Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Learning

My 15mth son has begun to clamp his mouth shut when it is time to brush his teeth.

I am beginning to dread getting my son ready for bed as he just refuses to have his teeth brushed. He will open his mouth for me and then clamps tightly shut onto the brush and wont let me do a thing. He thinks it is hilarious and shakes his head from side to side with a big grin on his face. When he first began to do this I did laugh with him but now I am not sure how to get him to stop this each and every evening. I am worried his teeth will not be cleaned properly so have to resort to all sorts of antics to get him to open up again. When he does I can only do a quick brush round as he wriggles and squeals so and I am worried I will hurt his mouth with the brush. What can I do to stop this evening pantomime?

Now your son has learned that he can really get to you over brushing his teeth he will continue to do so unless you turn the situation on its head. Having laughed with him he will continue this behaviour every night unless you radically change your approach to teeth brushing. Begin by buying a new toothbrush for him. They come in all shapes and colours. You may be lucky and find one featuring a favourite story or cartoon character.

Recently onto the market are “Teach me toothbrushes” which have a small head and a guard on the handle to prevent the brush being inserted too far into the mouth and causing damage. Present his new toothbrush to him with a flourish and put a whole new strategy into play.

Use a very small smear of low -fluoride toothpaste on the brush as small children will often suck off the toothpaste. Swallowing too much fluoride toothpaste can lead to fluorosis which causes white spots or patches on the tooth enamel whilst the teeth are forming. Dental experts point out that too much toothpaste on the brush will cause your toddler to salivate and so want to swallow, so really use the smallest amount possible.

The position you adopt to clean teeth can really help. Many parents make the mistake of standing in front of their toddler and holding his chin. This position can lead to the mouth being hurt if the toddler moves at the wrong moment. The head of the brush may dig into his inner cheek which can be painful. Ask your son to lie down on the floor and place his head on your lap. This should be far more comfortable for him. He has something to lie on that is soft and you can see into his mouth better. If he does wriggle it is easier for you to keep control of the brush, and it is far harder for him to escape completely.

Use a clean finger to slip inside his inner cheek and begin to brush the front teeth. Depending how he reacts to all these changes you may be able to do a much better job right from the beginning, or you may have to work each day at moving further and further around inside his mouth as he becomes more used to the procedure. Getting him to hold a brush in his hand whilst you do this may help. Try not to rush the job, even if you feel in the beginning that not all his teeth are being brushed. You are getting him to co-operate with you so that each day you can move gradually further and further towards the back of his mouth. Remember to praise him for being co-operative, even if this has only lasted a few minutes.

Using silly songs and rhymes can help. There are plenty of short rhymes and jingles about teeth in children’s song and poetry books, or just sing songs he knows.

Turning this time into a game can help, too. Pretend to be an animal or vehicle, especially if he has a favourite one. Just in the way you use coercion to get him to eat at times, you may have to resort to this in order for him to have his teeth brushed properly each day. Although you may play games to get him to co-operate he needs to gradually learn that brushing his teeth is something which happens every day, twice a day. Until he is old enough to do this job effectively on his own, which is around seven years of age, he will need your close supervision. The sooner he accepts that this is part of his daily routine the easier it will be for both of you.

If he still continues to play up then brush his teeth using one hand and hold a hand mirror in the other so he can see what is being done to him. He may then feel more in control of the situation and so co-operate.

Toddlers love to copy so let him see you brushing your teeth in the morning. If you are not already brushing his teeth after breakfast you should begin to do so. If you don’t want to take your son upstairs again after breakfast have a second set of brushes and paste for yourself and him in a downstairs bathroom. Although your son is far too young to clean his teeth properly on his own let him have a turn at it. Offer him his toothbrush whilst you brush your own teeth at the same time. Show him how to use small circles across the tooth’s surface, not up and down or along the teeth. Once he has had an attempt and you have finished your own get him to lie on the floor, in the same way that he does after his bath at night, so that you can then clean his teeth yourself.

Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Learning

What type of toys should I give my 9-month-old baby ?

