The Growing Years
Reviews by Kristy Meisner Ouellette, Extension educator; and Kate Yerxa, assistant Extension professor.
Special thanks to Cathy Jacobs, director, and staff of Parents Are Teachers, Too, at Downeast Health Services, for their reviews.
Your child enjoys other special adults
Have you noticed how much your child enjoys other special adults—grandparents, aunts, uncles, older friends, and neighbors?
You, her parents, are the most important adults in your child’s life. But your child also learns from other caring adults that she can trust, love, and enjoy. They make her world more varied, interesting, and exciting. Encourage these special relationships.
Your toddler needs these adult relationships. They can be a precious part of her life.
Especially for solo parents
A parent who “goes it alone” can certainly raise healthy children, although it will take extra time and effort.
To feel secure, children need confident, competent parenting. This means that all parents need to do the following things:
Moving from place to place makes children feel insecure. Try to stay once you find a neighborhood where you are comfortable. This gives your child a chance to learn the landmarks and people in the area, and will help them do better once they start school.
Single parents should try to provide a positive view of the other sex. As a mother, for example, this means making sure that your children get to spend time with men whom you want them to like and admire. The same idea is true for solo dads. Children should spend time with women you want them to like and admire.
Children also need to see healthy interactions between adults. You may want your child to spend time with relatives or friends who are couples, to see how committed partners communicate with one another.
Moving from place to place can make children feel insecure. Try to stay once you find a neighborhood where you are comfortable.
If you are recently divorced or separated, it is easy to feel angry and bitter toward your “ex.” Sharing these feelings with your child will only confuse him. Instead, talk with a counselor or adult friend. When you talk about the other parent to your child, do so in a way that is positive or neutral, never critical.1
It is hard on children when they get close to—and then lose—adult friends. This can happen as their parents start and end relationships. If this happens several times, it can make children afraid of getting close to anyone new.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t date? Of course not. Your needs are important, too. You need to socialize with adults.
If you want your child to know a special adult friend in your life, gradually introduce your child to that person. Wait until you feel that the relationship might grow into something more stable and long-term. Your child will form his own relationship with your new partner.
Don’t be surprised if your toddler feels jealous and threatened, though. This is normal. Be sure to continue having plenty of family times together, without outsiders. Talk to him about how important he is and how much you love him. This helps show your child that you are the person who will always be there for him.
What’s it like to be 2 1/2 years old?
How I grow
How I talk
What I am learning
How I get along with others
What I can do for myself
Play I enjoy
Remember that all children develop at their own pace. Look for your child’s growth in each area. Then you can encourage each new skill.
Child care: help your child get off to a good start
Leaving your toddler in a new child care center or preschool may be hard for both of you. Your child will face new adults and children, new routines, and new limits. She is used to your comfort and help. She may be scared about being alone, and angry with you for leaving her.
You may worry that the teachers won’t care for your child the way you would, or that they may ignore or hurt her. You may worry that she will embarrass you by crying or misbehaving. These feelings are normal when beginning something new. Some planning may make you feel better.
Preparing your child
You have already taken the first step by carefully choosing child care that you think is right for your child. You have found child care workers that you like and can begin to trust. Now, talk with your child about what is going to happen. She may not understand everything that you say, but she certainly will pick up your feelings of confidence.
If possible, visit the program with your child before her first full day. Let her watch and explore, with you there for help and security. Show her where the bathroom is and where she will hang her coat.
Talk with the teacher about your child before she begins the program. Tell the teacher about your child’s eating and sleeping schedule, allergies, and other health concerns. Give the teacher a list of allergies and medications in writing. You will want to talk about what upsets your child and how she can be comforted.
The first day at preschool
On the day that your child starts in the program, bring all the forms, clothes, equipment, and food that the teachers request. You will need your child’s immunization record, so make sure to get it from her doctor in advance. Also bring one of your child’s favorite things, such as a stuffed animal, a blanket, or a toy.
Arrive a few minutes early so you can talk with the caregiver, put away your child’s things, and sit with your child to watch what is going on. When it’s time to leave, with a calm face and hugs and kisses, say, “Goodbye. I’ll be back this afternoon.”
Your child may cry, scream, kick, or retreat to a corner with her thumb in her mouth. She may like this place, but she wants you with her and needs to say so. Even though it is very hard, keep walking. Remember that you trust the teacher and trust your child. Children usually stop crying in a couple of minutes. It may help to call the teacher in an hour to ask how your child is doing.
When you pick up your child, greet her with warmth. Use words that show her that you are proud of her. Tell her that you are proud that she made it through the day. Don’t be surprised if she is both glad to see you and mad that you left her, or reluctant to leave because she had so much fun. Give her some time to transition to going home—don’t just rush in and pick her up and rush out. Give her a chance to see you and understand that it’s time to get ready to go home. She’ll need to finish playing, pick up her toys, and get her coat on.
You can help most by trusting . . .
