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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 30

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 Child’s Development From 30 to 36 Months

What Your Toddler Can Do

What You Can Do to Connect With Your Toddler

My body lets me do “big kid” stuff now! I may be able to:

  • Pedal a tricycle.
  • Dress myself with your help.
  • Draw a line.
  • Turn a knob or unscrew a cap.

Let your child scribble with markers and crayons. This builds early writing skills.

Give your child chances to practice new physical skills like pedaling and climbing.

Child-proof again so that your child’s new ability to open caps and doorknobs doesn’t lead to danger.

Limit TV time and head outside. Take nature hikes, walk to the playground, or throw a ball around.

I use language to express my thoughts and feelings.

  • By 3, I might use as many as 900 words.
  • I understand sentences with two or more ideas (You can have a cookie when we get home).
  • I ask questions.
  • I am learning my first and last name.

Use new, longer, or more difficult words to build your child’s vocabulary: Is your snack scrumptious?

Read books, sing songs, and play rhyming games with real and nonsense words that you and your child make up.

Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer: Where do you think the squirrel is taking that nut?

I am using my new thinking skills to solve problems.

  • I can remember what happened yesterday. I understand the meaning of now, soon, and later.
  • I’m becoming a logical thinker. That’s why I ask Why? all the time! I want to know the reason for things.
  • When I am pretending that it is bedtime for Teddy, I put a blanket on him and sing him a lullaby.

Talk with your child about her day before bedtime. This builds memory and language skills.

Be patient with your child’s “Why” questions.  Ask your child about her ideas. When she asks, Why do dogs bark? Ask her what she thinks before you provide the answer. This builds thinking skills and creativity.

Encourage your child to use logic in everyday situations: It is raining. What do we need in order to stay dry?

I can do so many things by myself!

  • I may help get myself dressed, brush my teeth, and wash my hands.
  • I love to help out around the house. It makes me feel strong and important.

Encourage your child to help in caring for himself, if you want him to be independent. Taking care of oneself can build self-esteem.

Give your child lots of chances to help out.  Put away clothes together, set the table, pick up leaves in the yard.

My friends are very important to me.

  • I like playing with other children. I may have one or two favorite friends.

Help your child deal with conflicts around sharing or turn-taking: There is only one shovel and bucket. I will put the timer on and you will each have 5 minutes to play with it. While you wait for you turn, you can play with the cars.

I am starting to notice similarities and differences in people.

  • I might comment on different skin colors or body shapes.

Help your child understand and appreciate his own culture and background. Talk respectfully about others who are different from you.

Use embarrassing moments as chances to explain, without judgment, that people are different in many ways—size, skin color, style of dress, and so on.

What It’s Like for You

Kendra, mother to 30-month-old Marco, was out shopping for a gift when:

Marco picked up this stuffed pig and said, I buy dis. At first I thought it was cute and funny. I just threw it in the cart and figured I’d get it for him since it wasn’t expensive. But then I started to think about how this is probably going to start happening more and more… It’s not going to be as easy as it used to be when I could zip in and out of a store and Marco barely noticed what was on the shelves. I’m going to have to start saying No more often. I’m not looking forward to that.

Having to deal with your child’s requests (or demands) for toys or treats when you are at the store can turn a quick shopping trip into one big, unpleasant power struggle as your child seems to find something on every aisle that is a “must have.” But don’t dread these moments. They are actually great opportunities to teach your child to cope with frustration at not getting everything he wants. Consistent and clear expectations will be the key. You can start by reminding your child on the way to the store: Remember that today we will not be buying any toys. Then suggest he bring something from home to keep him occupied. On a trip to the supermarket, you might have him help you prepare a snack from home to eat while shopping or tell him he can choose one treat at the store. And on the day(s) you decide it is okay for him to get something, just let him know that he can choose a toy that day and why. It might because he has been sick and needing to stay indoors a lot. Or simply that he hasn’t gotten a new toy in awhile. Learning to make choices and accept limits are skills children will use all their lives. It’s also important for children to, over time, learn to appreciate all they do have—and focus less on the “I Want’s.”

