During this six-month period, your toddler will go through a very complex series of changes, but will want a very simple range of responses. She will thrive on love and comfort, but also need an increasing number of very clear behavior guidelines and boundaries.

“We found it hard to set consistent routines at first—but we persevered and Ali is definitely much more contented as a result.”

—“We found it hard to set consistent routines at first—but we persevered and Ali is definitely much more contented as a result.”

Without any boundaries, your toddler will try to create her own and may push you quite hard to get some resistance. She is beginning to understand who she is and what she thinks of the world. She needs you to be strong and consistent concerning her behavior. This period is also a time of transition: her newfound language skills mean she understands more than she has before and her awareness of being separate from you means that she understands that you may go away (and worries that you may not come back). There may be big changes in the family, such as the main caregiver returning to work, or perhaps a new baby arriving in the family.

There are also changes in the way she is being nurtured. You may have decided to wean your toddler off the bottle entirely; she is adjusting to a new range of flavors and textures on her plate each day; and she may have moved from a crib to a bed. Combine this with the new range of feelings that she is experiencing and it is unsurprising that your toddler will be very sensitive to your feedback and needy of your approval.

Growing up

Make change positive—tell him he’s a big boy now so he can have a cup instead of a bottle. Give him encouragement as he begins to use it by himself.

How you respond

How we shape our children’s early behavior will have an impact on the way they view themselves in later life. A child who is out of control and has no boundaries can feel both powerful and afraid, which leads to poor behavior as well as emotional outbursts. Your toddler will be excited by her newfound communication skills and be starting to enjoy toddler-style “conversations.” However, she remains egocentric  and will still be preoccupied with her own needs and wants. She will want to act independently and be in control, but often becomes anxious and frustrated; and so need you to be consistent in her care and attention. Managing behavior at this age is about helping your child learn to manage her big emotions as well making sure she feels secure. It is about ensuring that you can keep enough control to protect her physical safety when necessary, and put in place the routines and boundaries that will help her start managing her own behavior as she develops, without crushing her spirit. Until she is three years old, you will need to show her, not tell her, what to do.

Mealtime anxieties

One area of confrontation that may begin to develop at this time is battles over food. As the chart shows, this often develops from parents misunderstanding what triggers their toddler’s behavior.

Useful tips for happy mealtimes:
  • Be a role model and show your toddler how to use a knife, fork, and spoon. She will soon copy you, but don’t worry if she still prefers to use her fingers most of the time.

  • Avoid constant fussing. She is less likely to eat if you are anxious.

  • Be ready to trade your toddler’s baby bottle and high chair for a cup and booster seat.

  • Introduce food play and allow eating with her fingers, to get her used to the feel and smell of new foods.

  • Introduce new foods and textures one at a time.

  • Keep the portion sizes small; remember, your toddler has a very small stomach (approximately the size of her fist).

  • Be patient when introducing new foods. Add small amounts and don’t force her to eat the whole portion.

  • Expect as many as 15–20 mealtime attempts before your toddler accepts a new flavor or texture.

  • Keep a close eye on snacking between meals. It could explain why your toddler cannot eat her meal.

  • Remember, if your toddler is still using a bottle or breast-feeding, that she will be partially full when she sits down to eat.

  • Encourage other older children to model “good” eating behavior. Your toddler will pay great attention to siblings.

Your toddler’s view of the world

Here is an insight into what your toddler might be thinking…

  • “We go for walks in the park and there is so much to see, smell, and hear. I like to take things slowly so I can explore and remember, but grown-ups are always in such a rush.”

  • “It’s hard to know how to please them: one moment they want me to learn to climb on to a chair, the next they put up gates on the stairs so I can’t practice climbing on my own!”

  • “There are so many different words for the same thing. Why can’t all animals just be called ‘dog’? I seem to be an ‘Eric’—at least, that’s what they call me.”

  • “I am chatting away much more now, but Mommy and Daddy don’t always understand. I get so fed up with trying to tell them that I get angry and sometimes scream.”

  • “We like playing together. My favorite is the “No” game. I throw something on the floor and then Mommy screws her face up and says ‘No!’ I don’t think she likes this game.”

Toddlers and taste buds

Children’s food and family mealtimes can become fraught with anxiety if parents have not devised a workable routine or have unrealistic expectations about their child’s needs and wants. It is all too easy to misunderstand a toddler’s reaction to food by interpreting it from an adult perspective.

Toddler’s ActionParent’s InterpretationOther Possible Meanings
Pushes plate awayIs misbehavingIs bored or full
Spits food outIs misbehaving, ill, or doesn’t like itFood is too hot/too cold/is not used to the flavor or texture
Plays with food/won’t eatIs misbehaving/will starveHas been snacking/is full/has been given too large a portion
Throws food on floorIs misbehavingIs experimenting/playing/having fun/likes to see parent’s reaction
Leaves food on plateIs a fussy eaterHas been given too large a portion
Won’t eat a new foodIs a fussy eaterIsn’t used to it yet. May eat it next time
Won’t make up her mind what she wants to eatIs being awkward/is a fussy eaterIs too young to make her own decision about what to eat
Licks food and then leaves it on plateIs playing with food/misbehavingIs experimenting/getting used to new texture and taste; may eat it next time
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