Five tips for parents of toddlers
Caring for a newborn might be a full-time job, but once they're toddlers, parents don't exactly get a holiday either. Along with the amazing moments, like their first steps and first words, parents are also faced with a variety of issues that can be difficult to deal with.
Think about how much time your toddler spends looking at a screen
In 2011, the American Academy of Paediatrics warned that parents should limit the time their children spend in front of screens - whether it's a TV, computer, tablet or phonei. There is no evidence that exposure to technology is harmful to development; however, research does make it clear that young children (especially those under two) learn more effectively from real interactionsi. In fact, it was found that infants and toddlers had absolutely no idea what was going on when they were in front of screens. Not allowing your toddler to watch any TV might not be a realistic approach for busy parents, but making sure the TV isn't constantly on, monitoring the sorts of programs they watch, and watching with them when you can are all preferableii.
Don't let tantrums get you down
Toddlers can't always express themselves in the ways they want to. A tantrum may be your toddler's way of expressing anger, boredom, exhaustion, frustration, stress or hunger. Toddlers don't have the cognitive thinking ability to plan tantrums or to use them against their parents; they are simply expressing their emotions physicallyiii. Tantrums can be very frustrating and distressing to deal with, especially if they happen in public, but there are some things you can do to minimise the severity. It's best to stay calm and ignore a tantrum, otherwise toddlers may think this is a good way for them to get attention, or they may learn that yelling is an appropriate response to stress. Remember that tantrums are often frightening and distressing to children too, and they may need to be comforted afterwardsiii.
Make bedtime easier
Author and parenting expert Pinky McKay says "a consistent bedtime routine with specific rituals is important to enlist your toddler's cooperation and help him feel secure"iv. Part of this routine might be a warm bath, perhaps with some relaxing lavender essential oil, to make your toddler sleepy. Another suggestion is to use the same bedtime story as the "sleepy story" each night, and to read it in bed with dim lighting. Having a bedtime routine is important, as toddlers often struggle to settle at night, particularly if they are anxious about being left alone in their room, or if they can hear other family members awake somewhere else in the houseiv.
Cope with a fussy eater
Australian research indicates that 27 per cent of toddlers are fussy eaters, so difficult dinner times are a fairly common challenge for parentsv. Researchers from Bristol University in England have suggested that introducing 'lumpy' foods (semi-solids like vegetables mashed with a fork) into your toddler's diet earlier on may make them less likely to be fussy eaters. The researchers found that giving babies aged between six and nine months a wide variety of food with different textures and consistencies broadened their tastes and stopped them from insisting on baby foodv. If your toddler is a fussy eater, set a good example by eating a wide variety of foods with your child. It's also important to have a meal-time routine, and to encourage toddlers to feed themselves. Don't be put off when your child rejects food; a child will not starve themselves because they don't like the taste of something, and research shows that you may have to offer a new food up to 10 times before a toddler will eat itv.
Praise your child in a sensible way
While it's perfectly natural to want to praise your child for every achievement or display of good behaviour, there may be better ways to boost their self esteem. McKay has suggested that instead of saying "you are amazing" or "that painting is amazing", compliments and praise should be more realisticvi. She suggests a technique called mirroring, which involves naming exactly what a child has done as you praise them, and possibly including a quality in the compliment. For example, you might say "you sat very quietly while I talked to the nurse" or "you are so patient for sitting so quietly"vi. Pinky suggests that this technique helps build children's self esteem in a constructive way, because it shows them evidence of their achievements and helps them to think of themselves as possessing positive qualitiesvi. Conversely, children who are constantly praised as "amazing" or "the best" may feel like they have to live up to great expectations to feel accepted and loved, and may be afraid of failing.