What It’s Like for Your Child

We went over to my cousin Anthony’s house and he has trains. I was so excited when I saw all of them! I sat down and took two train cars and tried to connect them. It didn’t work…I kept trying to stick them together but they wouldn’t stay! I looked at Daddy and asked him for help. Daddy said, Turn that train around and then try to hook them. I did what he said and—wow!—I did it! I made a big long train with sooo many cars and pushed them around the track. Then Anthony came over and he wanted to play too. Daddy said, Okay, now let's give Anthony some train cars. I wasn’t happy about it, but I pulled a few trains off and gave them to Anthony. Then Anthony said, Wooo! Wooo! Let’s have a train parade! I said, Okay, how about our trains go to the park? Anthony and I pushed our trains around and around the track until dinnertime.

What Your Toddler Is Learning

Social-Emotional Skills:

  • Persistence, when she sticks to the challenging task of trying to connect the trains
  • How to ask for help when needed when she turns to a trusted adult (her Dad) for assistance
  • Confidence and self-esteem when she finally succeeds at connecting the trains
  • Cooperation, sharing, and friendship-building when she shares the train cars and plays with her cousin Anthony

Language and Thinking Skills:

  • How to use language to ask for help and to discuss the plot of the pretend play storyline she is developing with her cousin
  • Problem-solving skills when she works to connect the train cars
  • Dramatic and pretend play skills when she and her cousin develop a story to act out with their trains

Physical Skills:

  • Fine motor skills (using the muscles in her hands and fingers) when she connects the trains and pushes them around the track

Did You Know…

That your child is getting better at arguing with you?  From age 1 1/2 to age 3 1/2, your child’s ability to question your rules gets better and more sophisticated. A small research study of 70 parent-child pairs found that as their children got older, parents more frequently found themselves bargaining, reprimanding, and providing explanations for the reason “why” behind rules or limits. And as the children grew, they were actually less likely to ignore parents and also less likely to directly defy parents. However, they were more likely to negotiate—which meant that parents found themselves reasoning with their toddlers much more.

Reference: Kuczynski, L., Kochanska,G., Radke-Yarrow, M., & Girnius-Brown, O. (1987, November). A developmental interpretation of children’s noncompliance. Developmental Psychology, 23(6), 799-806.

What the Research Means for You
There may be days when you feel as if you should have gone to law school in order to deal with those master negotiators we call toddlers. Never fear, this is a very normal and actually, a very positive milestone in your child’s development. When your child is bargaining, he is showing you that he is a good thinker—solving the problem of how to get around your rules. When he comes up with his own suggestion for what the rule might be and a reason why it’s a good idea, he’s using his reasoning and creative thinking abilities, and his language skills too.

This doesn’t mean that you need to agree or give in. Here are some different ways to handle these “negotiations” while helping your child learn and respect rules and limits:

  • Offer choices to sidestep power struggles. This approach works well for toddlers and teenagers, since both are dead set on asserting control. The idea is that you offer choices within limits. For example, your toddler wants to use the adult glass cup but you have a rule that he can’t—he needs to use a plastic cup. (This is the limit.) However, the color of the cup is up to your child (this is the choice). Another example is brushing teeth: Teeth have to be brushed to keep them healthy. (The limit.)  Do you want to brush before we read books or after? (The choice.)
  • Choose your battles. Decide how important the expectation is. Does it matter whether your child has a banana or a bagel for snack? Does it matter if her shirt and skirt doesn’t match? Decide what issues are most important to you, and why. Then explain these to your child and follow through consistently.
  • Be consistent. If your child discovers that if he bargains long enough, you will give in, he has learned that this is an effective way of getting what he wants. If you have decided “the rule is the rule,” let him know you understand he is disappointed/angry/frustrated, but that the answer is no. Then move on with your day together. When you are clear and consistent your child will learn that this rule is “for real” and that bargaining doesn’t work.
  • Explanations are important. Explaining your reason is not giving in. It’s helping your growing toddler become a logical thinker and learn how the world works. Explanations help children see the connections between events, learn cause and effect, and develop the ability to make logical predictions (if hitting is wrong, then kicking probably is too). Explanations build on children’s growing thinking skills and give them the information they need to really understand a rule…and follow it.

