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From Baby to Big Kid

An e-newsletter that showcases how children learn and grow each month from birth to 3 years. From Baby to Big Kid translates the science of early childhood and offers strategies parents can tailor to their unique family situation and to the needs of their child.
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From Baby to Big Kid:  Month 19

What to Expect From Your Toddler’s Development

As you read the chart below, keep in mind that development is not a race and that every child grows at her own pace and in her own way.  Your child may develop skills faster or slower than indicated below and still be on track.  If you have questions or concerns, talk with your child’s health care provider or other trusted professional.

Your Toddler’s Development From 18 to 24 Months

What Your Toddler Can Do

What You Can Do to Connect With Your Toddler

I am learning new words every day.

  • I may say as many as 50-100 words by my second birthday. 
  • I may even put 2 words together to make my first sentences like, “Go ‘side” when I want to go outside.

Turn your child’s words and phrases into sentences.  When she says, More milk, you can say: You want more milk in your cup.

Talk about what you are reading together. Ask your child questions about the pictures and stories you read together. 

I can use my hands and fingers to do so many new things.

  • I can turn the pages of a book.
  • I can figure out how to work toys with buttons and doors and gears. I can stack blocks and set up my toy dishes for a picnic.

Have fun in the kitchen.  Finger paint with pudding on a baking sheet or mold cookie dough into fun shapes to bake.

Provide chances to draw with markers, crayons, and pens. 

Go on nature walks.  Let your child pick up and examine leaves and rocks. 

I am learning about my own and others’ feelings. 

  • I need your help to start learning self-control. I understand No but I still can’t control my feelings and actions. 
  • I may get frustrated when I can’t do something by myself.  Please be patient with me!  I know other people have feelings, too.  I may comfort another child who is crying.












Put your child’s feelings into words—this will help him regain control:  I know you’re really mad that I turned the TV off. It’s OK to feel mad. Instead of TV, would you like to read or play blocks now?

Help your child slow down or take a break when you see signs that he is getting frustrated or overwhelmed.

Play back-and-forth games to help him understand and practice taking turns.

Show that you appreciate your child’s compassion.  That hug sure makes me feel better.

Label your own and others’ feelings.  I’m mad because I bumped my toe—ouch!





I am beginning to use my imagination.

  • I may feed my doll pretend food.
  • I might make brrrummm noises when I play cars.

Play pretend with your toddler. You might be a puppy, barking and running after a ball.

Jump-start your child’s imagination with dress-up clothes, animal figures, blocks, and plastic dishes.

I am a little scientist, always testing things out!

  • I love to fill and dump and open and close things to see how they work.
  • I may start to sort objects.  I might put all my trains in one pile and all my cars in another. 
  • I am becoming a problem-solver.  I might blow on my food when you tell me dinner is hot.
  • I am learning by watching you and others.  I might imitate what I see you do!

Help your child practice sorting. As you fold laundry, ask your child to put socks in one pile and shirts in another.

Encourage lots of exploration.  Fill and dump with water or sand. Make an indoor “sandbox” of dry oatmeal or fall leaves.

Help your child solve a problem but don’t do it all for her. Be her coach. The more she does, the more she learns.

Be aware of your own actions and words.  Let your child see you helping others, being kind, or staying calm when faced with a challenge.

What It’s Like for You

The boob tube.  You have probably given some thought to TV and rules for its use  You might have looked up the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines (no television for under-2s).  And then you might have still ordered up some DVDs for the long ride to Grandma’s house because, you figure, 6 hours in the car calls for survival tactics.  But what you might not have expected is that your toddler is doing some thinking about television too.  Says Sharon, mother of Kiley, aged 19 months:

When Kiley was younger, I felt as if the decision to watch TV or not was mine and mine alone.  But now, Kiley has strong feelings about TV and even has favorite shows and characters.  When I tell her TV time is over, she doesn’t buy into my little distraction techniques anymore.  It’s made the whole TV issue a lot tougher for us.  Should we not let her watch any television at all or let her watch a few shows here and there (while dealing with her tantrums when she can’t watch as much as she wants)?  We haven’t figured this one out yet.

