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Your Toddler's Dubious Achievements

My son Nicholas's baby book had special stickers for the usual milestones, such as "Rolls Over," "First Word," and "First Step." But there wasn't one for "Crawls Down His Crib Rails Like Spider-Man."

Had I not been so very pregnant at the time of his first great escape, I might have reached him before he made a loud thud on his bedroom floor. Instead, Nicholas, then 15 months, picked himself up and quickly toddled over to his next sticker-free milestone: "Roots Through Trash Can."

How come nobody ever tells you about these strange accomplishments, the ones that take you by surprise and leave you wondering what to do? The ones you certainly won't be bragging about at playgroup?

To help you out, the five skills that your child may be proud of, and the things you can do to save him from himself.

Jen Singer is the mom behind MommaSaid.net, a humorous and helpful site for stay-at-home mothers.

Toilet Duty

Plays in the toilet
Age: 9 months to 3 years

You'd think that Renee Padilla of Las Cruces, New Mexico, would be thrilled that her 16-month-old daughter, Brianna, has taken an interest in the toilet. Except that Brianna doesn't actually want to learn how to use it -- she wants to swim in it. Even the childproof locks her mom installed haven't kept Brianna from her newfound attraction. "Before I can stop her, she'll hop right in," Padilla says. "She's been known to take some toys in there with her too."

What's going on: Toddlers and preschoolers love water, and the swirling kind is especially fascinating. The toilet is the perfect height for them to play in, and it's so much fun to watch the water disappear down the bowl.

What to do: Let your child play with water in the kitchen or bathroom sink -- under supervision, says Jerry Wyckoff, Ph.D., co-author of Discipline Without Shouting or Spanking. Give her different-size containers for filling and emptying. Keep bathroom doors closed -- but check the toilet for blocks, balls, and bath toys before you use it, just in case.

The Lock Picker

Opens, closes, and locks doors
Age: 1 to 3 years

One morning, I settled Nicholas, then 2, in front of a video while I put his baby brother, Christopher, down for a nap. While upstairs, I happened to glance out the window -- and there was Nicholas, running down the front walkway. Apparently, he'd discovered how to open doors. Next milestone: ringing doorbells.

What's going on: He's testing his boundaries -- and your patience. He needs to see how far he can go without adult supervision before you'll reel him in. "Toddlers reach for things they shouldn't, play with things they shouldn't, and generally do things that make little or no sense -- unless you're a toddler," says Maggie Butterfield, director of community education at the Children's Health Education Center, in Milwaukee.

What to do: "A toddler will do whatever your boundaries allow, so it's important that a boundary is in place all the time," says Butterfield. That means you should childproof your doors (you may have to install a bolt high above your child's reach -- figuring out locks is not far behind opening doors). Hang a towel over room-to-room doors inside the house to prevent little fingers from getting trapped.

D.I.Y.

Insists, "I do it!"
Age: 2 to 3 years

Dana Jacko of Kinnelon, New Jersey, has called her local poison control center three times this year. Why? Her daughters have enthusiastically entered the "I do it!" stage. When Brooke, almost 2, decided to brush her teeth all by herself, she squeezed diaper-rash ointment onto her toothbrush. "The tube was next to the Clifford toothpaste," Jacko explains. Luckily, Brooke hadn't swallowed enough to cause damage (except to her mom's life span, of course).

What's going on: At this age, your toddler wants to prove what a big kid she is and that she doesn't really need you. So she asserts her independence by trying to dress herself or filling her cup from the water dispenser on the fridge. But she doesn't understand that some of these things create messes moms don't like -- or might even be dangerous.

What to do: Experts say it's important for parents to encourage this can-do attitude. And in real life, you can swing this and keep your sanity. Respond to "By myself!" with "Great! Let's see if you can do two whole buttons, then I'll do the rest." Set aside a day each week that your child can make her own bed or plan her own wardrobe, even if it means sending her to preschool in her Cinderella costume.

You can prevent "I do it!" mishaps by being diligent about putting tubes, jars, and bottles out of reach or locking them up. And leave the poison control center number near the phone, just in case.

A Little Stuffy

Stuffs objects up the nose and into ears
Age: 2 to 4 years

When Vyvyan Lynn of Kite, Georgia, prepared to remove the M&M's that her son, Jonathan, then 3, had put up his nose, she found they'd started to melt. Because of Jonathan's little experiment, Lynn was less than surprised when her daughter, Maggie, later tried the same trick, also at age 3. "She stuck the peas she was supposed to be eating up her nose," she says. "Not such a good hiding place."

What's going on: As kids explore their little worlds, they tend to come upon their orifices. It's just another way they figure out how their bodies work (and express what they think peas are really good for).

What to do: If your child succeeds in stowing something in his nose or ears, don't go digging, because you may cause more trouble. If the item's in his nose and you're sure he knows how to blow out, have him do so. Go to your doctor if it won't budge.

Also, keep small, alluring things -- such as beads, buttons, pebbles, and cat food -- out of reach unless he's under adult supervision. Try to teach him that nothing smaller than his elbow should go into his nose or ears, no matter how much fun it may seem.

Potty Mouths

Uses potty language
Age: 4 years and up

"I know! Let's make up a story together!" I declared innocently to a minivanful of boys, ages 4 to 6. Soon, our "story" was an assessment of all the different places a dog might relieve itself, including on my head. "Ha-ha-ha! Isn't that funny, Mrs. Singer?" one boy asked. I managed to eke out a nervous little smile while I prayed that none of them knew the "Diarrhea Song" that my brother used to sing to me on the way to elementary school.

What's going on: Bodily functions are captivating to children, especially once they're potty-trained and feel in control of those functions. Plus, talking about them gives kids something to bond over that they can see usually makes grown-ups squirm.

What to do: "Don't overreact, and your child will outgrow it," says Wendy Masi, Ph.D., dean of the Mailman Segal Institute for Early Childhood Studies at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale. "When not reinforced by adults, this stage passes." You may try to discourage your kid from using any potty language, but he'll still resort to it surreptitiously. Of course, you should set rules to limit its use, such as not at the dinner table and not in front of Grandma, who still has perfect hearing.

And perhaps you should enjoy these stages while you can. By the time my two boys get to the "Drives Too Fast" milestone, I'll probably be longing for the days of carrots in noses and jokes about poop. I could make the most out of "Feels Embarrassed in Front of Cute Girl" someday...

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