Development FAQ: 18-24 months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

How do I persuade my 20-month-old son to wear sunscreen and a hat?

I have a problem that I want to solve before we go off to Spain in July. Last summer when it was hot and sunny I managed to apply sunscreen to my little boy and also found a hat that stayed on. He was, however, only 9/10 months at the time and very easygoing. This year it is a different story as he is 20 months with a mind of his own.

Last week we were preparing to go to the park, but he refused to wear his sunhat. As it was warm, I started to apply sunscreen to his arms and legs, but he wriggled away and I doubt I got much on. I have tried to explain to Greg why he needs these things, but he won’t listen. Here, the sun is not yet at its full strength, but I am worrying about Spain. It won’t be much of a holiday if we have a daily battle before heading to the beach or pool.

Toddlers of Greg’s age don’t understand the reasons for wearing a hat and sunscreen. But Greg is old enough to understand the simple rule, “No hat, no outing.” You must begin to teach him that when it is sunny and you say he must wear a hat and sunscreen, then he must. If he won’t cooperate, you may have to miss a few outings to the park, but he will learn that there is a consequence to not doing as you ask. If all goes well, by the time you get to Spain he will accept that putting on a hat and sunscreen is a normal part of getting ready to go out.

It may help if you let him assist with rubbing in sunscreen and deciding where the next bit should go. Make a silly game out of it and let him choose whether you start with his legs or his arms. Also let him watch as you apply sunscreen to yourself. You may find that spray sunscreens make the task a little easier.

Finding hats for boys is not easy. Look for one with a wide brim all round or a “Legionnaire” style with a wide peak and back flap to protect the neck; this latter style probably gives the best all round protection. Look together in mail order catalogues, where pictures of other little boys wearing hats may help. If you can, buy a second hat in a style he seems to like the look of. You can then offer him a choice when going out. The exposure of a young child’s skin to the sun does pose a risk, even in the UK. Wearing a hat and sunscreen should, therefore, become part of your son’s daily routine in the summer. Remember also to stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, reapply sunscreen frequently, make sure that Greg’s fluid intake is kept up and, when on the beach or by the pool, keep most of his skin covered with loose shorts and t-shirts, or choose clothing specially designed to offer UV protection.

Development FAQ: 18-24 months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

How do I prepare my daughter of 23mths for an overnight hospital stay?

My daughter, who is 23 months old, needs to go into hospital overnight for a small operation. I am able to stay with her all the time, but I was wondering how I might prepare her for this experience.

At this age, your daughter will have no concept of what a hospital is, unless she has been there before as an outpatient. The most important thing is not to let any of your anxieties pass to your daughter; toddlers are perceptive and can pick up tensions in adults.

Explain to your daughter in simple terms that you will be going together to the hospital. Tell her that in a hospital there are doctors and nurses who help people to get better. If you daughter has had painful symptoms from her condition, tell her that the doctor will make it better again. Explain to her that you will both sleep in the hospital and that other children will be there too.

Begin to prepare her about two weeks in advance by simply talking about the visit. Toddlers have a limited concept of time, but getting her used to the idea is what you are aiming for initially. If you can manage a visit to the ward beforehand, this can be helpful. If possible, show her the playroom, the toys and an empty bed or cot. Point out hospital staff, so she is familiar with people in uniform.

If an advance visit is not practical, look in your local library or bookshop for simple stories about hospital stays. There is no need to push the idea too much, but rather make these books part of her daily story session. Using toys to play hospitals is another good way to introduce the idea. You might choose to buy a child’s medical set, which contains items she may encounter, such as a stethoscope or thermometer. Play with her teddies or dolls and show her how these pieces of equipment work. The hope is that, once she is in hospital, the real equipment won’t seem so strange and can be a talking point while your daughter is examined.

The day before your stay, pack a case and let your daughter help; you may have been given a list from the ward. Tell her where you are going the next day. Most toddlers do understand phrases like, “After your next big sleep we are going to the hospital.” Let her see you pack your nightclothes and toothbrush so she is reassured that you will be staying. Put in one or two familiar toys, her favourite pyjamas and maybe a new pair of slippers she has helped choose. Also pack some books, a pad for drawing and some crayons, but don’t include any noisy toys or those with small pieces. Depending on the procedure and anaesthetic, your daughter may have to fast beforehand, but take her favourite drinking beaker and some healthy snacks for when she can eat and drink again. A fun straw will encourage her to drink. Hospitals are usually very warm and it is easy to get dehydrated.

Once your daughter has been admitted, make her cot welcoming with her toys. Get to know the nurse’s names and talk to them about the coming day. Many wards will assign a specific nurse to you for each shift. If you are in an area with other patients, introduce yourselves to them and their relatives. The more your daughter sees that you are at ease in the ward, the less likely she is to become apprehensive about the experience. Put on a happy face and keep talking about all the new things you can see. If you do have concerns or questions, try to engage her in some play activity before speaking to a member of staff.

Stay beside your toddler and offer reassurance when she is prepared for surgery. Even if she appears sleepy, stay close to her bed. Once the operation is over and she is back on the ward, help the nurses by keeping an eye on her and voice any concerns you may have. If you have prepared yourself for your daughter’s operation, you will know what to expect.

Once you are home, try to return to a normal routine as soon as possible. If your daughter is a bit clingy or quiet for a day or two, make plenty of time for one to one time with stories and cuddles. At this age most toddlers cannot express their feelings, but with an understanding adult close to them throughout the experience, they bounce back very quickly. Good luck.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

My 14-month-old wants to play with pens and pencils.