As children near 2 years, they often become more interested in television.  And having favorite characters, even at this early age is not uncommon, even from shows they have never even seen.  They are very savvy and pick up from peers that these characters are toddler-cool. What’s important to know is that even young toddlers are learning from what they see.  So, if you do decide that your child can watch some television, look for commercial-free shows that are age-appropriate and limit viewing time to no more than 30-60 minutes a day.  Watch with your child and make it interactive; talk about what is happening in the show and do what the characters do, such as sing and dance. Research shows that this can help extend the learning for children.  Keep in mind that what the research also tells us is that exploring in “real life” is much more beneficial for young children than learning from TV. 

What It’s Like for Baby

Daddy says, Okay, kiddo, we’re heading out.  Let’s go get in the car.  I know what that means—I have to sit still and get buckled into the car seat.  I say, No, No, No.  Stay HERE!  Daddy shakes his head back and forth and says, We’re heading over to pick Mom up at the train.  She’s waiting for us.  He scoops me up into his arms while I kick and wiggle, trying to escape.  Dad does not look happy with me:  Stop kicking.  Your kicking is hurting me.  I stop kicking but keep trying to get out of his arms.  Dad holds me firmly so I don’t fall.  We walk out to the car and he plunks me into my seat.  Okay, let’s get you strapped in.  No way!  I start yelling and wiggling.  I say:  No, No, No!  Daddy holds me firmly and straps me in:  I hear you.  You don’t want to get strapped in.  I know you don’t like your car seat.  But my job is to keep you safe so we always need to use the car seat.  I am still pretty mad so I keep shouting as loud as I can.  But Daddy is acting like he doesn’t even hear me.  He is not paying any attention.  Then Daddy says, Look, fire engine!  A fire truck goes roaring by.  I stop crying and watch.  Daddy looks at me and says, Wow, that truck was going so fast!  Are you ready for some music now?  I say yes.  He puts my favorite CD on and we go to meet Mommy.

What Your Toddler Is Learning

Social-Emotional Skills:

  • To cope with frustration
  • To accept limits (No kicking)
  • How to recover from a tantrum
  • Acceptable ways to express strong emotions—that crying is okay, but kicking is not
  • That it’s okay to feel angry and that her father will still love her
  • That her father will always keep her safe and secure

Language and Thinking Skills:

  • How to use language to express strong feelings
  • How language is used to explain ideas (such as when her father explains the car seat rule)
  • The concept of cause and effect—that when her father says they are going out, it means that she will need to sit in the car seat.

Did You Know...

That 19-month-olds are learning that words are symbols that represent objects and people?  (For example, that the word “bird” stands for the funny little thing with wings they see flying in the air.)  Researchers looked at, and labeled, objects for 12-, 19-, and 24-month-olds.  Unlike 12-month-olds, 19- and 24-month-olds followed the researcher’s eye gaze in order to learn words, attaching the spoken word to the object the researcher was looking at.  This is a big jump forward for children.  By 19 months of age, toddlers understand that a spoken label actually represents something—they “get” that the spoken word “dog” is a symbol for their beloved pet.   

Reference: Hollich, G., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Rocroi, C., Hankey, C., Golinkoff, R., Brand, R., McKinney, M., Len Chung, H.  (1998 April).  Breaking the Word Barrier:  How Infants Learn Their First Words.  Poster presented at the International Conference on Infants Studies, Atlanta, GA.  Abstract available online at:  http://hincapie.psych.purdue.edu/ICIS98/index.html

What the Research Means for You 

Between 18-24 months language really takes off.  Your 19-month-old uses many “tricks” to grow his vocabulary.  One of their most important strategies is that young toddlers spontaneously check where adults are looking when they label new objects.  For example, when you are in the park and look up as you say, See the bird? your child looks up too and comes to understands that that feathery flying thing is called a bird.  Language learning is so intense during this period that it is often called a “language explosion.”  Remember, though, that learning a word does not always mean saying it.  Your child will understand more words than she can speak for a while yet.  Here are some ways you can support your toddler’s growing language skills:   

  • Together, separate socks from shirts while sorting laundry, or spoons from forks while putting away the dishes.  As you work together, talk about the objects you are sorting, what their names are, and what makes them different or the same.  Your child is learning lots of new words—and new ideas—during everyday conversations like these. 

