How to Make Toddler Playtime Even Better

One of the best parts of parenthood is that you get to play like a kid again. Playing with your toddler is a blast, but there’s purpose behind this fun activity, too. Playtime aids in the development of important motor and cognitive skills and can help your toddler better understand the world around her.

Here are three ways to amp up your toddler’s playtime:

Challenge her imagination
Encourage your toddler to use her imagination to create wild, wonderful worlds that don’t already exist in her playroom. Building forts from pillows and blankets, singing into spoon ‘microphones’ and hosting tea parties for her stuffed animals are classic examples of imaginary play.

You can also foster this type of play by asking your toddler open-ended questions. So you might say something like, “What would happen if our couch was a boat?” or “Do you want to put on a puppet show with your dolls?” You might be surprised by what your toddler comes up with all on her own.

Reduce clutter
Providing a ton of toys for your toddler isn’t always the best course of action. If your toddler’s play space is packed, she may feel overwhelmed and lose focus.

Keep some of her toys in a closet and rotate out her “old” toys for “new” ones every few weeks. You’ll be surprised how much she appreciates her plastic piano when she’s not used it for a couple of days.

Back off
There’s tremendous value in encouraging independent play while you keep an eye out nearby. Independent play allows your toddler to feel more self-sufficient and can help encourage creativity.

When you do play together, be sure to give your toddler the opportunity to direct playtime. Often moms feel the need to talk the entire time they’re playing, but give your child the space to speak, too. You may be surprised what your toddler says when you give her the chance.

Photo by Guillaume de Germain on Unsplash

Welcome to the Toddler Years: Pros and Cons

Once your baby turns 1, it’s full steam ahead into the spirited, adventure-packed toddler years of baby development. Now the real fun begins!

No longer is your little one so helpless, fussy, and needy. Now she may seem downright fearless at times, but it’s all part of the toddler stage, a very exciting part of baby development. Check out some of the pros and cons of the initial stage of toddlerhood (12 to 15 months) for a preview of what’s to come.

Pro: Aw, she sounds just like … me!
One thing that begins to happen after your baby turns 1 year old is that she starts to imitate the sounds around her. Many a funny mommy-blunder occurs in this stage, when you discover that anything you say can and will be repeated -- often at inopportune times! Imitation plays an important role in learning and is a large part of play at this stage. Prepare to witness the most darling renditions of hair brushing, cell phone jabbering, cooking, and “reading” her favorite book to her doll. Get your camera ready!

Con: There she goes
In terms of reaching milestones, your toddler will likely be walking alone at this time period. While it’s exciting to see your child put one foot in front of the other all by herself, be prepared for a whole new level of watchfulness. You’ll likely be getting a lot more exercise, too, as you race around to keep up with your energetic toddler.

Pro: Peek-a-boo amps up
By now, your toddler understands object permanence -- that when objects disappear, they’re not gone, only hidden -- which sets the stage for the game of hide-and-seek. Not only will your toddler tire herself out hiding (in cutely obvious household spaces), she’ll also be able to hunt for hidden objects. Try hiding her favorite ball or stuffed animal, and marvel at her tireless willingness to call a search party. Let the games begin!

Con: What consequences?
Your fearless wonder will now take new risks. But don’t be shocked when bravery turns abruptly into tears. While your toddler is starting to understand the world better, she still lacks grown-up judgment and a sense of consequences. She’ll engage you in a constant tug-of-war for more independence and then cling to you the second she trips and falls, her ball rolls into the street, or a door slams on her fingers.

There is more that your child can do and is willing to try at this stage, but she still needs you to be her rock, comfort, and guide. Supervise carefully to ensure her safety.

Pro: Chatty Cathy in the house
Prepare to move beyond baby talk. Once your child reaches the 1-year mark, she’ll start to understand more of what you say -- and there’s less need for that high-pitched, singsong voice you used when she was an infant. You might be surprised to see her toddle toward the table when you ask, “Where’s your sippy cup?”

She’ll also start communicating more clearly. Many toddlers master at least 50 words by the time they turn 2 years old. Still, all children are unique and develop in their own ways. Girls tend to develop language skills more quickly than boys.

Con: Don’t leave me!
Believe it or not, separating from your child temporarily may be tougher on you than on your toddler at this point. Around this time, your toddler will become slightly more independent and can get excited about the idea of playing with friends. You might see some residual separation anxiety -- a natural byproduct of having one foot in the baby world and one foot in the toddler world. But it shouldn’t last long. Give your little one a quick hug and kiss, and assure her you’ll be back. In time, she’ll barely remember to wave before running off to play.

Pro: Growth control
Whereas your 1-year-old probably gained about 4 pounds every 2 to 4 months during infancy, her weight gain during her entire second year will be more like 3 to 5 pounds total. You’ll also see your toddler shed some of her baby fat as she develops muscles and becomes more active.

Con: Stubborn as an ox
You knew this was coming. At age 1, your baby will start to experiment more with directing the show. She won’t hesitate to scream no at the top of her lungs and shake her head fiercely. She may even drag her feet and kick and scream -- the classic toddler tantrum.

Try to stay calm while your child tries on her new freedom. You might miss your sweet, helpless cuddle bug at times, but know she is making strides in who she is. (In fact, her character and personality are developing right in front of your very eyes!) If all else fails, always remember: It’s just a stage.