Spotlight on: Choosing Toys for Toddlers

Toddlers are little explorers who learn by doing. Play gives your child a great opportunity to develop and practice new skills at her own pace by following her unique interests. The toys and playthings your child has available to her can shape her development in important ways.

While it may seem like choosing toys for toddlers should be easy, as you walk into a toy store today, the only thing that’s easy is feeling overwhelmed. There is a huge array of toys that have been developed for the toddler market. How do you choose which are right for your child? How can you tell which are high quality and which will last? Which will engage your child’s interest for more than a few days or weeks? Below are some ideas for choosing toys that will grow with your child, offer challenges, and nurture skill development in all domains (including thinking, physical, language and social-emotional skills).

Guidelines for Choosing Toys for Toddlers

  • Choose toys that can be used in a variety of ways. Toddlers love to take apart, put back together, pull out, put in, add on, and build up. Choose toys that are “open-ended” in the sense that your child can play many different games with them. For example, wooden blocks or chunky plastic interlocking blocks can be used to make a road, a zoo, a bridge, or a spaceship. Toys like this spark your child’s imagination and help him develop problem-solving and logical thinking skills.

Examples: Blocks, interlocking blocks, nesting blocks or cups, and toys for sand and water play

  • Look for toys that will grow with your child. We all have had the experience of buying a toy that our child plays with for 2 days and never touches again. You can guard against that by looking for toys that can be fun at different developmental stages. For example, small plastic animals are fun for a young toddler who may make a shoebox house for them, while an older toddler can use them to act out a story she makes up.

Examples: Plastic toy animals and action figures, toddler-friendly dollhouses, trains and dump trucks (and other vehicles), stuffed animals, and dolls

  • Select toys that encourage exploration and problem-solving. Play gives children the chance to practice new skills over and over again. Toys that give kids a chance to figure something out on their own—or with a little coaching—build their logical thinking skills and help them become persistent problem-solvers. They also help children develop spatial relations skills (understanding how things fit together), hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills (using the small muscles in the hands and fingers).

Examples: Puzzles, shape-sorters, blocks, nesting blocks or cups, art materials like clay, paint, crayons, or playdough

  • Look for toys that spark your child’s imagination. During your child’s third year, her creativity is really taking off as he is now able to take on the role of someone else (like a king) and imagine that something (like a block) is actually something else (like a piece of cake). Look for toys that your child can use as he develops and acts out stories. Pretend play builds language and literacy skills, problem-solving skills, and the ability to sequence (put events in a logical order).

Examples: Dress-up clothing, blocks, toy food and plastic plates, action figures, stuffed animals and dolls, trains and trucks, toddler-friendly dollhouses, toy tools, and “real-life” accessories such as a wrapping paper tube “fire hose” for your little fire fighter. The all-purpose large cardboard box is always a big hit for toddlers and is free. (Call an appliance store about picking up one of their refrigerator boxes.) Boxes become houses, pirate ships, barns, tunnels—anything your child’s imagination can come up with!

  • Give your child the chance to play with “real” stuff—or toys that look like the real thing. Your toddler is getting good at figuring out how objects in her world work—like television remotes or light switches. She is also interested in playing with your “real” stuff, like your cell phone, because she is eager to be big and capable like you. Toys like this help children problem-solve, learn spatial relations (how things fit together), and develop fine motor skills (use of the small muscles in the hands and fingers).

Examples: Plastic dishes and food, toy keys, toy phone, dress-up clothes, musical instruments, child-size brooms, mops, brushes, and dustpans

  • Toss in some “getting ready to read” toys. Books, magnetic alphabet letters, and art supplies like markers, crayons, and fingerpaints help your child develop early writing and reading skills. “Real-life” props like take-out menus, catalogs, or magazines are fun for your child to look at and play with and also build familiarity with letters, text, and print.
  • Seek out toys that encourage your child to be active. Toddlers are doing all kinds of physical tricks as they are stronger and more confident with their bodies. Your job is to be an appreciative audience for your little one’s newest playground achievement! Look for toys that help your child practice current physical skills and develop new ones.