After starting child care, some children change eating and sleeping patterns. Some children need more time curled up in their parents’ laps or sucking their thumbs. These behaviors will change as your child becomes more comfortable in the child care program.
Remember that you are helping your child learn how to adjust to changes that may be frightening. We all need to learn how to do this!
Sugar and behavior
Does eating sugar make children hyperactive? Lots of people think so, but more than a dozen scientific studies show quite the opposite.2,3 If anything, eating foods high in sucrose—sugar—tends to have a calming effect on the nervous systems of both children and adults. The same is true for eating other foods that are high in carbohydrates, like pasta, bread, or cereal.
If sugar does not cause hyperactivity, then why do children seem so “hyper” after Halloween or a big birthday party? It probably has nothing to do with the sugar, but maybe due to the excitement of the day.
So, should you let your child eat freely from the candy bag? No. Sugar contributes to tooth decay. It also provides empty calories, calories with almost no vitamins or minerals, which can easily take the place of more nutritious foods. Eating too many empty calories leads to overweight and obesity. There is sugar in many of the foods that your child might eat every day—look for these ingredients, and try to avoid buying foods that contain them: high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, or fructose. These are all added sweeteners that do not add any nutrients.
Did you know that some sweet treats like chocolate and many sodas have caffeine in them, and caffeine is a stimulant? Caffeine should not be given to children, but this may explain why kids sometimes get hyper when eating sweets!
Nutrition: snacks with appeal
Your child was born liking sweet things. That’s why snacks like ice pops, cakes, cookies, and candy are so appealing. They all tend to be high in sugar and very sweet. But these snacks offer little in the way of good nutrition. They provide empty calories with almost no vitamins or minerals. They can also lead to dental problems.
Nutritious, tasty snacks
Many nutritious foods are naturally tasty and will appeal to your child. Here are some suggestions:
*For children with peanut allergies, try an alternative like soy nut, almond, or sunflower butter instead of peanut butter.
Books on nutrition
Bissex, Janice Newell, 2004. Mom’s Guide to Meal Makeovers. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
Satter, Ellyn, 2005. Your Child’s Weight: Helping Without Harming. Madison, WI: Kelcy Press.
Punishment doesn’t teach
When children misbehave, we need to stop them, let them know what they have done wrong, and tell them why it is wrong. Most importantly, we need to teach them the right thing to do.
When children are punished, adults make them experience something unpleasant to “pay” for doing something wrong. Adults want to stop the behavior, so they do something like spanking or sending a child to her room.
Punishment usually does stop the unwanted behavior for a while, but it can cause problems, too.4 Punishment may cause children to fight back or be more disruptive. It may teach them that they can do what they want, as long as they are willing to “pay the price” of punishment. They could come to feel like “bad” children—unloved and unlovable—and give up trying to please you.
Punishment usually does not help children learn what they should do—only what they should not do. Punishment does not guide or teach. It does not build a sense of personal responsibility.
A young child who has done something wrong may not know what he should have done. If your toddler throws a toy truck at his sister because she won’t let him play with her ball, he needs to learn why he should not throw trucks. He also needs to learn how to manage without having the ball. This calls for guidance, not punishment.
Of course you need to keep your toddler from throwing trucks. You also need to tell him in simple words why he should not throw the truck, and how he can play with other toys until it’s his turn to play with the ball. He may need a time-out to cool his anger. If you are patient, he will learn to cooperate. Punishment alone cannot teach him this.
Help him learn to put names to how he feels (like “sad” or “angry”). This shows that you understand, and that it’s okay to feel a certain way.
Learning about sounds and weights
Help me learn about the sounds of things. Ask me to close my eyes. Ring a bell, shake a rattle, or jingle some coins, and let me guess what is making the sound.
Let me hold heavy and light things. Use the words “heavy” and “light” when you tell me about them, so that I can learn the difference. Ask me to pick up the heavy thing or the light thing, so I can practice what I have learned.
Try on your child’s view of the world
Sometimes, it’s easier to understand and guide toddlers if we try to see the world as they do. Most of us don’t remember what it was like to be a toddler, so we have to use our imaginations. If you can see the world through your child’s eyes, you may find you have a little more patience.
Suppose your child runs up to you happily to show you that she has learned to take the arms off her doll. Do you think first of the armless doll, or do you see the world through her eyes? Can you share her happiness and show her how proud you are of her new found skill?
Or maybe she has just learned that she can hit two pans together and make a beautiful, loud noise. Is your first thought to stop the terrible noise or to show her your pleasure with her new discovery?
Children love to learn. Encourage this learning now. Repairing the doll or quieting the banging can come later, as you help your child use this new skill in a more acceptable way.
It’s not always easy to set aside your own feelings to appreciate your toddler’s achievements. But try it! You may find that it makes life with your child more fun for both of you.
Checking toddler development
How do we know whether our toddlers are learning what they need to become healthy children? A health professional can give children a developmental assessment as they learn to walk, feed themselves, listen to stories, say words, ask for toys, and follow directions.
