Dear Tanya

Q: My girlfriend seems to have changed since we had our daughter. She is the perfect mother and takes pride in making our home immaculate, but I am beginning to wonder where the fun person has gone.
A: Becoming a parent is a life changing event and a period of great personal transition. Many parents believe that they should aspire to be perfect for the sake of their child, but in reality this is neither possible, nor ideal. The pressure to lead a perfect life and to be the perfect role model invariably takes its toll, because it is unnatural. Both the child and the parents’ relationship suffer in the long run. Constant worrying about the minutiae of running the household and trying to keep a step ahead of impending chaos means an end to fun, relaxation, and spontaneity.

Talk to your girlfriend and tell her how you feel. Make sure she knows how much you care. If her battle to be perfect is the main issue, reassure her that your child just needs her to be herself. Your daughter will benefit from understanding that her parents have imperfections and don’t always know the answer. The “perfect” parent, who aims to fulfill their child’s every need, encourages dependency. In the long term this can prevent children from “letting go” of their parents and developing as separate individuals.

Q: My mother is insistent that I am spoiling my toddler and that I should leave her to cry herself to sleep. Is she right? I find it so hard to leave her to cry.
A: Your mother may be passing on advice that was current at the time she was raising you. The child-care gurus of the day believed that a feeding routine was the route to good parenting and that it wouldn’t be harmful to allow a child to cry herself to sleep.

While it is true that it does a young toddler no harm to fuss for a few minutes while she is learning to settle herself, allowing her to become distressed will simply increase her anxiety levels and delay the settling response. A baby of this age is too young to be manipulative and there is always a reason for the distress. It would be wise to adopt a frequent checking approach to let her know that you are there. Remember: if it makes you feel uncomfortable to let your child cry she will pick up on your anxiety, so you need to find a way that works best for you.

Q: My son of 12 months has started sucking his thumb and becomes completely hysterical if he doesn’t have his favorite toy in bed with him at night. Should I be worried, and at what age should I try to wean him off these habits?
A: Your son is finding ways to comfort himself when he is separated from you. He is using his thumb as a pacifier to help soothe himself to sleep, and his toy has become a source of emotional comfort that helps him to cope when you are not around. Don’t think of these props as a sign of weakness or insecurity. Your son’s impulse is healthy and normal and both the thumb-sucking and comfort toy are tools that will help him make the gradual transition to independence—from you and from them. He will give up both in his own time.

Areas of Development

Child development is a simple term that describes the extraordinary cognitive, motor, emotional, and psychological journeys that will impact on your toddler from head to toe. Prepare to be astounded as she grows and learns month by month.

“Your toddler’s senses are more heightened than yours, and each new experience enhances her sensitivity, increases her brain development, and her ability to interpret the world.”

Young children are often on the move. Although their growth rate is not as rapid as during the first year of life, a toddler’s average height by age two is 34 in (86.4 cm), and average weight gain over the course of a year is 3-5 lb (1.5-2.5 kg). Their heads also grow larger to accommodate a fast-developing brain.

The large muscles of the body develop more rapidly now. These control the big movements a child makes (gross motor skills), such as sitting, walking, climbing, running, and jumping. The smaller muscle groups also become stronger. These control the way your toddler uses her limbs, hands, and feet to achieve smaller movements (fine motor skills), for more focused or precise tasks.

Toddlers gradually learn enough muscular control to make large movements, such as swinging the arms to throw and kicking with the legs. Smaller-scale movements involving precise control of the hands and fingers will take longer to develop, but you will gradually see your toddler learn to point, draw, use a spoon, and write.

Physical play

Young children are naturally active and become more skilled at physical play as the large muscles of their body develop.

Cognitive skills

The ability to learn and think is known as cognitive development—this affects the area of the brain responsible for reasoning and our understanding of the world. Sensory development and language skills have a major impact on cognitive development.

Sensory skills

Young children learn by taking in and understanding the world around them. The senses play a vital part in this process, through physical development and learning. Your toddler is alert to new sensations and discoveries and needs to experience as wide a range of safe sensory experiences as possible. What your toddler sees, hears, smells, feels, and tastes has an impact on her memory, and how she perceives the world. Awareness of how big or small she is, and where she fits physically, in relation to other people or things, is also important.

Communication skills

Your toddler’s ability to talk makes a profound difference in the way in which she relates to her world. Language is the bridge that allows clear communication of personal needs and enables her to express her preferences and personality. There are three categories of language development:

  • What she says (expression): the words themselves, the phrases, the context, and how the language is used.

  • How she says it (articulation): the pronunciation and tone of those words.

  • What she understands (reception): what she takes in, and understands the words to mean—including the individual words and their context.

By the time your baby has reached 12 months she will probably have developed a style of baby language that is partially recognizable and may even have said her first word, such as “dada” or “mama.” “No” will not be far behind. The next three years will bring profound changes.

Emotional development

The toddler years are fairly self-centered. Your young toddler’s brain is not yet developed to a level where she will be aware of the impact that her behavior has on other people, although she will be very aware of the impact her environment has on her.

Feelings will emerge gradually:

Early emotional experiences have a profound impact on brain development. Your child’s early experiences of joy, fear, excitement, love, security, and comfort have an impact on the way the brain develops and on behavior shaping. You will play a vital role in helping her develop a healthy self-image and learn to manage her emotions. She will crave instant rewards and gratification, will have little concept of time, and will be driven by immediate wants and needs. Over time and with guidance she will learn what is reasonable behavior.

  • Self-awareness—of personal feelings, and the development of self-esteem and confidence.

  • Awareness of others—development of feelings for and about other people.

  • Intuition—sensitivity to mood and atmosphere.

Social skills

Your toddler’s social skills will develop gradually by watching and mirroring you through play, hand-in-hand with language and emotional development. The mechanics of social behavior can be taught when she is old enough, through learning good manners, but social skills involve mainly intuition and feelings. Your child’s innate temperament will also have an impact. By the age of four she will have started to develop personal beliefs to guide her behavior, based on your example and her own experiences.

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