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The Biggest Toddler Surprises

  • If you learn anything in your baby's first year, it's to expect the unexpected -- which is actually good prep for what's ahead. Because while those early months of your child's life seemed like an action movie, the period between his first and second birthdays is its sequel, upping the ante with stunning developmental twists and turns, like these six:

    1. Distractions don't work anymore.

    Remember the good old days, when if your baby grabbed a fragile knick-knack off your coffee table, you could take it away and simply hand him something else? Sorry, but shortly after your child turns one, the ol' switcheroo isn't likely to do the trick." Toddlers' ability to focus on one particular item increases around now. They've also learned about object permanence -- that an item still exists even if you hide it out of sight -- and at this point the concept is really cemented itself in their minds," says Rahil D. Briggs, a psychologist and infant/toddler specialist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in Bronx, NY.

    The best tactic: Toddler-proof your home to minimize the chances your child will latch on to objects he shouldn't. And if it's time to wean him from something like a binky, don't just put it on a high shelf (especially if he's watching!) Throw it away together, permanently, so he really understands it's good and gone.

  • You knew your child might turn into a terror at two-year mark. But many kids begin acting surly around 15 months. Why? "They begin to feel powerful at this age, partly because they're doing new things like starting to walk. So they begin to try to influence what happens around them," says Dr. Briggs. If in the first year, your child did things like fake-cough to get your attention, he may take it one step further now, throwing tantrums to take center stage (and to try to get his way on having blueberry pie for breakfast). Don't give in, but stay sympathetic and help him put a name to his feelings, says Doug Albrecht, Ph.D., of the Arizona Institute for Early Childhood Development in Phoenix. "He needs to learn that with your help, he doesn't have to be overwhelmed by his anger," he says. Stay by his side and calmly say, "I know you're frustrated, but pie is for dessert." Eventually he'll calm down -- and start to realize he can't bulldoze you by throwing fits.

  • Yep, that's right: By as soon as 18 months of age, your child might be ready to climb a whole flight with a little assistance (for example, by holding onto a low-lying banister or an adult's hand).

    If you haven't already installed safety gates, better do it, and only let her climb when you or another grown-up is right by her side. And since kids typically figure out how to make their way up a flight before they can manage descending, be prepared to offer her a lift on the way back down.

  • Around the time your child turned 9 months old, she probably started kicking up a fuss if you tried to hand her off to anyone else. Which was kind of annoying, but kind of flattering too (after all, it showed you were her favorite person). But around 18 months of age, most kids will start exhibiting a decrease in stranger anxiety.

    No one knows why, but it could again have to do with her mastering the whole object-permanence thing: Your child knows that even if she's with another person, Mommy is still close by. So even though it may be a blow to your ego to see her happily trot off with a babysitter, take it as a good sign of her healthy emotional and mental development.

  • Sure, your baby has always loved to yank off his socks and hats. But as he nears the age of two, he may suddenly strip entirely naked whenever he can -- and then parade his bad self in front of as many eyeballs as possible! Don't freak out; you aren't raising a future Chippendale's dancer. "He's doing that just because he's more aware of his body than ever before, and proud of it too," says Dr. Albrecht. "It's a way of saying, 'I'm special, and I want to be noticed.'"

    Of course, you may not want quite so many people to notice your child's dangling little...um...specialness. So try to take his behavior in stride when he's in the privacy of your home, but set some limits when you're in public. Say, "Isn't it great that your body is so strong and good-looking? Because it's so special, let's cover it up when we're not in our own house."

  • One day as your child nears two, something like this is going to happen: You'll be watching your favorite TV show, and just at the best part, he'll march by and press the power button with a pudgy little pointer. Then he'll turn it on again -- then off again. You'll be annoyed, of course, but he's not really trying to tick you off.

    "He's trying to figure out cause and effect, and his own impact on your emotions," Dr. Albrecht explains. "If he drops a pen over and over, he learns that the same thing always happens. The pen falls, and that's that -- it's kind of boring." But flipping the TV or the lights on and off is a lot cooler: Mommy may laugh the first time, roll her eyes the second time, and get angry the third. And Grandma's reactions may be entirely different -- she may think it's cute and funny every time (being Grandma and all). Get up and redirect him elsewhere, keeping a poker face as well as you possibly can. Let others in the family know that that's what they ought to do too. The less dramatically you all react, the sooner he'll move on to a new experiment.

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