Examples: Balls of different shapes and sizes, tricycles or three-wheeled scooters (with appropriate protective gear), plastic bowling sets, child-size basketball hoop, pull-toys (e.g., toys that your child can pull on a string), wagon to fill and pull, gardening tools to dig and rake with, moving boxes (open at both ends) to make tunnels to crawl through

  • Look for toys that nurture cross-generational play. While adults and children can play almost anything together, there are some toys that are designed for adult participation. As your child approaches age 3 and beyond, early board games—that involve using one’s memory or simple board games that do not require reading—are fun for all ages to play. Consider starting a “family game night” when all of you play together. Board games encourage counting, matching and memory skills, as well as listening skills and self-control (as children learn to follow the rules). They also nurture language and relationship-building skills. Another important benefit is teaching children to be gracious winners and how to cope with losing.

What are the benefits of sounds, lights, and music?
Many, many toys for toddlers are ablaze with buttons, levers, lights, music, etc. Often these toys are marketed as “developmental” because the toy has so many different functions. Unfortunately, this often has the opposite effect for the child. The more a toy does, the less your child has to do. If your child can sit and watch the toy “perform,” then it is likely more entertaining than educational. In addition, these toys can be confusing to a child who is learning cause and effect. If a toy randomly starts playing music, or it is unclear which button made the lights start flashing, then your child is not learning which of his actions (the cause) produced the lights and music (the effect). In short, the most useful toys are those that require the most action on the part of a young child. The more children have to use their minds and bodies to make something work, the more they learn.

Can toys actually “make my baby smarter,” as the packaging and advertisements often claim?
Proceed with caution. Most products that make these claims have not been proven to increase children’s intelligence. In fact, safe household items (plastic bowls for filling and dumping, pillows for climbing and piling up to make a cave, old clothing for dress-up) are often the best learning tools. Remember, the more your child has to use her mind and body to problem solve and develop her own ideas, the more she learns.


Let’s Play: Activities That Nurture Bonding and Learning

  • Big Words, Little Words. Help your child get ready to write by giving her the chance to play with markers and crayons. First, give her a few regular sized pieces of paper for writing. Then cut the paper in half to make smaller rectangles and give her these strips to write on. With larger pieces of paper, you will probably see your child making larger shapes—big circles and swirls and scribbles. When the paper is smaller, your child is challenged to control her hand movements in order to stay on the paper. This builds the muscles in her hands and fingers which prepares her for learning to write “for real” later on.
  • Fill ‘Er Up! Give your child three plastic cups and some items that fit inside and underneath the cups, like small blocks or plastic animals. Fill and “pour” from the cups. Pretend to “drink” from the cups. Then turn each cup upside down and try hiding an object underneath one of the cups. See if your child can guess where it is. Give him a turn to hide the object and have you guess. Games like this build thinking and problem-solving skills and develop coordination and the muscles in the hands and fingers. They also teach turn-taking.

What’s on Your Mind?

I just had my second child. Ever since we brought her home, my 30-month-old, who had been talking in full sentences, is now only using baby talk. It's really making me worried. What can I do?

Your concern is quite understandable. No matter how well we try to prepare the older siblings, most firstborns find having a new baby in the family stressful. They (like us) need some time to adjust to this big change in their lives. Children’s feelings can be expressed in many different ways—increased aggressive behavior, withdrawing, intense clinginess, or rejecting mom or dad. It is also not unusual for children to return to more “baby-like” behaviors, such as having potty accidents, waking more at night, or by talking like a baby.

Your son, like many firstborns, may be uncertain and seem jealous of the care and attention the baby receives. It is very common for children who are struggling with such feelings to start acting like a “baby” again because it’s a way to get the same kind of attention as their new sibling.

