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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 26

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 24 to 30 Months

What Your Toddler Can Do

What You Can Do to Connect With Your Toddler

I use my body to get me places!

  • I can walk up stairs one foot at a time.
  • I can walk backward.
  • I can balance on one foot which helps me climb.
  • Limit TV time and get moving. Go on a neighborhood walk.  Let your child stop to check out what’s interesting to him. 
  • Play “island hop.”  Line up circles of paper on the floor and help your child jump from one to the next. 

I am using language to tell you what I’m feeling and thinking.

  • I can make longer sentences like, More juice! 
  • My favorite words might be no, me, and mine.  I may get overwhelmed by my strong feelings and need your help to calm down.  
  • Talk about what you are doing together. Ask her about her ideas: What part of the book did you like? 
  • Acknowledge feelings and teach social skills at the same time: I know the doll stroller is your favorite toy.  But Thomas would like a turn pushing it. 
  • Stay calm when your child is having a tantrum. This helps her learn to calm herself—an important life skill.

I am getting really good at playing pretend. 

  • I can use one object to stand in for another.  A shoebox may become a bed for my stuffed hippo.
  • I laugh at silly things, like the idea that my toy car might go moo instead of beep beep.
  • Sometimes I get scared.  I am getting so good at using my imagination but am not always sure what’s real and what’s pretend.
  • Use pretend play to help your child handle challenging situations. You might act out a story together about meeting a new babysitter.
  • Let your child lead the play. Ask:  Who should I be?  What happens next?
  • Acknowledge your child’s fears and explain what is real and pretend. This builds trust and security. 



I want to make friends but still need help with sharing.  

  • I like watching other children and might copy what I see them do.
  • I may have one or two best friends. 
  • Give your child regular chances to play with children his age. This will help him develop important social skills while having fun.
  • Be patient with conflicts around sharing and turn-taking.  Toddlers need help with their growing social skills.

What It’s Like for You

As your child’s language skills grow and his thinking skills become more complex, you will see his sense of humor begin to take off as well.  Says one mom of a funny 2-year-old:

I told Darnell (26 months) that it was time for nap.  He laid down on the sofa and pretended to snore really loud.  It was so funny.  I just cracked up laughing and so did he.

You’ve probably discovered that your child gets a kick out of “opposite” humor (when you make his stuffed cat say “bow-wow”) as well as jokes that refer to his own experiences—like when you pretend to do a really big sneeze.  Jokes like these are funny for toddlers because now that they know what’s “normal,” they recognize when something unexpected or unusual happens and find it very, very funny.  This is good evidence of how your child’s thinking skills have gotten much more sophisticated.  And—of course—toddlers are also absolute masters at the silly voice and the funny face.  So keep the camera handy and get ready for a fun, and funny, year.

What It’s Like for Your Child

Daddy took me to a new playground today.  At first, I felt a little shy.  I had never been there before.  I didn’t know my way around.  I didn’t know any of the kids.  Daddy said, Want to watch for a while?  You like it when you can have some time to get a feel for new places.  Let’s just hang out.  He let me stand next to him and check everything out for a few minutes.  Then he said, How about we see what they’ve got here?  He held my hand and we walked around.  There was a climbing wall, and a tunnel, and a sand box.  And there was an amazing slide there that was sooooo high—it was almost as tall as Daddy!  After I had a chance to see everything, I felt ready to play.  I started off on the climbing wall.  But I kept checking out that slide.  I really wanted to try it…but I felt a little scared too.  Dad must have seen me eyeing it.  He said, Want me to wait at the bottom for you?  I nodded and we walked over.  I started up the steps.  When I got to the top, I felt worried.  It was so high.  Dad reached up and asked if I wanted to hold his hand while I went down. That was a great idea.  Whoosh!  Down I went holding his hand!  Dad’s right—I can do it!

What Your Toddler Is Learning

Social-Emotional Skills:

  • Flexibility and coping with change when his dad takes him to a new park and he gets to know a new place.
  • Reassurance that his Dad will let him explore this park at his own pace and that it is okay to take things slow.
  • Trust that Dad will help him with his goal of going down the big slide, even though he is fearful.
  • Awareness of his own feelings when his Dad puts into words his preference to take things slow and offers him his hand for reassurance.
  • How to accept support when his dad helps him “conquer” the slide.

Language and Thinking Skills:

  • How to ask for help when he tells his father he is afraid to go down the slide.
  • Concepts like height and speed which are part of the experience of going down the slide.

