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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 27

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. 



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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

I do it!  I do it!  No, me!  Karina, mother of Eliana, age 27 months, says these are some of the words she hears most often in her house:  Eliana has decided that she can do everything herself and has a huge fit if I try to help.  It’s great to see her wanting to do things on her own.  But the downside is that it usually takes twice as long.  Sometimes she gets so frustrated that she loses it anyway.  I guess this is what being a toddler is all about.

Some days you might feel as if everything you try to do—from buttering your child’s toast to putting on her socks—is greeted with Noooo, me do it!  Even though letting your child have a try at fastening his shoes or putting the straw in her juice cup might take more time than you want or make a little mess, look on the bright side:  You’ve raised a confident toddler who believes in herself and her abilities.  She’s willing to try a new and sometimes difficult task because she feels clever and competent.  Her actions also show you what a strong bond the two of you have.  She can tell you what she wants and how she’s feeling.  She trusts you to support her and she knows you’ll be there for her if she needs help.  That’s some good news to remember during the “Me do it!” stage.

What It’s Like for Your Child

I love playing in the sandbox!  As soon as we get to the park, I run over, get in, and grab a shovel.  But—oh no—sand is in my shoe and it doesn’t feel good inside my sock.  It’s itchy and weird and I want these shoes off now!  I shake my foot and tell my babysitter, Sand!  Take off!  She says, That’s fine, go ahead and take your shoes off.   She watches me as I pull the Velcro fasteners and gives me a hand when I get stuck pulling off my sock.  She says, Nice job.  You took off your own shoes.  I feel good that I could do it myself and it is much better with bare feet in the sand.  The sand feels cool and tickly on my toes.  I start to dig and fill up my bucket with sand.  My babysitter says, Full!  Then I pour it out, and she says Empty!  I put more sand in and stir it with my shovel. I hand it to her and say, Here’s soup!  She scoops some up with another shovel and pretends to slurp it:  Yummy!  You are a good cook! 

What Your Toddler Is Learning

Social-Emotional Skills:

  • Confidence, when he is successful at taking off his shoes
  • Relationship-building as he enjoys playtime with his babysitter
  • Sharing and turn-taking as they play “sand soup” and explore the sand box together

Language and Thinking Skills:

  • The concept of opposites like full/empty and warm (foot in shoe)/cool (bare foot in sand)
  • Pretend play skills when he stirs her “soup” and offers some to her babysitter
  • Problem-solving as he figures out how to take off his shoes
  • To use words to ask for help (Sand! Take off!), to engage his babysitter in a pretend play story (Here’s soup!), and to describe his observations and discoveries (empty/full).

Physical Skills:

  • Development of his fine motor skills (the small muscles in her hands and fingers) when he removes his shoes and pours sand

Did You Know…

Parents report that their children’s challenging behaviors peak at 27 months of age?  And it may come as no surprise that the number one most challenging behavior reported by parents was...whining.

Reference:  O’Brien, M. (1996).  Child-rearing difficulties reported by parents of infants and toddlers.  Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 21(3), 433-446.  Available online:  http://jpepsy.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/21/3/433.pdf

What the Research Means for You
While whining can be hard to take, it’s quite common at this age as toddlers are experiencing newfound independence, growing language skills, and a desire to explore, do, and go, go, go.  They know what they want and they want it NOW!  Unfortunately “NOW” isn’t always possible, so they get cranky.  The result: Whining. 

What can you do?  Start by telling your child that you know she wants to tell you something but you don’t understand what she’s saying when she’s whining.  When she can tell you in her big girl voice, you will respond.  If you cannot meet her request at the time, clearly and matter-of-factly (without anger) validate her feelings (I know it’s hard to wait) and explain the situation:  I cannot play right now.  I will play with you once I have cleaned the table and washed these dishes.  If she keeps whining, you can offer a distraction (Would you like to help me wipe the table with a sponge?), or you can set the kitchen timer to show your child how long she has to wait before you can play with her.  Are any of these strategies guaranteed to rid your life of toddler whining?  Nope.  But the goal is to not reward (give in to) whining, but instead help your child learn how to handle a difficult situation in a better way.

