There’s a whole lot that changes with your child physically and mentally during the toddler years.
In fact early years experts have said that these years are incredibly important for your child’s brain and emotional development.
Studies of infant brains show that kids provided with the best start in the early years go on to be good learners, and healthier emotionally and physically, as teens and adults.
That doesn’t mean your little one’s baby and toddler years have to be full of strict learning routines and tons of teaching.
It’s all about love, stimulation and attention, and opportunities for imaginative play. Basically, in these crucial early years your child will learn best through play!
But are a few important lessons you can teach your toddler in these formative years to give them a good start in life and help to forge independence.
Here are 15 very important things to teach your toddler!
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Saying please and thank you is about more than just speaking the words. It’s about learning respect for others and being considerate of their feelings.
Remind your child to say “please” and “thank you” when appropriate. It also helps if you use these words when speaking to your child too.
Remember to say thank you when they hand you something after being asked, and “please” when you ask them to do something.
Children learn best by seeing you do things and copying you. It’s also important to show your child manners and respect, treating them in the way you would expect to be treated.
2. Washing hands
Some time after age two your child will be learning to use the potty. But it’s never too early to show them when and how to wash their own hands, even if they need supervision to do it.
Try to make hand washing fun by having a colourful soap dispenser and maybe sing a song when washing hands. In order to effectively wash hands, you should wash them for 20 seconds, or the same amount of time it takes to sing two rounds of Happy Birthday.
3. How to play well with others
We can’t expect miracles from toddlers! They are not in control of their own emotions and so will lash out.
But it’s worth reminding your toddler of what is good behaviour and what is bad behaviour.
Stern discipline at this age is not needed. You don’t need to shout and enforce lengthy time outs.
If your child does snatch or hit other children, get down to their level and look them in the eye and give a firm “no”. Explain in simple words what they did wrong.
As your child gets older and their language understanding improves, you will find they can become very upset at the word “no”.
This is not a reason to avoid the word. Stay firm with your boundaries that you set for your child and find ways to help them compromise with friends when they are fighting over toys.
4. Being safe
We want kids to have a certain degree of boldness, so there is a balance to make between being risk averse and having no fear of anything.
But it’s worth reminding your child of basic safety rules such as waiting to cross a road and never wandering off when you’re in public with them.
When taking your child out and about in the car, remind them of the importance of being safe in car parks. Get your child to hold your hand in dangerous places like that and make it routine that you do.
Make it easy for your child to be safe in the house by restricting dangerous rooms. Discourage them from playing with things such as taps, in case they burn themselves with hot water, and cover taps with safety guards if necessary.
5. Eating a good variety of healthy foods
There are certain foods that kids just lap up. It’s easy for us as parents to opt for the easy meals that kids will definitely eat.
But if you offer your child a good variety of healthy foods, they will become used to it and be more open to trying new things.
If your child is particularly fussy, and a lot of toddlers are, you can try offering new foods alongside the familiar things they already like.
Add different vegetables alongside the nuggets they like. Try adding blended veg to the pasta sauce they always eat.
It can help to get your toddler involved in cooking. Stand them up on a chair at the kitchen counter and show them the ingredients you will be cooking with. Show them raw vegetables and let them hold them.
Doing these type of activities can get your child excited about food, and so more willing to try more things.
6. How to dress themselves
Both of my children were more than willing to try getting themselves dressed. They actually love trying to do things for themselves.
Teach them about putting their top on the right way and how to pull their trousers up their legs.
Your child may find PJs easier to handle then a full outfit but if they’re willing then give them a chance to try.
Encourage your child to put their own shoes on, which you may find easier if the shoes are velcro or wellies that they simply pull on.
7. Helping to tidy up
By age two there are a few small chores your child can help you with around the house.
- Making their own bed.
- Bringing their plate into the kitchen to be cleaned.
- Putting away their toys.
- Throwing away rubbish.
- Putting their shoes in the right spot so they are tidy.
You’ll be so glad you taught your child to take a bit of responsibility for keeping the house tidy and caring for themselves in years to come.
While your child should certainly be able to enjoy their childhood, they also need to know they won’t have every little thing done for them.
8. Being gentle with animals
If you have a pet then show your child the right way to stroke them. Teach them about what the pet needs to be happy.
If you don’t have a pet, then take your child along to your local petting zoo and teach them about how to be gentle with animals.
It’s also important to teach your child about how to behave around strange dogs. When we’re in the park, dogs often run up to say hi. I always tell my girls not to stroke the dog unless the owner says it’s OK, because you never know how a dog will react to kids.
9. Independent play
It’s important to play with your toddler. But it’s also important to let your toddler be bored sometimes. This encourages them to find their own ways to play.
Leave your child to play with their toys. You will find they create little imaginary conversations and scenarios that they then act out. It’s amazing the kind of things they can come up with when left to their own devices.
Remember that letting your child play independently is not neglecting them, it’s encouraging them to think of their own ways to play with toys.
10. Consideration for other people’s feelings
One of the most important things we can teach our children is kindness.
When my kids do something like lash out at each other or another child, I ask them how they would feel if that was done to them. It often makes them think about things in a different way.
Talk to your child about emotions, including how different scenarios might make people feel. Point out things that might upset other people and behave in a way that you would like your child to emulate.
When reading books, look at pictures of people and ask your child how that person feels and why. If the person is sad or angry, talk about what could be done to make them feel happy.
11. Getting your toddler to sleep on their own
If your child gives you a battle at every bedtime then now is a good time to start teaching them how to go to bed.
A little resistance at bedtime is normal, but if you’re spending hours at your child’s bedside trying to convince them they’re tired, then it’s time to re-evaluate your bedtime routine.
To help your child fall asleep on their own, start with a winding down period of around an hour before bedtime every evening.
This time should be calmer, with maybe a little TV and then quieter activities such as a jigsaw or some drawing. Try to avoid anything too manic like running around.
When it’s time for bed, follow a simple bedtime routine that shows your toddler it’s bedtime. Stay firm with the routine so your child gets the signals that it’s going to be time to sleep soon.
When it comes to going to sleep, tuck your child up with their favourite toy, say night night and leave the room.
If they cry or fuss, soothe them and then leave the room again. You may have to repeat a dozen times or more.
If they are still upset, try leaving them with a picture book to look through. A night light can help them feel safer in their room.
Teach your toddler to speak about how they are feeling. When they are upset, ask them why and talk them through what’s happened.
Be responsive to their emotions, but ask them to explain their feelings with words rather than lashing out or screaming.
Ask your toddler questions throughout the day to get them to explain what they are doing and what they want to do. It’s impossible to speak to your child too much, so chat away to them and encourage them to talk back every chance you get.
13. Teach your toddler the ABCs
Start setting out the basics for learning to read and write by showing them the ABCs.
You can do this by singing them songs about the alphabet, playing with blocks with letters on and holding up items and saying what they are and what letter they begin with.
Whatever you do, make it fun for them.
14. Protecting their private parts
It’s never too early to gently teach your child the basics of protecting their private parts.
Tell your child that their underwear covers their private parts and this should not be seen by anyone except for a doctor or nurse or family members.
There are lots of tips for talking to your child about this over on the NSPCC website.
15. Holding a pen
Even if your child is just making dots and scribbles on the page, it’s really helpful to get a pen or pencil in their hand as much as possible.
This teaches them about how to hold the pen and helps to build up the strength in their hand.
Get some colourful crayons and card and let your child draw and scribble as much as they want.
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