Another important factor in this transition is your child’s temperament. Children who have a harder time with change, and who are generally “big reactors,” often have a more difficult time than kids who are more laid back and flexible. Watch your child’s individual cues to get a sense for how he’s feeling and managing this change.

Here are some ways you can let you son know he is still loved and appreciated, and that he can get the attention he needs without having to talk like a baby:

  • Validate his feelings. Let him know you understand how hard it can be to have a new baby at home and that it’s okay to feel angry (and/or the other feelings you think he might be experiencing). This will let him know he is being “heard” and that he doesn’t need to talk like a baby to get his message across.
  • Make special time for him. As tough as it is to find the time and energy with a new baby in the house, it’s a good idea for you and your husband to carve out special one-on-one moments with your son. Take him on a grocery run with you, on a short walk, or just find some cuddle time in the middle of the day. Let him know how special he is to you, and shower him with as much nurturing and cuddling as you can.
  • Help him feel in control. Give him choices within appropriate limits. Do you want to help mommy make dinner or play with trucks nearby while I cook?
  • Show your son the benefits of being a big brother.  For example, you might say, Sarah gives you the biggest smiles! You really know how to make her happy. Or, What a pretty dress you picked out for Sarah. It’s just the right thing to wear today. The more important and valuable he feels, the less he may see the baby as a rival.
  • Include him (if he's interested) in the care of the baby. Offer ways he can help (picking out the diaper, picking out the baby’s clothes). Give him choices about what he can do while you feed or diaper the baby, such as coloring next to you or turning the pages of a book that you read to him.

When he uses babytalk, keep talking to and interacting with him as if he were talking like a “big boy.” This lets him know that you accept him and will not “force” him to talk or punish him for talking like a baby—responses that tend to make children more likely to hold onto the behavior more fiercely. Another approach is to allow the babytalk within limits. For example, let him know he can use babytalk, except when you ask him to use his “big boy voice”—like when he is talking to his grandma on the phone so she can understand his words.

If your son doesn’t give up the babytalk within a month or so, consult a professional with expertise in early child development who can work with you and your child together to help him move forward.

My 2-year-old daughter's preschool teacher tells me that she actively participates during the planned activities but often seems unhappy during free playtime. She tends to play alone. When she does interact with other kids, she tends to correct them when they misbehave. What should I do?

For many children, preschool poses some social challenges. There are separations from parents, negotiations over toys, conflicts to resolve, teachers and other children to get along with—it's a lot to manage.

The teachers seem to see your daughter as thriving on structured experiences. Is this similar to how she behaves at home or in other social situations? When you watch her play with other children, does she also seem to prefer to play on her own or does she play more with peers? Sometimes the noise, activity level, and demands of being with other kids in a group can be quite overwhelming. Since most 2-year-olds don't have the language skills to share these complex emotions, they try to control the situation through their behavior. They may cry or act out (hitting, biting, etc.), choose to play alone, or even fall asleep! Some take on an adult, disciplinarian role to try and control their peers' behavior.

There are many ways to help your child cope with—and ultimately enjoy—playing with friends at school. Talk with your daughter’s teacher about what she has tried so far to help her play more interactively with other children. See if she can help your daughter engage with others, such as approaching another child or two and asking if she can join their play, or by helping her involved with other kids in more open-ended activities (e.g., playing with clay or at the sand table) that have no set rules.

Another good idea is to ask the teacher if there are one or two children whom she thinks may be a good “fit” for your daughter, who have similar interests and temperament. If so, maybe she can create opportunities for them to play one on one so that your preschooler can have a positive social experience in the classroom. Consider also spending part of the morning volunteering in your daughter’s classroom so that you can see how she interacts with other children. Peer interactions and group play are pretty tricky at 2 1/2 and you want to make sure your daughter is getting the kind of support she needs in building these skills.

To support her at home, you might consider inviting a friend or two from school to your house to play. This allows your daughter to “practice” social skills in a safe, supportive environment before playing together at school. As in other areas of development, social skills develop at different rates and in different ways for young children. Giving your daughter the time to grow at her own speed, while offering her opportunities to enjoy time with peers, helps her build her first friendships.




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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