Spotlight on:  Helping Your Child Learn Persistence

Persistence means not giving up when faced with a challenge. It is the ability to cope with frustration and stick with a difficult task.  While children are born with a motivation to explore and learn, it is persistence that helps them accomplish their goals:

A 2-year-old carefully stacks one block on top of another to make a tower.  He experiments with which blocks form the most solid base and considers how best to balance the blocks as the tower gets taller.  This toddler is learning what steps are involved in making his goal a reality through careful planning and persistence.

Here are some ideas for encouraging children to persist toward their goals:

  • Ask children questions to help them solve problems on their own.  Now that you’ve filled the bucket up with sand, it’s heavy and hard to lift.  Hmmm.  What do you think we should do?  Questions like these help guide your child in using logical thinking skills to solve a problem and reach her goal.
  • Point out how children’s actions helped them achieve a goal.  Notice the steps involved in achieving a goal.  (And try to avoid only praising successes.)  Comment on your child’s play, and be sure to leave time for your child to respond:   I see how carefully you balanced the blocks on top of one another...  You made a strong base for your tower.  Good thinking.
  • Support your child in his attempts to master new skills.  For example, you might offer your toddler a small plastic pitcher and let him pour his own milk into the cereal bowl.  (Have a sponge handy.)  Let your child know that you’re proud of him for trying hard by noticing his efforts: You got your shirt off all by yourself.   If your child gets frustrated and starts to give up, validate his feelings: Getting the puzzle piece in the right space can be really tough! Then, offer suggestions or assistance to help him keep at it without doing it for him.
  • Encourage your child to try new tasks. Watch her to see what she seems ready to tackle, perhaps getting on her own shoes or attaching one train to another.  Tell her it may take a few tries, but you believe she can do it. Just be sure your expectations are age appropriate. When you ask your child to do something she is not ready to do, she may experience feelings of failure or incompetence and worry about disappointing you.  This may make her reluctant to try new things. Instead, offer your child lots of opportunities to feel successful by offering small, achievable challenges.  If your child is easily frustrated, break up more difficult tasks into manageable parts.
  • Model persistence.   Let your child see you attempting new things and persisting even when the task becomes difficult or frustrating. Share your thinking process:  Boy, getting this jar open is really tough. I’m feeling pretty frustrated. Let me try it this way...
  • Partner with your child when frustrations are high.  If your child is challenged by an activity and becomes extremely frustrated and distressed, he may have reached his limit and needs a break.  He may also need a little more assistance from you.  Recognize his effort: You worked on that puzzle for a long time.  Do you want me to help or do you want to try later?  Avoid showing any disappointment as this may lead to worry that he is displeasing you.  When he is ready to start again, sit down with him and give him some pointers or guidance to get him moving toward a solution.

Let’s Play: Activities That Nurture Bonding and Learning

  • Crazy for Daisies.  Gather a selection of plastic or silk flowers and a small Styrofoam block (supplies available at craft stores).  Show your toddler how she can stick a flower into the Styrofoam and let her create her own flower arrangement.  Talk with your child about her favorite flowers, the colors of the flowers, which flowers are tall or short, big or small, the names of the flowers (rose, daisy, etc.) and their different parts (stem, leaf, petal).  Activities like this build your child’s creativity, problem-solving, and language skills.
  • Your Little Engine That Could.  Pretend your child is “the little engine that could.” (You can find a copy of this story at your local library to share with your child).  After reading, have your child stand in front of you and put your hands on her shoulders.  She is the engine, and you are the caboose.  Make up different obstacles for her to overcome as the two of you chug through the house or yard—Here comes a tall mountain; can you make it over?  Here is a wide river; can you cross the bridge?  Together, the two of you can say, I think I can, I think I can. Games like this encourage children to solve problems, build their imaginations, instill confidence, and develop muscle strength and coordination. 

What’s on Your Mind?

My son is 27 months old and he doesn't say much besides mom and dada, kitty, and a few other things. But he responds to everything I ask him to do, and if I count from one to five he holds up his fingers all the way to five. Nevertheless, my family is worried. Should I be?

To understand where your son is at, it's important to look at both your child’s receptive language—the words he understands, and his expressive language—the words he can say. The good news is that it sounds like your son's receptive vocabulary is quite good. He is responding appropriately to your requests and can follow simple directions, like holding up his fingers to count to five. As for expressive communication,  it’s important to factor in your child's ability to communicate with gestures. For example, while a child may not say with words, Mommy, I'm hungry. I want a banana, he may take his mom's hand, walk her to the kitchen, and point to the banana.  This is expressive communication, too. 

