Raising a Toddler
We all want the best for our children and many of us accrue hours, days, weeks or more trawling the internet for advice from experts, online communities of Mums and any other tit bits we happen upon. Here are a few sound pointers that have helped guide my parenting to date.
1. Speak to Your Kids. A Lot
- Talking to your little ones seems like an obvious one but the quantity and quality of words spoken from the outset has a direct effect on the extent of a child's vocabulary and capacity for learning new words. Children learn from you and, for at least the first year or so, it could only be you if are caring for your child as a single parent or your partner is out at work. This is the time when they are forming their basis for language for the rest of their lives. The extent of their adult vocabulary is determined by how many words they know up to the age of 2. There can be no turning back of the clock.
- To put it into perspective, one study found that ‘ found that 86% to 98% of the words used by each child by the age of three were derived from their parents’ vocabularies’. Another study by the University of Kansas done in 1995 showed that children living in poverty hear fewer than a third of the words that are heard by children from higher-income families. Extrapolated to the age of four years this results in a whopping 30 million word difference!
- This is both fascinating and astonishing stuff but even armed with the knowledge it is sometimes hard to put into practice. From personal experience I found it a struggle to speak all the time to my daughter in the early days even though I knew how important it was as well as the ramifications; your head is a dizzy mush of confusion and sleep deprivation is the hardest thing to battle through whilst still retaining your sanity.
2. Read to Children as Much as Possible
- Read, read, read and not just at bedtime. Reading is talking but it serves a different purpose. It is well worth reading to your child from the word dot, or even before. They may not understand what you’re saying initially but the sound of your voice will act as a soother and by starting out early on the reading front they will readily develop a love for books that might not be so easy to instill at a later date. Children love the repetitiveness of a familiar book and will slowly begin to know a well read, simple story by memory at the same time as their vocab really takes off (the age at which this happens does differ from child to child), often being able to interject the odd word if you pause to encourage them to do so at the end of sentences. This in turn will lead to recognizing words and slowly but surely leads to the ability to read.
- An anecdotal example of what not to do: A parent at a local primary school complained to the teacher as to why her child wasn’t progressing at reading. The teacher asked if they read together at home and the parent replied, “No.”
- It seems straightforward enough that parents have a major role in educating their children and shouldn’t expect that once they go to school it’s taken care of! A survey in the UK shockingly reported that only one third of parents read to their children at bedtime.
- One of our favorites is 'The Bedtime Bear' shown below on Amazon.
3. Beware of 'Healthy' Sugar
- Everybody knows that cakes, crisps and sweets, tasty as they are, serve no health purpose and need to be consumed in moderation (easier said than done), but what about the so-called healthy sugar? The likes of fruit juices, fruits, dried fruits and all manner of snacks that involve some kind of fruit and the word ‘healthy’. You can easily be forgiven for thinking that you are giving your kids something beneficial but the reality is some of these drinks contain more sugar than coke. For example, the amount of sugar in a tiny little packet of raisins is about 3 teaspoons of sugar and one of the medium snack boxes has about 8.5 teaspoons! When added up it amounts to a massive sugar hit that could be detrimental to your child’s health. Put simply, you wouldn’t encourage your child to scoff a load of candy bars throughout the course of a day but when sugar is coated in the guise of having health benefits it’s then that people get confused and it’s easy to see why.
- These days children are getting fussier and fussier when it comes to eating but if they’re not hungry because they have spent the day snacking and eating high quantities of sugar their appetite will be diminished enough to get picky over the offerings of dinner. Of course fruit and even dried fruit snacks do offer some goodness and should definitely be included in a child’s diet but it is important to pay attention to the quantities and the balance of other food groups.
- Another anecdotal example: A friend was very strict with what her boy would eat from the word go. No chocolate, crisps or unhealthy sweets/candy at all. When she took him to the dentist at the age of 2 he needed a filling in his milk teeth. This was purely from raisins and juice. When eating dried fruit as a child or adult be sure to check for sticky bits lodged in teeth happily working on creating cavities!
If you have children between the ages of 1 and 3, how often do they eat raisins?
Again if you have children between 1 and 3, how often do they drink squash or fruit juice?