What toys should my 9 month old be playing with? We have a basket full of rattles and soft-shaped contrast toys which I think she is bored with now. I look in the shops and think most things look either too difficult or too easy for her. How do I know if a toy will help her development? Should I look for toys marked with her age now or for a few months time? Can you give me an idea of how I should play with her?

To a nine month old everything she handles is a toy. Watch any baby of this age with a wooden spoon and plastic container and you will notice how intently she explores them. Your baby learns all the time whatever she is doing.

Most toys in shops are marked with ages, but are only a general guide to what a baby between those ages is capable of doing. Your baby may only just be reaching those milestones or she may be nearly at the next stage already.
When selecting toys for her think what she is able to do already. Can she hold a small object in each hand? Can she pass them from hand to hand? If she is given a selection of small brick cubes she may now be able to build two, possibly three into a tower. Look at stacking rings which help her place objects on top of each other.

Is she crawling or trying to crawl? Soft balls and wheeled toys can be chased.
Does she move small objects from one container to another? Stacking cups are ideal for this.

Does she want to stand up and cruise about the furniture? There are activity tables in various forms which will be stable enough for her to stand at.
Encouraging your baby to play does not always mean showing her how a toy works. If you have bought a toy suitable for her developmental stage she will discover for herself how it works. This is how she plays. By stepping back and observing, you allow her to learn at her own pace.

Whilst at this age your baby will still want you to be within her sight, it is not essential to play with her all the time. Let her have time and space to work things out alone.

Look at each toy before buying and try to see how it will help her with skills she already has and encourage her further to explore the toy on her own.
Many of today’s toys are battery-operated. Although there is a place for one or two of these in your child’s toy box, look out for toys which may seem simpler but offer greater opportunities for learning and developing.

Your baby’s sense of touch is well-developed and she will enjoy different tactile experiences. Well-made wooden toys are a worthwhile investment; bricks, cars, bead frames, simple shape sorters can all be readily found.
There are plenty of textured, feely toys available as well as board books which incorporate different textures. Show her how to feel the surfaces with her fingers. She also uses her mouth and tongue to feel with, which is why everything goes into her mouth. Remember this when selecting toys and playthings.

To develop her manipulation skills which are refined by now, look for activity centres which all offer a good variety of moving parts. Things to turn, twist, push and pull all require different movements of her fingers and hands.
As well as conventional toys, everyday household objects can be given to her, providing you check them for rough, sharp edges or small pieces which can be swallowed. Providing her with a basket full of household objects can be fun. Look around for different textures, such as smooth, rough, shiny and soft. What looks like just a bottle brush to you will give her plenty of chances to explore its qualities with her hands and mouth. Include as much variety as you can and change the objects on a regular basis so there will always be plenty more discoveries for her to make. Quality is more important than quantity. Too many toys can overwhelm her, and she will probably pay more attention to the box and wrappings than yet another toy.

Only give her one or two toys at a time and keep things stored in cupboards or storage containers. Begin to organize her toys, such as books in one box, bricks in another so she will not be confused once she is mobile enough to explore the boxes for herself. Too many toys at once will overwhelm a baby and they end up not really exploring the full potential of anything as they move endlessly from toy to toy.

Have different toys for certain times of day. For instance, bath-toys which remain in the bathroom and quiet-time toys such as a musical soft toy.

All babies learn as they play. If you watch your baby and see how she learns new skills, you will be able to provide her with a rich learning environment.
At times you will interact with her and enjoy stories and rhymes together, but be conscious of how much she learns by herself when provided with suitable playthings.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Learning

How do I keep all our toys tidy?

By the end of the day, my two-and-a-half-year-olds toys are scattered all over the house. I have run out of space and usually end up pushing them all into large boxes. He makes no attempt to help me clear up at the end of the day. How can I make life easier for us both?

Most children generally dislike disorder but need help in organizing their toys initially. Begin by emptying the large boxes and sorting everything out. As you find the scattered pieces put each toy together. There are many different storage boxes available now, often cheaply at “pound” stores. Buy a selection of these to suit your requirements. Use them to store train sets, bricks, construction sets, make-believe items such as tea sets etc. Using different coloured lids will help. Also label them clearly with both a name and picture of the contents to help you and your child tidy up.