As for expressive vocabulary, this typically increases between ages 2 and 3 to about 300 words.  According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, at 27 months, children should be saying new words each month and using two-word sentences, such as "more juice".  If you find that your child is only saying a limited number of words and not using two word sentences, he may be behind in his expressive language. The best first step is to make an appointment with your son's pediatrician to discuss whether he might have a speech delay.   

Also, call your state's "Child Find" office. (You can go to:  http://www.nectac.org/ contact/ptccoord.asp for each state's contact information.)  Child Find professionals provide screening and assessment services to babies and toddlers, often at no charge.  They also offer early intervention services such as speech therapy.  These programs are part of a federal system that operates in all states. It may very well be that an assessment concludes that your child doesn't need any extra help and will catch up on his own, but it's always good to check this out, if only for reassurance.

It is also helpful to begin keeping a word list in which you note the words that your child uses.  These words don’t have to be pronounced perfectly, but they should be sounds that your son uses consistently for one idea.  For example, he may say “muh” for milk and only use this sound to ask for milk.  So you can include “muh” as one of his words on the list.  Bring this list with you to your discussion with your pediatrician and during any assessments that may take place.

In order to support your son’s language development, make a habit of repeating and labeling any sounds he uses for words. For example, if he says "ba" for "ball," you can say, Yes, that's the ball. Continue to read, talk, and sing with him, ask him questions, and point out and identify the people and things that fill his world.  Other helpful strategies are to use short sentences (three to five words) when you talk with him, and to engage in lots of back-and-forth verbal interaction with him.  You say something and then pause to give him time to respond.  Over time, and with support from you, your son’s language will grow and you’ll be wondering when he’ll ever stop talking.

When my 2-year-old gets really angry and has a tantrum, she will bump her head against the wall.  This is really upsetting to us and we usually end up just giving in and letting her have her way because we don't want her to hurt herself.  I'm worried we're setting a bad precedent.

Who could blame you for giving in?  It is very upsetting to see your child hurt herself.  Extreme reactions like this make limit-setting even more difficult.  From your daughter’s point of view, her behavior works, which makes it less likely she will give it up. 

First, it is important to note that pediatricians assert that 2-year-olds cannot bump their heads with enough force to cause them any harm, unless they are bumping against sharp surfaces like the edge of the table.  So, if you feel assured that your daughter is not going to hurt herself, you can ignore the behavior.  For some children, once they discover that a behavior does not get the reaction they were seeking (especially a behavior that hurts), they stop.  Other children—based on their temperament and intensity level—may just hit their heads harder and longer than you are comfortable with.  In this case, you might want to find a safe way for them to continue the behavior (for example, putting a pillow under their head or move them to a carpeted area).  Then ignore it.     

It’s also critical to acknowledge your daughter’s feelings. Helping her recognize when she is angry is the first step in teaching her how to manage these feelings.  For example, if she throws a tantrum because you are setting a limit about TV watching, you might say: I know you are really mad that you can’t watch another video. It’s okay to feel mad. But that’s the rule. When you are done being mad, we can draw together. Giving her an image of a fun activity she can do next can help focus and calm her down.

Then go about your business while staying close to keep an eye on her.  (You might leave her “lovey” or another favorite object next to her while she tantrums so it is there if/when she needs it to soothe herself.)  When she does calm down, give her lots of credit for doing such a good job pulling herself together. Soothing oneself is indeed a very important life skill that you help her learn by giving her the chance to calm down on her own.  After you consistently respond in this way a few times, she will likely give up the head bumping simply because it isn’t getting her what she wants.  

Later, during a calm moment in your day, you might also talk with your daughter and let her know that everyone gets angry and that feeling angry is okay. Then brainstorm with her different ways she can express her anger.  This helps her learn other, more acceptable ways of coping.  For example, she can stomp her feet, draw an angry picture, or tear up newspaper.  The mistake parents often make is being afraid of their children’s anger, which can lead to squelching those feelings.  Instead, look at these “teachable moments” as opportunities to help your daughter learn how to manage difficult feelings in healthy ways.



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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