A developmental assessment compares your child with other children of similar ages. This helps find possible delays. Even though children’s development normally varies, infants and toddlers tend to learn similar tasks at similar ages.
Doctors or nurses do an initial assessment as part of the child’s checkup and health history. They will watch and talk to the toddler. Information from you is especially important since parents know the child best.
If the doctor finds a delay, ask for more testing by experts in child growth and development. If a toddler lags far behind, he may gain from special help. In Maine, call “2-1-1” for a referral if you think your child may be delayed.
Early intervention services are available in Maine to help children from birth through age 2. Children who are 3 and older can receive services through special education. Services will include things like speech therapy or physical therapy. The agency responsible for providing services for eligible children in Maine is known as Child Development Services (CDS), a division of the Maine Department of Education. CDS has an office in every county in Maine.
Games for growing
Help your child learn about “the same” and “different” and increase her observation skills.
How to play
Draw four or five pictures or cut out four or five shapes that are all the same except one. Start with having your child match pictures or shapes that are very different, such as four pictures of trees and one picture of a house, or four red triangles and one white circle.
Later, you can make the “different” pictures more like the others: for example, four dogs and a cat, or four small red triangles and one large red triangle. Ask your child to show you the one that is different from the others. Take turns.
You can also play this with safe objects found around the house and yard, such as four bottle caps and a rock, four spoons and a fork, or four red flowers and a white one.
Encourage your child’s physical development and help her learn how to follow a path.
How to play
This game can be played indoors or out. When your child isn’t looking, make a path marked out by chalk, a rope, a garden hose, or string. Be creative. Lay out the path so that it goes around in circles, over rocks, upstairs, under tables, through tunnels, and so on. Let your child follow the path alone, or you can take turns leading each other.
Help your child with physical development and teach her about rhythm and music.
How to play
Children love music. A musical parade is a great way to burn off energy indoors!
Play some marching music. Make homemade instruments from spoons, cooking pots, or other things that make noise. Then march around the house to the music while playing your instruments.
Keep in mind that this activity can be loud. It’s not the sort of play to do just before bedtime or if your child is sensitive to noise.
Remember: play games only as long as they are fun for both you and your child. Encourage your child’s efforts, and don’t criticize failures.
Getting control over your life
Sometimes, stress comes from feeling as if you have so many problems that you can’t even begin to solve them all. But if you handle one problem at a time, you may begin to feel that you’re in control of your life.
Here is one problem-solving strategy:
1. Start with one problem that you can solve quickly. An example might be that you can’t get from work to the preschool on time to pick up your child, and often must pay a late charge.
2. Think about all the possible ways to solve the problem. For example, you could ask someone to help pick up your child in exchange for a service you can offer them, or you could carpool with other families.
3. Pick the solution that is most possible and most comfortable to you. Maybe you can afford to pay a babysitter for just a few hours on days that are especially difficult. Or, maybe you can adjust your work schedule.
4. Plan the steps of your solution. Decide exactly what you’re going to do. Think about the steps that you must take to make the solution work.
Solving problems one at a time may seem slow. But each problem solved helps you feel more in charge of your life.
Is your child highly sensitive?
Some children aren’t bothered by loud noises or scratchy tags. But 15 to 20 percent of children are very sensitive to stimulation such as taste, smell, touch, noise, lights, etc.
Sensitive children may complain about certain smells or refuse to eat another brand of peanut butter because it “tastes different.” Tags on clothes or lumps in socks may drive them crazy. The noise, lights, and crowd at a birthday party or the mall may easily overwhelm them, bringing on tears.
What can you do?
Enjoy the positive aspects of his sensitivity. He probably notices details that enrich our lives, like the shapes of clouds and the smell of flowers!
Books on sensitive children
Aron, Elaine, 2002. The Highly Sensitive Child. New York: Broadway Books.
Daniels, Susan and Michael Piechowski, eds., 2008. Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults. Scottsdale: Great Potential Press.
1Sandler, I., J. Miles, J. Cookston and S. Braver, 2008. “Unified family court: Effects of father and mother parenting on children’s mental health in high-and low-conflict divorces.” Family Court Review 46.
2Strupp, B. J., 2000. “Sugar does not cause hyperactive behavior.” Cornell Center for Materials Research. http://www.ccmr.cornell.edu/education/ask/index.html?quid=241 (accessed 27 August 2008).
3Anderson, H., 1997. “Sugars and health: A review.” Nutrition Research 17, no. 9: 1485–1498.
4Larzeler, R. E., 2000. “Child outcomes of nonabusive and customary physical punishment by parents: An updated literature review.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 3, no. 4: 199–221.
|He or she, him or her? This series gives equal time to both sexes. That’s why we take turns referring to children as “he” or “she.” Keep in mind that we are talking about all children when we use “he” or “she.”|
Months 1 through 36 of The Growing Years are reproduced and adapted with permission from the Parenting the First Year series published by University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension. All rights reserved.
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