  • Keep your toddler’s books where he can reach them so he can easily choose the ones he wants to hear.  Ask him to look at the pictures on each page and tell you about what he sees. 

  • To grow your child’s vocabulary, use different words to describe the same thing, such as, That bulldozer is really big.  It’s gigantic!

  • Go on a word safari.  Take a walk through the park and stop to look at and name all the insects and animals you see: ants, beetles, squirrels, birds, etc. 

  • As you go through the supermarket, ask your child to name each item you put in your shopping cart.  Talk about how they taste, what time of day you eat them, and which she likes or doesn’t like. 

Spotlight on: Learning Through Everyday Routines

For most of us, our lives involve a series of patterns—routines we perform almost every day, like stopping at the same place each day for coffee on the way to work. This is also true for babies and toddlers. In fact, routines are critical for children’s development in many ways:

Routines help babies and toddlers learn self-control.
Consistent routines—activities that happen at about the same time and in about the same way each day—provide comfort and a sense of predictability and safety for young children. Whether it is time to play, have a snack, a nap, or the time Grandma comes to get them from child care, knowing what will happen next gives babies and toddlers security and emotional stability. When children feel this sense of trust and safety, they don’t have to worry about what will happen next, they are free to do their "work," which is to play, explore, and learn. 

Routines guide positive behavior and ensure safety.
Routines are like instructions—they guide children’s actions toward a specific goal. Routines can be used for many reasons, but two of the most important are ensuring children's health and safety, and helping children learn positive, responsible behavior.  For example, children must hold an adult’s hand when crossing the street, or children are taught to say please and thank you when asking for more snack. 

Routines build children’s social skills.
As babies grow, they come into contact with more people and begin to learn patterns and routines for social interaction.  Playing and talking with other children and adults are interactions that teach social skills like taking turns, sharing, cooperation, and helping others. These social routines are also opportunities for children to develop language skills.

Routines help children cope with transitions.
Depending on your child's temperament, transitions between activities may be easy or more difficult.  Going from play to lunch, lunch to the store, the store to home, and especially transitioning to bedtime, can be challenging.  Routines can make transitions easier. Some parents use a timer or a "5-minute warning" to prepare their toddlers for a change in activity. Others use a book, song, or special game.

Routines are important opportunities for learning.
Daily routines are often thought of as boring chores: meal time, running errands, getting ready for bed, taking baths. But these everyday activities are rich opportunities to support your child’s learning and development while having fun. Routines offer the chance to build self-confidence, curiosity, social skills, self-control, communication skills, and more. 

You can use routines to help your child learn, such as when you are:  

  • Grocery Shopping:  Count out the apples as you put them in a bag, or the bananas in a bunch. Have him count along with you if he likes. Ask him to find something red on the shelf.  Or ask him to take three big steps and two little steps down the aisle.  Games like these build language, counting, and listening skills—and make the routine more fun. 
  • Diapering:  Name your child’s body parts and how they’re all connected to build her body awareness:  Here are your fingers.  What are your fingers connected to?  Your arms, that’s right.
  • Preparing meals:  Let your toddler watch you prepare a meal and even help in safe ways (like putting the lettuce in a bowl for salad).  Talk about the order in which you are doing things:  First we put the lettuce in.  Then the other vegetables.  Then we put a little dressing on and stir it up.  This builds the skill of sequencing—putting events in order.
  • Mealtime: Turn off the television and let mealtime be a chance for everyone at the table to share something about their day.  This back-and-forth conversation builds language skills and also strengthens the bond between you and your child.
  • Bathtime:  Provide your child with a variety of toys in the bath—plastic pitchers, cups, spoons, bowls, and sponges.  As you play, use these items to talk about concepts like wet/dry, a little/a lot, floating/sinking, and pouring/scooping.  Activities like these build math and science knowledge as well as language skills.
  • Bedtime:  Tell the “story” of what your child did that day.  This helps her make sense of her experiences and the feelings that she dealt with that day.  Chats like these strengthen your child’s literacy and language skills as well as her social-emotional growth.
  • Driving Together:  As you drive, ask your child what he sees out the window.  Tell stories to your child.  Or pick a favorite song and sing it together.  Feel free to change the words to make it funny—like making The Wheels on the Bus all about the The Wheels on the Stroller.  Talking and singing together builds your toddler’s vocabulary and makes for a shared, joyful experience between the two of you.