Most children have too many toys, many they have grown out of. Whilst you are sorting everything out, put to one side things no longer played with. This can be a sensitive area with some children who want to hang on to everything. It may be better to do this when he is not around. Donate complete toys to charity or doctors waiting rooms unless you are storing them for younger siblings or relations.

Once all sorted, you now need to look where you keep the toys. Does he have a play room? Or does he spend a lot of time in his bedroom? Does he play in the family living area?

Divide his toys between the spaces. He may like a train set in his bedroom which can remain up from day to day for early morning play. Downstairs you may have cupboard or shelf space for games and puzzles. Try to have most things where your child can reach them alone. Once you have decided where his toys will be kept, put them away each day in the same place.

If you still feel he has too many things, rotate them. Keep three or four puzzles or games he is able to do on a shelf. Put the rest away out of sight, then swap them in a months time. This will keep his interest up, but also prevent too many things being available all at once.

Art and craft materials are best kept away from everything else and only used when an adult is present. You may like to provide paper and crayons for easy access. Stacking vegetable racks can be useful for this.

Now everything is organized how do you keep it that way?

Encourage your child to tidy up at regular intervals during the day. When he is ready to come downstairs in the morning, ask him to quickly put away what he has been playing with in his bedroom. During the day, before lunch or going out have another quick tidy up together. Setting an example by keeping your own things in order will help your child see how much easier life is, if everything has a place. At the end of the day let him know five or ten minutes before you want to begin tidying up, so he can bring his game to an end.

llow enough time for you both to do the job properly and turn it into a game.

hildren of this age have a sense of order and usually enjoy putting things back where they found them. By limiting the number of toys they have out at any one time, you can prevent a chaotic house by the end of the day.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Learning

How can I make my 25-month-old hurry up?

How can I get my 25-month-old to hurry up? She often refuses to hear me when I tell her that her meal will be ready in five minutes, and then she takes ages to finish whatever she’s doing, so the meal is cold. It’s the same with bath time and going out to the supermarket – she will always dawdle, insisting that her bag must be with her or her doll put down a certain way. Is she doing this to deliberately annoy me, or is it just a stage she is passing through?

Toddlers live in the here and now. They have no concept of time, so a five-minute warning across a room barely registers with them. They can find it hard to make the transition between being engrossed in play and getting up to the table for a meal. They need to finish, or at least put on hold, the game they are playing and that will take time.

Try to give a few warnings of what is going to happen next and gradually the concept of “five minutes” will sink in. The first warning of a meal could be, ” It’s almost time to stop for lunch”, followed by another in a few minutes, such as, ” In five minutes your pasta will be ready”. Use a kitchen timer and make sure that some action towards being ready for lunch has started. Using a timer is normally successful, and a game can be made of beating the timer if toys need to be tidied away. The final warning could be, “It’s time to wash your hands now”. As with most things where toddlers are concerned, if you always follow the same routine, they will become used to it and accept it.

Use a similar method for dealing with other parts of your toddler’s day when you know she is engrossed in playing and you need her to stop and get ready for the next activity. Sometimes you will have to actively help her ease from one activity to another. For example, join in tidying the toys or help her to find her bag before you go shopping.

Patience is the best method, but toddlers can be very slow and this is frustrating when you do have a time limit. If you have given her fair warnings and she is making no attempt to get ready, calmly but firmly tell her that the time has come for her to stop playing and do what she has been asked to do. You may have to physically remove her, but she will begin to learn that she must listen and act when asked reasonably.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Learning

There are certain rules and standards I would like my son of 2.7mths to understand. What is the best way to teach him?