Photo by Fernanda Greppe on Unsplash

Helping Your Baby Communicate

From the day he was born, your baby has been trying to communicate with you. That’s what all the crying, smiling, cooing, and babbling have been about. He’s saying, “I’m hungry,” “I’m sleepy,” “You make me happy,” and “I love you.” With each passing day, his communication skills improve. Sometime around your baby’s first birthday, he’ll probably come out with his first real word.

What’s more, speech development and social skills go hand in hand. Learning how to express his thoughts, wants, and needs will eventually help your child learn to connect with the people around him and become a sociable toddler. How can you support this amazing process?

•     Help your child find words. At 6 to 12 months, your baby isn’t ready to start talking yet, but when he puts forth a syllable, he’s making an attempt at words. So when he says, “ba,” help him out: “Are you looking for your ball? Do you want your bottle? Where did you put your book?” Speak slowly and enunciate clearly so he can hear the different sounds and connect them to what they mean.

•     Pay attention to your child’s nonverbal communications. Speech isn’t the only means of communication your baby will use. Between 8 and 12 months, he may start sending more and more nonverbal messages by pointing, gesturing, looking at what he wants, making faces, and even dancing. Grabbing a toy and banging it on the table may mean, “May I have your attention, please?” or “I’m so happy with my truck!” Whatever he does, take notice and respond.

•     Have conversations with your child. While you can’t expect your baby to talk back at this age, asking questions and waiting for a response teaches him the rhythm of conversation: You talk and I listen, then I talk and you listen. And don’t forget to respond when your little one cuts loose with baby babble. You may not understand his words, but it will encourage him to keep trying if you engage him.

•     Narrate your day. Tell your baby what you’re doing, ask him what he wants, and name what you’re seeing: “Let’s go find your blocks. Do you want the red one or the blue one? Oh, look! There’s your stuffed bear.” Rest assured that even though he can’t reply with words yet, he’s listening to and learning from everything you say.

•     Read to your child. Sharing books is an important way to support your baby’s early childhood development. It reinforces the power of words and helps your child move forward on the road to literacy, language, and learning.

Photo by Suke Tran on Unsplash

Create a Potty-Training Plan in Three Steps

On your marks, get set, go potty!

Too bad potty training doesn’t quite happen like that. It’s a process that requires patience on the part of Mom and Dad and some thought adjustment on the part of your child. It takes time for her to figure out what’s required, get used to the idea, and eventually perform his first big duty on the throne.

As you know, there’s no one right way to potty train. Feel free to try out different approaches, improvise a bit, and stick with what works for you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a plan in place to help ease the transition. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Consistency matters

Come up with a simple potty-training routine that you can follow without too much trouble. It's a good idea to keep your child's potty in the same spot in the bathroom and have her follow the same instructions to “go potty” each time. If you allow her to just sit for a while, keep the length of time he is expected to sit there the same with each visit. Try to include the same steps each time: sitting on the potty, cleaning up and wiping (whether anything actually happened or not), and washing hands. Pretty soon, your child will know what to expect.

Observe potty time
The idea is not to be on helicopter potty patrol, but to casually and positively observe what is going on in there. You’ll want to see where, if at all, your child gets distracted or off-track. Remember: The two of you are a team here, and the sooner you identify the potty-training challenges and come up with solutions, the sooner you can give up diaper duty for good.

Praise big time
No matter what actual actions take place, be sure to offer praise with every potty-training attempt. If your child goes through each of the steps that you’ve outlined as part of your potty routine, gold star! Share your routine with all caregivers (spouse, sitters, day care providers) so they can lead your child through the same steps you do on each visit to the bathroom. Above all, do your best to remain positive, even if she slips up and has an accident. There’s always tomorrow -- a lesson that applies not only to potty training, but life in general. And there’s no time like the present to learn it!

Baby Movement Milestones

The first year of your child’s life will be full of baby development achievements. Perhaps the most noticeable change will be the transition from a newborn with limited, jerky movements to a cruising, moving older baby.

Are you wondering what to expect from your baby’s next big move? Here, some of the major infant development milestones of his first 12 months, and when you can (roughly) expect them to happen. 

From 0 to 3 months, your baby may:

  • Raise his head when placed on his stomach
  • Stretch his limbs and kick his legs when lying on his back
  • Open and shut his hands into fists
  • Grip or shake baby hand toys

From 4 to 7 months, your baby may: 

  • Roll back to front and front to back (Baby safety tip: Now that he’s moving side to side, prevent dangerous falls by never leaving him unattended -- even for a second -- on a changing table or other high surface.)
  • Sit in a “tripod” position, supporting his weight on his hands, and later, without help from his hands
  • Be able to stay up in a standing position (with help from you), supporting his weight on his legs
  • Pass a toy from hand to hand
  • Use a raking motion to try to reach objects
From 8 to 12 months, your baby may: 
  • Move himself into a sitting position without support or help
  • Push himself up onto his hands and knees
  • Move from a sitting to crawling position, and, with practice, propel himself around
  • Pull himself up to stand (Baby safety tip: This is the time to double check your baby proofing. Stairs should be gated off, and because baby will likely fall from time to time, consider padding table edges to prevent injury.)
  • Cruise around the room while holding on to furniture

Of course, all children are unique, which means they develop at different speeds. Don’t panic if your baby isn’t reaching milestones exactly on this timetable. But if you are concerned about a possible baby development delay, consider talking to your child’s pediatrician.