Physical Skills:

  • How to use the large muscles in his legs, arms and shoulders to climb up the ladder.
  • Coordination and balance as he climbs the stairs and then slides down and lands at the bottom.

Did You Know…

That the way you respond to your child’s behavior influences whether she repeats it?  Researchers watched how a small group of 10 mothers reacted to their 2-year-olds’ behavior.  They found that parents used two main strategies for responding when children did something they weren’t supposed to:  Distraction (trying to shift their child’s attention to a more acceptable activity or toy) or limit-setting (which involved telling the children what they could/could not do).  Researchers found that limit-setting, as a first step, was most effective in motivating children to stop the unwanted behavior.  Distraction after limit-setting was also effective.  However, distraction alone was not a successful strategy.  Why?  Researchers believe when parents tell their children what the limit is, they are giving children important information about what the misbehavior is and what the parent’s expectations are.  It gives children the “rules of the game.”  Distraction after that helps children get refocused on another, more acceptable activity.

Reference:  Reid, M. J., O’Leary, S. G., & Wolff, L. S.  (1994). Effects of maternal distraction and reprimands on toddlers’ transgressions and negative affect.  Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy, Washington, DC. 

What the Research Means for You
Setting clear limits—around safety, health (like hand-washing after toileting), and acceptable behavior—is important for a growing toddler.  However, toddlers still have very short attention spans and very little self-control.  They also can’t remember rules over the long-term yet.  This means that you may need to set the same limit many times for many more months before your toddler finally “gets” it.  Remember, your toddler is not purposefully defying or trying to “get you.”  She’s just learning what behavior is and isn’t okay in your family.  That’s why the second step—distraction—is critical, since it shows your child what she can do.  So if your little one loves nothing more than to dig in your potted plants, give her a shovel and a bucket and take her outside where she can dig to her heart’s content. 

Spotlight on:  Nurturing Your Toddler’s Confidence

Confidence is a belief in your ability to master your body, behavior, and the challenges you encounter in the larger world and is an essential ingredient for your child’s healthy development.  It is also a key factor for school success.  Children who are confident are eager to learn new skills and face new challenges.  They also expect adults to be helpful and supportive of their efforts.  

Self-confidence is also crucial for getting along with others and working out everyday social challenges—such as sharing and making friends.  Self-confident children believe they are likeable and expect others to be likeable too.

How does self-confidence develop?  Starting from day one, a child learns who he is through his relationships and interactions with primary caregivers.  Parents, relatives, child care providers and teachers reflect back to children their unique strengths and special attributes.  In large part, a child’s sense of confidence is shaped and nurtured by everyday experiences with those who care for him. 

Here are several important ways that you can nurture your child’s self-confidence through your everyday interactions together.

1.  Establish routines with your child. When events are predictable, happening in approximately the same way at approximately the same time each day, it helps your child feel safe, secure, confident, and in control of his world. He knows that, for example, bath comes first, then books, then a song, and then bedtime. Understanding what will happen next helps him prepare for those changes. If day-to-day events seem to occur randomly, children can’t predict what is likely to come next and may be feel out of control, causing a sense of worry or uncertainty.  Worries can limit a child’s exploration and learning, as he spends most of his energy trying to figure out what will happen next. When children know what to expect, or have learned they can depend on you to give them notice about a change, they are free to play, grow, and learn.

2.  Make sure your child has lots of time to play.   Play is how children learn about themselves, other people, and the world around them. Through play, children also develop confidence—when they find the ball behind the couch, get the right plastic shape into its hole, or make the jack in the box pop up.

It is also through play that children learn how it feels to be in another’s shoes as they try on new roles and also work through complicated feelings. A 2-year old who dresses up, playing a mommy going off to work, may be working out her feelings about separations. A 3-year old playing Power Rangers may be practicing being more assertive, mastering fears, or venting aggressive feelings. Let your child lead playtime—this will build her confidence, assertiveness, and leadership skills.

3.  Help your child learn to be a problem-solver. Help your child work through problems rather than solving them for her.  Show her how to arrange the blocks on the bottom of the tower so they provide a secure base, then let her figure out how to make it balance.  This way you give her the chance to use her own thinking skills and feel successful.