4. Avoid Regular, Late Bedtime
- A UK study of 11,000 children aged seven showed that consistent late nights directly affected their ability to learn. Those that had no regular bedtime or went to bed later than 21:00 had lower scores for reading and maths. Children need more sleep than adults and they also need the routine element of a fairly consistent bedtime to help them develop not only reading and writing skills but also learn to self-discipline themselves.
5. Turn Off That Television!
- Keep TV to a minimum and avoid adult shows. Some research suggests that children should watch no television at all until the age of two as it stunts their creativity. There has also been research to show that for every hour a toddler watches television they lose 6-8 words in their vocabulary compared to children that don’t watch TV. This is because they are tuning into the TV and not to the talk around them. Television apparently doesn’t teach them vocab in the same way people talking do as they need to learn how the words are formed by looking at a speakers mouth, they need face-to-face communication. To put this into practice in this day and age can be a rather a tall order. Certainly it should be avoided altogether between the ages of zero and one but when a baby becomes a toddler and starts to understand the world around them then a small amount television can be used to boost their education by watching things like nursery rhyme videos and putting pictures to the songs that you sing. Arguably you can do this with a book too but as an alternative, watching a rhyme or two it isn’t going to be a creativity crushing, sensory overload.
- The video below is extremely informative and talks about the consequences of the wrong type of stimulation to a child's cognitive development.
6. Establish a Daily Routine for Your Child
- Get into a routine. Establishing a routine that a child can be sure of will make them feel secure. Children fear the unknown, unpredictable changes make them feel anxious and unsafe. Structure and order in daily routine and within a household encourage self-discipline and aid in the learning of constructive control. This doesn’t mean enforcing a regimented lifestyle and strictly insisting on a spotlessly clean and tidy home but predominately sticking to a few rules can definitely help. For example, always clearing away the toys, having a bath, brush teeth, read story, bed routine, having set times to do chores and homework. Rules are made to be broken and for the odd special occasion it is actually beneficial to break the routine as long as order then resumes!
- When a child is at TV watching age (watching educational, slow paced programs of course!) you can introduce them to the monotony of eating. Give them a bowl of carrots to sit and mindlessly eat as they are hypnotised by the TV. It works a treat.
7. Normalize Eating Healthy Food
- Normalize the eating of good food. All taste buds are different and sometimes a person just has an aversion to say peas, for example, but if a child tries a carrot and turns up his or her nose at first taste, don’t give up! Sometimes it can take up to ten attempts before they will accept something and readily eat it. As a child develops they may turn on and off of different foods and from around two plus they can get rather feisty, but whatever you do don’t stop trying!
- An example: My daughter loved avocado as a baby and then out of the blue she stopped eating it. I tried offering it to her for a while but she wasn’t interested. So I stopped. After a good few months at the age of about a year and a half she saw some on my plate and wanted it so I readily obliged and now she eats it again. Try to avoid labeling things with likes and dislikes, that is, ‘Tommy doesn’t like broccoli.’
8. Don't Pay Too Much Attention to Tantrums
- Avoid fueling the fire of rage by yelling and shouting. Stay calm and don’t argue back. State your case and justification and leave it at that.
- Give more attention to good behavior rather than bad behavior. If a child gets more of a reaction from throwing a tantrum or doing something naughty than by being well behaved they will remember this and may be encouraged to keep up the bad behavior. When your toddler has thrown themselves on the floor in the middle of the supermarket and is screaming his or her head off whilst shoppers give you unsympathetic stares, staying calm is a somewhat challenging task but trying to remain unflustered and authoritative whilst applying strategies of distraction are still the best things to do to avoid escalating the situation into outright war. Confusion tactics are also quite effective once they have a grasp of language, ‘How many stripy butterflies can you see over there?’ ‘What is that pink elephant doing sitting on box of cereal?’
9. Sing to Your Child
- A child can sing a song (in their own little incoherent way) before they know how to string a sentence together. Songs are a great way to teach things about the world to a child. Admittedly, the meanings of some of the classic nursery rhymes are a bit on the suspect side but for the most part it is a really good way to learn. Singing encourages self-expression, concentration and contentment; it lifts the spirit and is probably the best way to comfort and sooth a child.
- Every child is different and applying the same blanket strategy isn’t always going to work in every situation but these tips have served me well as a general guide to keep in mind whilst fumbling my way through being a Mum.