Teach Your Toddler Healthy Hygiene Habits

Toddlers are messy by nature. Whether your little one has a tendency to find herself elbow-deep in backyard mud piles or catches more colds than you can count, chances are you’re ready to teach her a hygiene lesson (or two!). Luckily, she isn’t too young to start learning how to keep her body clean and healthy. Use these toddler care tips to show her how easy -- and fun! -- good hygiene can be.

Washing hands
Toddlers are hardwired to explore anything they can lay their hands on, which leaves those little mitts pretty darn dirty. To keep germs at bay, practice scrubbing together before meals and snacks, after petting the dog, and at the end of each of your toddler’s potty training sessions. Make the task something she looks forward to by using soap in fun animal shapes, singing a song while you lather, or washing her doll’s hands at the same time. Stay close by to make sure she’s doing a thorough job (she should lather for about 20 seconds).

Brushing teeth
After breakfast and before tucking in at night, help your toddler brush her baby teeth. Allow her to practice brushing her pearly whites. This will foster independence and help make the task feel like it’s something she’s choosing to do instead of being made to do. But after she’s had a go, be sure to do a spot check. Using a tiny smear of toothpaste (it is typically recommended to use toothpaste after 24 months, but be sure to check with your doctor or dentist before making the introduction), aim to brush for about 60 seconds (set the timer on your phone or use one from the kitchen).

Covering coughs and sneezes
Explain to your toddler that germs fly out the mouth and nose during a cough or sneeze, so she should try to “catch” them to prevent sickness from spreading. Encourage her to cough or sneeze into the crook of her elbow, as if she’s a vampire raising a cape in front of her face. This toddler care tip may take practice as coughs and sneezes can take your tot by surprise, but if she looks like she’s about to sneeze or cough give a quick “Catch those germs!” reminder to help make covering her mouth a habit.

Teaching your child these toddler care basics requires patience and lots of encouragement, but with time your tot will eventually learn to love these healthy habits. And once she’s an expert, she may just start reminding you to wash up and cover your coughs!

Photo by ???????? Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

The Top Toddler Playdate Tips

Those first toddler playdates can be so sweet (for kids and parents). What's not so sweet is when the fun suddenly morphs into a toddler tantrum and a fight over toys. Here, some must-know parenting advice to ensure that toddler play during playdates is as fun-filled and stress-free as possible for everyone involved.

When to schedule your first toddler playdate

Your child probably won’t start truly interacting with other kids until age 3. (Before this, you may find that toddlers sit side by side during playdates and do not actually engage with each other -- which is called parallel play.) Signs that your child is ready to play with a friend include being more aware of other people’s feelings (asking why another child is sad, for example) and showing curiosity about what her neighbor is doing or playing with. Keep in mind that at this age, your child probably hasn’t yet mastered the idea of cooperation and doesn’t have enough vocabulary to explain her frustrations. This means you should be ready to do damage control if tempers start to get out of hand during toddler play.

How to prepare for a playdate

Start by reaching out to the other's child's parents and setting some mutual goals for toddler play. Agreeing to keep the playdate short will help ease the frustrations that result when kids are overly tired or stimulated. Once you’ve scheduled the playdate, give your tot a heads-up. Tell her that Sally is coming over to play and that she’ll need to share her toys. Let her choose some special toys that can be put away, and not shared, during the playdate. Practice how to be a good friend by taking turns and sharing toys with your child -- it will help her understand these expectations.

What to do during the playdate

Once you’ve completed all your preparations, you’re ready for the big day! You'll want to stay in the room during the first playdate, but you don’t want to be overly engaged. Your job is not to direct toddler play but to be readily available if needed. If things do become heated, feel free to dive in. A simple explanation can work wonders: “Sally hasn’t had a chance to play with the doll yet. How about we set a timer for you to play with it for three more minutes, then you can give it to Sally.”

Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a perfect playdate. Whether toddler play ends in hugs or tears, your child will still have gained valuable social skills that will set her up for future friendships.

The Power of Toddler Play

If you watch your toddler play by himself or interact with his friends, you’ll quickly realize that play takes many wonderful forms. Your child might spend all day building block towers or feeding his favorite stuffed animal while his cousin races around the backyard for hours. Trying out different ways to play can help your toddler develop new skills -- and have fun at the same time.

Active play helps your child’s body control and movement
As your toddler gains more control over his body, he’ll test the ways he can move. The result: a child who is jumping, climbing, swinging, and bouncing all over the place. The nonstop movement may tire you out, but it’s actually an important part of his development. Active play not only helps build a healthy body, it also strengthens critical thinking skills as he learns about size and shape (“Can I fit through this tunnel?”) and direction (“I can jump up and down!”).

Create a safe environment for active play by removing sharp or dangerous objects and providing toys to encourage movement, such as pillows to jump on or boxes to crawl through.

Creative, imaginative play is key to cognitive development
As your toddler’s imagination develops, you’ll notice that his play becomes more creative. His favorite blankie is also a cape, his blocks turn into zooming cars, and a cardboard box transforms into a castle. This imaginary play isn’t just cute to watch, it’s also key to your child’s development: It helps build problem-solving skills and language development.

Encourage your toddler to engage in imaginary play by supplying him with plenty of toys that will spark creative scenarios. These could include dress-up clothing, soft animals, and everyday objects, such as a wooden spoon (a wand!) or plastic cups (a row of little houses!).

Playing with others means learning valuable social skills
While solo play is a key part of your toddler’s development, play that involves peers or siblings is also crucial. Playing with other kids helps foster the social skills he'll need to navigate preschool and kindergarten in the years ahead. These skills may include sharing, resolving conflicts, and empathizing. Try to arrange playdates each week to give your toddler the opportunity to engage with other children his age.

While active, creative, and social games are all important, any and all playtime will be beneficial to your toddler. Just be sure not to skimp on the fun!

Help Your Toddler Learn to Play With Others

Locations: Indoor or outdoor

Promotes: Social development

Before toddlers can play with other children, they need to learn to play beside them. This skill is called “parallel play.”

How to play
Parallel play occurs when two toddlers play alongside each other. At first glance, it may not appear like they are interacting. But if you look a bit more closely, you might notice that if one picks up a block, the other is likely to mimic the action.

Tricks and advice
If you’ve scheduled a playdate for your toddler, don’t be dismayed if he doesn’t seem to be playing directly with the other child. He’s doing exactly what he needs to be doing to learn about getting along with others. Be sure to supervise the activity and keep plenty of toys available. Keep the playdate time to a maximum of one hour or so, since kids at this age tend to have short attention spans.

Learning and growing
Parallel play is often a first step in your toddler developing strong social relationships outside the family. It generally begins right around the time your toddler starts mimicking others’ behaviors, such as feeding his dolls or talking on the phone. Order will become important to your child during this time frame as well, so don’t be surprised if you find your toddler playing by lining up his toys in order or only wanting to color with certain crayons at a time.

It’s important to keep in mind that at this age a toddler is not yet skilled at interacting socially with other children, and playing alongside peers will be how he learns to take on more sociable tasks, like sharing, leading, and following.

What you'll need
A selection of toys that may encourage interactive play, such as blocks or stuffed animals.

Photo by ???????? Janko Ferlič on Unsplash