You’ll soon learn that what your toddler wants and what he needs are not always the same thing. Toddlers are very egocentric; they have no appreciation of the rights of others, and if they want something they want it now! This is because they have no sense of time and live in the here and now.

“Thank goodness for friends. We were at our wits’ end with Sam’s behavior, but other parents’ stories put things in perspective. Now we know this is normal, it is a phase, and it will pass.”

—“Thank goodness for friends. We were at our wits’ end with Sam’s behavior, but other parents’ stories put things in perspective. Now we know this is normal, it is a phase, and it will pass.”

“I was determined not to become a part of the toilet training posse and decided I would not worry much before my son was three.”

—“I was determined not to become a part of the toilet training posse and decided I would not worry much before my son was three.”

It is important to remember that a toddler brain is not an adult brain—nor even a 10-year-old brain. What your toddler needs, besides environmental stimulation and plenty of love, is a calm and consistent approach toward managing the hot spots of eating, sleeping, and calming down. Young children thrive on routine rather than discipline.

Repetition in every aspect of life and learning will help reinforce the messages to your toddler’s brain and enable him to learn. Be aware that this can be a force for bad as well as good if a child is being repeatedly exposed to a negative behavior or routine.

Your toddler’s newfound language and movement skills will give him an innate sense of achievement and power. Like most young children, he will discover he has immense influence over the important people in his life (usually parents and siblings) and will enjoy being contrary! The power of “No” is a great source of fun for him and frustration for you! This does not mean your toddler is naughty or bad—it simply means he is typical. The need for attachment to a safe and familiar adult figure remains very strong during months 12–18 . A small child who is hungry needs to be fed, if he is frightened he needs to be reassured and comforted, if he is crying he could probably use a hug, and most of all he needs to be loved—consistently and unconditionally.

Guidance and boundaries

Praise and associated rewards need to be immediate and frequent at this age. Behavior guidance or intervention also needs to be immediate, or not at all, as a toddler will not be able to link behavior and consequence if you wait. Rather than wear out the word “No,” show your child what to do and steer him out of trouble through your actions and facial expression, instead. It is your actions, not your words, that will have the most meaning and impact at this age. All too often, parents reinforce unwanted behavior by trying to talk to their toddler about it, but he can’t process the information. Instead your attention tells him that his behavior has brought a positive reward. It becomes an incentive to do it again.

Your child’s behavior and capacity for self-control may fluctuate markedly. At this age, so much effort is being put into learning to walk and talk, that progress seems to halt or even regress in other areas of development. When a child has to concentrate a lot of energy into one area of accelerated development, he will have fewer physical and mental resources available for other areas. That is why trying to manage emotions so often leads to frustration for this age group. Parents are often full of concern that their toddler, often a little boy aged somewhere between 1–2 years, seems intent on destroying his home and everything in it. His tantrums may be so bad that his parents are left feeling socially isolated and ready to take their child for psychological assessment! There is usually nothing wrong with these children. They are simply behaving like normal, healthy toddlers.

Parents faced with extremes of toddler behavior should take heart. This phase will pass—and you need to remember that your child is learning valuable skills that will allow him to become a lively individual in later life. However, effective behavior boundaries will be important in helping him to learn to manage his behavior as he gets a little older.

Plenty of sleep

Children in this age group need approximately 111/2 –12 hours’ sleep each night, plus 1–3 hours of naps. If your child hasn’t had enough sleep it will reflect in his behavior. It is a good idea to start to get into the routine of putting your child to bed at the same time each night to establish good sleep habits from an early age. Food, bath, story, bed is a useful and calming pattern. Make sure that your child falls asleep in the calm and quiet of their bed, not in front of the TV or in your bed .

How you respond

The toddler years are a combination of letting go of babyhood and starting to put into place the behavior guidelines that will help shape your child’s behavior in the future. Later sections will outline practical guidelines for routines for eating, sleeping, and good behavior. At the age of 12–18 months the guidelines are fairly simple.

Love and praise work wonders

A toddler who is rewarded for good behavior by having your warmth and attention will not need to “act out” to get noticed. Use positive eye contact and body posture by getting down to your child’s level to talk. Remain calm and consistent in your response—a child of this age will be confused by inconsistency or extremes of mood. Look for the positives in all that he does. Your child is not deliberately defiant, but is learning self-control and testing his limits and boundaries.

Encourage self-feeding

By 15 months, children have developed the fine motor skills needed to feed themselves. The process will be messy to begin with and should never be forced, but now is a good time to let your toddler start to hold a spoon and to experiment with self-feeding. You will probably value a very large bib, since not much will reach his mouth to begin with! He will learn very fast, though, and by 18 months is likely to be able to guide a complete spoonful into his mouth and consume most of it. Resist the temptation to keep wiping his mouth clean, though.

Feeding is a highly sensitive area of development and there are detailed guidelines on under the section Encouraging Healthy Eating. At this age your toddler is too young to be fussy, and if he’s hungry he is likely to eat … eventually. The most important thing is to ensure that your child is getting regular meals that are nutritionally balanced. In the majority of cases the rest will follow quite naturally.

I want it now!

A small child who is hungry will let you know—and will need to eat right away.

The question of toilet training

By 18 months your child has enough muscle control to begin to be able to hold urine for short periods, but is unlikely to become fully dry much before 2–3 years old. Parents have a tendency to become strangely competitive about the speed with which they toilet-train their child, but each child is different, not all children use a potty, and the issue should never be forced.


Your home environment is all that your toddler knows. It includes all the people, sights, sounds, and sensations that make up his world. Toddlers are children on the move, usually at floor level—and their curiosity knows no bounds. Children at this age cannot remember information for very long and have no concept of danger, so it is important to start to “toddler-proof” your home for their safety and your sanity. Look at your home through your child’s eyes and plan ahead to make potential trouble spots safe.

Make way for messy play

For the sake of everyone’s sanity abandon all hope of an immaculate house for the next few years. Embracing mess and chaos is all part of the child development process. Cleanliness is always important, but not when taken to extremes. An excessive focus on neatness and hygiene may lead to undue anxiety in small children and restrict their development through play. Those who become excessively fussy eaters or unusually neat and tidy in their play are often reflecting their parents’ anxious preoccupation with cleanliness and orderliness.

Your toddler’s view of the world

Here’s an insight into what your toddler might be thinking…

  • “The world is a very large place. I am very small, so it can be overwhelming at times.”

  • “I used to think that Mommy and I were the same person. I seemed to be physically attached to her in some way. Of course, now I know that she is just here to take care of me! That’s why I hate it when she leaves the room. She just disappears. I can never remember that she will come back, and so it’s pretty distressing.”

  • “Falling over when trying to walk is still a bit of a shock—but it seems to bother Mommy and Daddy more than it bothers me.”

  • “The changes in my mood are so sudden that it is overwhelming. I don’t know what to do to calm down. I get even more stressed out if someone picks me up roughly.”

  • “I don’t know what to do with all my energy sometimes—I hate having to sit still and keep quiet when there is so much to do.”

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