk to your teacher about the goals that are important at specific times so that you and your child can work on these together. If we are teaching children how to use a spoon at school, it’s helpful for parents to encourage children to use spoons at home. When parents are ready to help their children learn to use the potty, it is important for us to support this goal at school.  

1-2-3: Teaching Self-help Skills
•  Get down on your child’s eye level and gain his attention.
•  Break down the routine into simple steps and state each step with clear directions.
•  Take a photo of each step and post it where the routine takes place.
•  When teaching your child to do each step, model how it is done.
•  For activities that might be difficult, state the direction as “first/ then."
•  Encourage your child as each routine is completed and celebrate when the task is done.

Source: The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning at Vanderbilt University


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