For example, if your child is building a block house on the rug and it keeps falling, you could:

  • Tell her that you see how frustrated she is.
  • Ask her if she knows what may be causing the problem:  Why do you think it keeps falling?
  • Offer your observations, for example, noting that the rug is soft so the blocks aren’t steady.
  • Ask if she has any ideas about what might make the blocks more steady: What might help it stay up?
  • Ask if she wants suggestions: How about building it on the hard floor?

The goal is to guide and support your child in her problem-solving efforts but not do for her what she has the skills to accomplish herself. Sometimes, your child’s times of greatest frustration are golden opportunities for her to develop new skills and along the way build her self-confidence, competence, and mastery. She’ll learn that she can depend on you to encourage and guide her in finding a solution.

4.  Give your child responsibilities. Feeling useful and needed makes children feel important and builds confidence. Jobs should be age appropriate. Very young children can sort laundry with you, help feed pets, water plants, sponge off the table, put napkins down, or pick up toys. Be specific about what you need your child to do: Please put a napkin on each plate, versus, Help me set the table.

5.  Celebrate your child’s successes.   Recognizing your child’s accomplishments helps build his confidence.  Snap a photo or write a note on the calendar when your child pedals a tricycle for the first time, or when he goes down the big slide at the park.  At mealtime or before bed, talk about what your child did that day or is learning to do:  Today you worked so hard on catching the ball.  It was so much fun playing with you.

6.  Encourage your child to keep at the tasks he is struggling with. Children learn by doing. Break down difficult tasks into manageable steps to help your toddler feel confident and successful.  If your child is trying to get his shoes on, you can help him:

  • Unlace his shoes and open them
  • Line them up so he can step in
  • Let him lean on you while he steps in
  • Guide his hand, if necessary, as he fastens the shoes
  • Tell him: Nice job getting your shoes on!

As you work on a task or skill that is tough for your child, let him know that that you will not be disappointed if he isn’t ready yet. You are there to support him whenever he wants to try again.  This encourages him to find his own motivation to succeed rather than doing it to please or win the admiration of others.

7.  Talk about experiences to help your child make sense of them.  Prompt your child to find solutions to dilemmas.  You did a great job trying to pour your own juice. Some juice is in the cup. Some spilled. You look sad about that. It’s okay.  Spills happen when you’re learning to pour. Here, you can wipe it up with this sponge. That pitcher is heavy for little hands.  I’ll give you a smaller one and you can try again. 

8.  Be a role model for your child.  Your child is always watching you for clues about what to do or how to feel about different situations.  Your reactions help your child learn how to handle emotions like sadness, anger, or frustration, and how to solve problems or deal with challenges.  So model the kinds of behaviors that you want your child to develop.  Use words to help her understand what you did to manage a challenge:  This toy is so hard to put together! It keeps coming apart which is so frustrating. I’m going to take a break.  When I felt more calm, I will give it another try. 

Let’s Play: Activities That Nurture Bonding and Learning

Chalk Talk.  Take your child outside to draw with chalk on a sidewalk or patio.  (If you are near a street, be sure to closely supervise your child.)  Name the different colors of chalk and talk about what your child is drawing.  (Look at the straight line you drew…and now you’ve added a circle!)  When your child is done, let her spray a hose or pour a bucket of water over the chalk.  What happens?  You can adapt this activity for winter weather by using colored water in a spray bottle over the snow.  Games like this build your child’s language and writing skills, and also teach her about cause-and-effect (like the fact that water makes chalk drawings fade away).

Special Delivery!  Cover three shoeboxes with different colors of construction paper—blue, red, and yellow.  Then cut six shapes (two from each color paper:  red, blue, and yellow); these will become your child’s “mail.”  Give your child a marker to “write” on each of the letters.  Offer stickers as “stamps” for the letters.  Then let your child place the letters around the house.  Put your three shoebox mailboxes in a row.  Give your child a grocery bag or old purse to collect the letters, then help him sort the mail by color into the matching mailbox.  Games like this build writing skills, language skills (the names of the colors), and the ability to notice and match similar objects—a problem-solving skill.

What’s on Your Mind

My 26-month-old is terrified of the doctor.  Our pediatrician could not be nicer, but my daughter screams and cries when the doctor tries to examine her.  Everything seems to scare her, even the things that don't hurt—like the stethoscope.  Any suggestions for making doctor's appointments go more smoothly?

This is quite common as two important developments are taking place at this age.  First, your daughter’s thinking skills are allowing her to not only remember the doctor’s office but also to anticipate what might happen there—like getting a shot or finger prick.  She is also becoming more aware of her own body and focused on the fact that her body belongs to her. Naturally, she wants to be the boss of her body. 