Is it safe to let my 14-month-old have pencils to draw with? My husband gave her one and now she screams every time she sees either of us using a pen. She still puts lots of things in her mouth, so what would be the best thing to give her?

Now that your toddler has discovered how to make marks on paper, she will enjoy drawing sessions. Sit with her at a table and provide a large sheet of paper. This can be taped to the table to keep the scribbles on the paper and also prevent frustration if it moves.

Buying child-friendly chubby crayons, pencils and felt-tips will help your daughter with grip, but there is no reason why she cannot use ordinary pencils and crayons if that is all you have to hand. By fourteen months, she will be able to hold a chubby crayon in her hand (not yet in the conventional grasp) and make a mark on the paper; you can show her how to rub it back and forth. As she begins to explore the pencils and crayons, some are bound to find their way into her mouth. Remove them gently but firmly, and tell her that pencils are for drawing with and not for putting in our mouths. If she persists, then put the activity away for another day.

Give her three or four colours of crayons and felt-tips to begin with. Show her how to pull the caps from pens, and also how to replace them when she has finished with one colour. It is a matter of preference as to whether you draw pictures for your child or not; some educationalists believe a child should develop portraying an object or scene in their own time. Small children can become very passive about drawing if they are used to an adult drawing for them, or frustrated that their efforts can’t match up to an adults. The main thing is to let your child explore with a variety of drawing materials, and for both of you to enjoy the experience. Generally children will not draw something recognisable until they are three years old, but observing their growing skills is a fascinating part of their development.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

We want our son to grow up to be bilingual.

We wish our son to grow up to be bilingual. He is now 15 months and beginning to speak. My husband is Italian but also speaks excellent English. From Louis’ birth, we have each tried to speak our own language to him, but as my husband is away from home all day, often not returning until late, Louis hears far more English than Italian. Will this affect his learning of two languages? We visit Italy once or twice a year and my aim is for Louis to be able to communicate easily with his grandparents, who speak no English.

Growing up to be bilingual is a great asset for any child. Most experts agree that the best way for this to happen naturally is to immerse the child in both languages from an early age. But this is not always possible, and in most households a child’s first language is likely to be the one he hears more frequently, usually the mother’s. In addition, you and your husband probably converse in English, so Louis is more likely to speak more English than Italian in the next few months.

Your husband may not spend as much time with Louis as you do, but make sure when he is with him, that he always speaks to him in Italian. Your husband may find that Louis understands Italian, but as he begins to speak he will answer in English. This is quite common amongst bilingual children. Often when they visit the country of their second language they begin to speak quite naturally, as if they realise that this is the only way to be understood.

Make sure you have plenty of Italian books for Louis to share with his father and buy some CDs of Italian nursery songs for him to enjoy. The more he hears both languages, the more likely he will be to pick them up spontaneously. As a final thought, if you are looking for some help with Louis, think about employing an Italian au pair or babysitter, which would help reinforce what he is learning from his father.

Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Entertaining and Educating your Toddler

It is hard to get my son interested in books.

I am aware of how important it is to read books to my son Sam, who is 16mths. The problem is that, after the first page or two, he shows no interest, wriggles off my lap and starts to play with something else. We have plenty of board books around, but I rarely see him pick one up. I would love books to be part of our day, but am I expecting too much too soon?

Sharing books with small children is a habit to be encouraged, but all too often toddlers will have different ideas. Learning that books are fun can take a while.

Making Sam look at books will just put him off, but even the shortest time with a book on a daily basis will pay off. Often the time between bath and bed is a good slot, or some parents prefer to have a short session in the early morning sharing a book in their bed. In time, Sam will get used to the idea and begin to look forward to story time.

When looking for a book to interest Sam, choose one with bright, clear pictures. Photo and object books have their place on his shelf, but you could now begin to look for books with a simple story line. Toddlers often enjoy rhyming text as they can identify with the rhythm, even if they do not understand every word. Look for simple stories that might interest him. Many small boys love anything to do with tractors, diggers, farms or building sites, or stories of everyday activities that they can relate to. If you have difficulty choosing, parenting magazines often carry book reviews. Or visit your local library, where you can try out different styles and authors without the expense.

Don’t expect to get through a whole storybook in the first sitting, but try to engage Sam’s interest by asking questions such as ” Do you see the digger?” or “Can you point to the dog?” This helps him to actively share in the experience, rather than just having to sit and listen. Another tip is, don’t feel that you have to read every word on each page. Use words he can understand now, or make up your own text as you look at the pictures together. The key is to engage his attention for a short spell each day as he begins to learn how books work and how enjoyable they can be.

There are plenty of interactive books on the market, with tabs and flaps, textures and dials. These may be a more fragile than sturdy board books, but can still be shared together. If he does pull a tab off, perhaps because he isn’t yet dexterous enough, don’t scold him but let him watch while you mend it. Showing him how to respect books is all part of the learning process. Keep these books on a shelf that can only be reached by you. Also, teach Sam how to put his sturdier books back on a low shelf when tidying up, rather than putting them in a toy box.

Sam will also learn by your example. If he sees his parents enjoying books, he is more likely to catch the “bug” himself. Keep a book beside your bed and let him see you enjoying a magazine or a newspaper. Make use of your local library. Most have story sessions suitable for his age and he will be allowed to borrow books as well. Making a weekly visit will become an enjoyable outing for both of you.

Encouraging Sam to enjoy books is worth the effort. Giving him a love of books now will help him later at school with English, spelling, story writing and research. Statistics show that some boys can be more reluctant to read than girls, so helping them early on does pay off. We live in a technical age, but books still have a huge influence on us.