When children learn to walk, they are referred to as toddlers. This term is typically applied to one and two-year-old children. It is a very erratic time in a child’s life. Each stage or skill the child masters, a new stage begins, and each child’s growth and development pattern is unique. Children bursting with energy and ideas have an insatiable need to explore. It is important to provide a safe environment for them.
Usually between two and a half to three years of age children express an interest in toiled training and by age three they are ready to be known as preschoolers.
The toddler years are a time of transition, especially between 12–24 months, when they’re learning to eat table food and accepting new textures and tastes. Your child might need repeated exposure to a new food before he or she takes the first bite. Growth slows during the toddler years, but healthy eating should still be a top priority. Kids begin to eat and drink more independently during this time.
When serving table food, give small portions to avoid overwhelming your child and give him or her the opportunity to independently ask for more.
Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. You can provide milk or water with the food, but offer water between meals and snacks. Allowing your child to fill up on juice, milk or snacks throughout the day can decrease his or her appetite for meals.
This is the perfect age to experiment with all the senses, including touch — it isn’t just texture and taste that’s important. There are a variety of products with bright, colorful packaging toddlers can grab and squish. Encourage your child by talking about the food’s color, shape and smell. Introduce new foods along with your child’s favorites. Cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters, offer breakfast foods for dinner. Create patterns with brightly colored food on the plate. Have food fun!
Take your toddler to the grocery store with you and have them select the fruits and vegetables they want to eat. Have you child help you in the kitchen by rinsing fruits and veggies or by setting the table.
Lastly, if you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to follow suit. Model the eating behavior you want your child to have.
It is easy for parents to identify their child’s physical needs: nutritious food, warm clothes, an early bedtime, etc. A child’s mental and emotional needs may not be as obvious. Good mental health allows children to think clearly, develop socially and learn new skills. Additionally, encouraging words from adults are all important for helping children develop self-confidence, self-esteem, and a healthy outlook on life.
Children learn who they are and how to communicate needs and feelings through interactions with their parents and caregivers. Thus, communicating with children is critical to the formation of their identity and largely helps determine how secure their sense of self and self-esteem are.
It is so difficult to follow the emotional ups and downs of a two-year-old. The mood swings, however, are just part of growing up. They are signs of the emotional changes taking place as your child struggles to take control of actions, impulses, feelings, and his body. This is the age for testing limits – their own, yours, and their environment.
When your child oversteps a limit and is pulled back, they may react with anger and frustration, possibly with a temper tantrum. At this age, there isn’t much control over emotional impulses, so anger and frustration tend to erupt suddenly in the form of crying, hitting, biting or screaming.
Whatever protest pattern they have developed around this age probably will persist for some time. Whatever the behavior, try not to overreact by scolding or punishing him. If your child suffers from separation anxiety, for instance, the best tactic is to reassure them before you leave that you will be back and, when you return, to praise them for being patient while you were gone.
The more confident and secure your two-year-old feels, the more independent and well behaved they are likely to be. You can help develop these positive feelings by encouraging mature behavior. Consistently set reasonable limits that allow them to explore and exercise curiosity, but that draw the line at dangerous or antisocial behavior. The key is consistency. Praise every time the child plays well with another child, or whenever they feed or dress themselves without your help. As you do this, the child will start to feel good about these accomplishments and his or herself. With self-esteem on the rise, a positive self-image develops, and the negative behavior will fade.
Positive reinforcement works to help change someone’s behavior. To change a behavior, you first need to find the right reward. Some examples of positive rewards can be:
- Compliments such as “I appreciate your help” or “You are doing great!”
- Fun activities such as a movie or ball game
- Treats such as a healthy snack, ice cream, or toys
- Sticker charts to track good behavior
- Money or tokens given right after the behavior, such as 10 cents for 10 minutes of picking up your room
Once you decide on the reward, you need to:
- Catch the child doing the right behavior or something close to it
- Reward the behavior right away
- Reinforce the change until it becomes a habit.
Here are some easy examples of how you can use positive reinforcement at home to shape your child’s behavior:
Good Effort Eating Your Dinner — One Bite at a Time!
If mealtimes are a battle, reinforce your child taking a bite of food even if he doesn’t eat the entire thing. It can be tempting to bribe your child with dessert for eating dinner, but this can lead to bad eating habits later in life.
Praise Steps Leading Up to the Desired Behavior
Instead of nagging your child to brush their teeth, notice, praise and reinforce the steps leading up to the teeth brushing. Don’t reinforce the struggle. Once you’ve explained it’s time to brush your teeth and they are moving toward the bathroom, verbally praise them for starting the process.
Celebrate the Effort
Sometimes kids can be timid about trying something new. To encourage them, praise your child’s effort. Tell them you are proud of them trying something new even if they were scared.
You can encourage improved behaviors through praising the process rather than the outcome, being specific in your reinforcement and offering it right when the situation occurs.
Mental Health America
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health
Family Support America
National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities
National Association of School Psychologists