Unfortunately, trying to talk to your toddler rationally about why she shouldn’t be afraid often doesn’t work.  This is because 2-year-olds do not yet grasp logic.  Instead, build on your child’s growing language and pretend play skills to help her work through her fear:

  • Validate and label her feelings.  I know, the stethoscope looks scary. But it is  only for listening and won’t hurt (but it might be cold!)

  • Be honest with her about what will happen.  Don’t tell her the shot won’t hurt if it will.  But let her know it won’t last long.

  • Read stories about going to the doctor.  Ask your librarian for recommendations appropriate to your child’s age. 

  • Pretend to go to the doctor with one of your child’s favorite dolls or stuffed animals.  You can be the doctor first and then your child might want to give it a try.  Follow her lead to see where she wants this playacting to go.  For example, if she tells or shows you that her “baby” is scared, you as the doctor can say, I will be very gentle.  I will take good care of you, I promise.

Find a good time, just a few hours before your daughter’s appointment, to let her know about her upcoming visit.  Make a plan for what the two of you can do if she is feeling scared—for example, bring a favorite stuffed animal to the appointment, or tote along a favorite book to read. 

When you actually go to see the doctor, let him or her know about your child’s fear so they can be extra sensitive.  Ask the doctor to tell your child what he is going to do before he does it to help her prepare and feel more in control. Let her sit on your lap.  Most of the exam can be done this way. 

Afterward, no matter how she responds to the exam, let her know how proud you are of her for getting through it.  While she may never love going to the doctor (who does?), being sensitive and supportive throughout the process teaches your daughter how to cope with a fear—a skill for life.

Both my husband and I are outgoing, very social people, but our 2-year-old is terribly shy. He won't leave my side at the park or at birthday parties.  He also doesn't have many friends at preschool. How did we get such a timid child and what can we do to get him to be more outgoing?

It can be quite challenging to have a child whose personality and way of approaching the world are very different from yours.  The good news is that you’ve taken the first and most important step—you are aware of the difference.  This knowledge will help you better understand your son’s needs as he grows.   

The way you are describing your son has to do with what we call his temperament—his individual way of approaching the world. Temperament is something we are born with, not something parents create.  What is our responsibility as parents is to understand who our child is and to accept his individual needs, even when they are very different than our own.

Your careful and sensitive observation of your son has given you very valuable information about how to best parent him.  His behavior is telling you that in new situations, especially ones that involve lots of people and activity, he feels overwhelmed and uncomfortable.  This is why he hangs back, doesn’t jump right in to the action, and looks for support from you.  He needs time to watch and become familiar with his surroundings in order to feel more safe and comfortable.  Then he’s able to join in. 

Like many children who are slow to warm up to new situations and people, your son may be more comfortable in small groups versus larger ones.  For example, he may prefer to have one or two close friends over for playtime rather than a whole bunch.  What’s important to remember is that there is not one way for a child to be happy.  What feels good to one person may be very different for another. 

It sounds like for you and your husband, having lots of friends and trying new things may be what brings you pleasure and fulfillment.  What makes your son feel content and good may be quite different.  Separating your needs from his helps you respond sensitively to his cues.  It also lets him know he is liked, valued, and loved, which will give him the confidence to try new things as he grows.

Even though your son’s temperament may lean more toward being introverted (or shy), there is a lot you can do to help him enjoy social relationships and develop social skills.  Here are some ideas:

Prepare him for new situations.  For example, if he is going to a birthday party, talk with him about it in advance.  You might arrive a few minutes early so he has a chance to get comfortable in this new place before all the other kids arrive; or, go to the party with a friend he feels safe with so he has a “buddy.” As he gets older, let him know that you understand that parties can feel hard for him and make a plan together for how he can manage his feelings. 

Acknowledge his need to stay close to you.  Let him sit on your lap and talk about what you see happening around you.  Then suggest that you explore together. Check out the games they are playing; see if he will take a turn with you by his side. Or, you take a turn first. If you are at the park, go down the slide together, sit by his side at the sandbox, watch and talk about what the other kids are doing.

Create lots of opportunities for your son to interact with others.  Find out from his teachers which children your son enjoys playing with (or who might be compatible with him).   Invite them over individually for some one-on-one playtime.  This will give your child a chance to interact with friends in a familiar environment. 

The key is to join your child where he is at, provide the support he needs to feel safe and comfortable, and then help him adapt. 




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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