Routines provide the two key ingredients for learning: relationships and repetition. So enjoy these “extra-ordinary” moments with your child. If she's having fun with you, she's learning, too!

Let’s Play: Activities That Nurture Bonding and Learning

  • Make tube tunnels.  Tape a paper towel tube to the leg of a table or hold it up for your child to drop balls, blocks, or small cars through (put a box or basket at the bottom to catch these items after they drop).  Which items fit through the hole?  Which are too big?  Use this game as a chance to talk about top/bottom, up/down, in/out/through, falling/catching, and big/little.  You can also hold a wrapping paper tube up and compare the items that will fit down this larger tube with what will or won’t fit down the smaller paper towel tube.  Supervise your child carefully during this game and ensure that none of the items used are choking hazards.
  • Create a kid-sized shape sorter.  Cut colored paper into large shapes—circle, square, triangle, etc.—and tape them to the floor.  Ask your child to jump on the circle or crawl to the square.  If your child is not quite ready for shape names, use the colors instead and do the activity with your child:  Let’s dance on pink.  Let’s hop on blue.  Over time, your child will add these words (and ideas) to her vocabulary.

What’s on Your Mind?

My 19-month-old daughter and I go to a playgroup once a week. Last week my daughter grabbed a car out of her friend’s hands. Her friend started to cry.  When I made my daughter give the car back, she started to cry. It was a mess. How can you get little kids to share?

Just the other day I had a similar experience—not with toddlers, but with my own 12- and 10-year-olds! What this tells you is that learning to share is a process that can start now but that takes a long time to master.

Toddlers are determined little people who know what they want and work hard to get it.  Unfortunately, they don’t yet have the words they need to express their strong feelings, so they communicate through action. Children this age are also not able to put themselves in other people’s shoes. This is why it’s hard for them to share. They only know what they feel, not what others feel. They’re thinking, I want that car and I want it now!

A final complicating factor is that 19-month-olds don’t yet have the impulse control to stop themselves from doing something they want to do, even if they have been corrected countless times. For all of these reasons, most children don’t really share until they’re at least 2 1/2 to 3 years old.

However, you don’t have to nor should you wait until your child is 2 to start helping her learn to share. When you are playing, show her how to take turns: She adds a block, then you add one. At clean-up time, take turns putting the toys back on the shelf. At bedtime, switch off who gets to flip the pages. Through these interactions, your daughter will experience sharing as part of a positive, loving relationship, which sets the stage for turn-taking in other relationships.

Here are some strategies to try to help your daughter and her friends practice sharing:

  • Before a friend comes over, let your child choose and put away just a few toys that are special and that she does not have to share. 

  • Provide several of the same kinds of toys so there’s enough for everyone.

  • Comment when the children are playing cooperatively: I like how you gave Ellie the doll she wanted.

  • Let them know you understand how hard it is to share. Tell them that grabbing is not okay and offer alternatives such as helping them choose another toy while they wait their turn.

  • Provide activities that don’t necessarily require sharing—like art projects or playing with water or sand.  Playing with open-ended materials is calming and gives children a break from the stress of sharing.

  • Keep the turns short and use a timer to help children know when their turn will come. (Often kids become so amused by the idea of the timer that they forget about the fight over the toy.)

  • As your daughter grows, include her in the problem-solving.  When she and a friend are having trouble sharing, ask for their ideas on a fair resolution.     


When he doesn't get his way, my 19-month-old will scream at the top of his lungs, which is really embarrassing when we are out in public. What's the best way to get him to calm down?

You're not alone. One of the biggest challenges of parenting is separating ourselves from our kids’ behavior. Unfortunately, these strong emotional reactions tend to encourage the very behavior we are trying to stop. For example, when parents show how badly they want their child to use the potty, it often increases the child’s resistance to using it.

The rule of thumb when a child is “losing it” is to stay calm. Let's face it—this is no small task, but it's key to a successful outcome. Next, validate your child’s feelings without passing judgment.  For example, avoid saying things like, That is very naughty behavior and instead go with something like: You are really angry that Daddy said no to lunch in the food court. Feelings are not the problem.  It is how the feelings get expressed that can be problematic, such as hitting when angry. Until a child’s feelings are acknowledged, most children will intensify their response and act out even more (e.g., screaming) to show you just how mad they are.

So start with validation. If your son starts screaming when it's time to leave the playground, let him know that you understand that he wants to keep playing and that he’s really mad that he has to leave the playground. Putting his feelings into words shows you understand. This often has a very soothing effect and also helps him ultimately learn self-control.

If he continues to protest, calmly continue taking steps to depart while remaining cool.  If he refuses to get in the stroller or car seat, pick him up and place him in, without anger. There is no reasoning with a child who is out of control. The more calm and matter-of-fact you can be (even as you use all your strength to belt him in!), the better.

Completely ignore his screaming so there is no motivation for him to keep the tantrum going.  Instead, talk to him in a calm voice about why he is mad and explain that he'll visit the playground again soon.  Talk about the fun things the two of you will do when you get home.  While he may not understand all your words, talking in a compassionate, soothing voice can be calming to him; and, just as important, it is a way to soothe yourself during this stressful time. While these episodes aren’t fun, they are great opportunities to help your child learn to cope with frustration and develop self-control—two skills he’ll use for the rest of his life. 

We are moving and will be switching child care centers.  How can we help our 19-month-old son say good-bye to his current teacher (someone he adores) and transition to the new center?

Transitions can be hard for young children, especially toddlers who are, by nature, not fond of change. Recognizing and being sensitive to the fact that this will be difficult for him, especially since he will also be dealing with the house move, is the most important first step.

Toddlers don’t have a firm grasp on time, so don’t start talking about the change in child care until a week or two before the change will take place. Talking about the child care change too far in advance may just create more anxiety. In addition, while 19-month-olds do understand a lot, and certainly understand more than they can actually say, they can’t begin to fully comprehend complex ideas—such as making this kind of transition—by words alone. Here are some ideas to help your child cope with this change:

  • Ask your child’s current teacher to write some brief notes about your son to share with his new caregiver.  Some important issues to cover would be: how he handles transitions (does she do anything special to help with this?), what his routines are for naptimes and mealtimes, how to comfort him, and what his favorite toys, books, and activities are.  Sharing this information with your son’s new caregiver helps to ensure some consistency in his life during a period of great changes and can ease the transition.

  • Read books with your child about making changes.  Hearing about other’s similar experiences can be a powerful way for young children to make sense of their own situation and feel less alone. These books also often show children successfully coping with change which can serve as a good model for your child, and for you. 

  • Create ways to help your child remember and hold on to the old center in his mind. Take photos of his caregiver, the room, the playground, your child’s friends, and his favorite toys and create a memory book for him. 

  • Ask your child's teacher if there is something special she can give to your son—such as a his nametag or a small toy—that he can take to the new center for comfort when he needs it.  This kind of transitional object can help your son keep his old caregiver in his mind and provide the comfort he needs to adapt to his new setting. 

  • Have a special good-bye ritual for his last day at the center.  Rituals are especially important for helping children say good-bye.

  • If possible, take your child to see his new center several times before he makes the actual transition.  Let him play on the playground, explore the room where he will be cared for, and meet the caregivers. 

  • During the first week in the new center, stay with him for an hour or two each morning.  Gradually decrease the time you stay so by the end of the week you simply drop him off.  He will take his cues from you; so if you interact warmly with the new teachers and other children, and say good-bye in an upbeat, versus worried tone, he will know that the new center is a good, trusted place. 


Taking a thoughtful and step-by-step approach to this big change will help your son successfully adjust to his new child care setting. It will also help him learn how to cope with future changes as he grows. 



Newsletter Authors:
Rebecca Parlakian, Senior Parenting Resources Writer and
Claire Lerner, LCSW, Director of Parenting Resources, ZERO TO THREE

Expert Reviewers:
Terrie Rose, PhD, President and Founder, Baby’s Space
Ross Thompson, PhD, Professor of Psychology, University of California at Davis
Robert Weigand, MS, IMH-E, Director, Child Development Laboratory,
Arizona State University

This ZERO TO THREE newsletter series was made possible by generous funding from MetLife Logo .

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