My son who is 2 years and 7months loves to play jumping games with my husband but he now seems to think that he can jump around wildly on anybody’s sofa. Am I being unrealistic at this age to think he really understands why he shouldn’t? My husband is quite laid back about such things. I have tried to explain to my husband that we need to be consistent about some things, such as jumping on the furniture and holding hands to cross streets even if they are quiet. The trouble is my husband like to rough house play when he comes home in the evenings and encourages my son in jumping games. He thinks it should be part of our son’s childhood and he is probably right but how do we teach my son when it is ok to jump from the sofa, because Daddy is there and it is part of a game and when it would inappropriate, such as jumping on the sofa at Grandma’s house. Won’t we just end up confusing him?

You are right in thinking that your son needs to understand the rule about jumping on sofas. Getting your son to understand why it is alright to jump on the sofa at home, when playing with his father, but not when he is at Grandma’s house does depend on how developed his comprehension is. What you and your husband do need is a united approach to the subject. Each of you should discuss your feelings and reasons with each other when your son is not within hearing. You may both have to compromise a little to meet halfway but decide how you will approach this rule and others which may be a bone of contention between you.

A small child needs to live by certain rules and standards. A child will be far more secure if he knows what is and what is not acceptable. Keeping rules to the minimum does help. But, for safety reasons, there are certain things which are simply not negotiable. One of these could be holding hands when crossing the road. Even if you are in a suburban street with no sign of traffic your son must understand that at each and every road crossing he holds your hand the whole way across. If something unexpected happens such as a motorbike appearing from nowhere you will have your son right beside you. If he is allowed to cross some quiet roads alone he would not know how to act should an emergency situation occur. He is just too young yet.

The way to explain a rule to your son is to be concise. Giving him long explanations will confuse him and probably go above his head. He will just tune you out. You also need to be very specific. The reason he jumps off Grandma’s sofa is he just doesn’t understand that what is acceptable at home is not elsewhere. “Don’t jump on the sofa” is unclear to him. It would be better to point out that the sofa at home is the special one he and Daddy use for their games. But Grandma’s sofa is not one that can be used for games, nor is the sofa in the living room at your friends’ house. Keeping your language simple and within his level of understanding will help him comprehend what is expected of him. Rather than being confused that he may jump on the sofa at home but not elsewhere he is more likely to comply, as you have given a reasonable explanation which is at his level.

You will have to give him reminders, especially when he is excited, but always bring the reminder back to the point he does understand.” You may jump at home with Daddy in the playroom, but not at Grandma’s house.” That is reminding him rather than nagging but in a way he will understand. A small child will need reminding every time he goes to Grandma’s house as his memory is short. Providing you do it in a matter of fact way, rather than threatening, he will be more likely to comply and keep to the rule.

Once you and your husband have decided what are going to be the rules about sofa jumping, road crossing and any other things you both feel quite strongly about, you must both stick with them. However quiet the road seems your son must always hold hands. If you do slip up once he is bound to notice and enforcing the rule again will be doubly hard for you. Point this out to your husband. A child very soon learns about inconsistency and will play on it. It also will confuse him and his understanding of how the grown up world works.

One final point is that you yourself need to follow the rules you set for your son. Teaching him road safety will mean you need to always cross at a safe place. You also need to wait for the green light even if the street is clear. It will only confuse him if you tell him it is safe to cross because you say so, [and are in a hurry] when you have taught him to wait until the red light turns green.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Learning

My two-and-a-half-year-old toddler is getting too rough for comfort.

My two-and-a-half-year-old toddler is getting too rough for comfort. He is a little boy, so I always expected him to be boisterous but my fear is that it’s getting dangerous for his baby sister, who is nearly one. He is hitting, pulling and pushing and has been immune to me getting cross. Do you have any tips? I’m afraid the baby is going to get hurt…

This is a fairly common problem but you do need to nip it in the bud if you can. This type of behaviour is always more likely to happen when the toddler is hungry, tired and bored. When you see the signs looming, keep an extra close watch on your son and be ready to divert his attention when he’s about to pounce. If he does actually hit his sister, make it very clear that hitting is not allowed. Get down to his level so you have eye-to-eye contact, hold his hands so he can’t run away and say firmly, ‘Mummy doesn’t hit the baby, Daddy doesn’t hit the baby and you mustn’t hit the baby either’.

Instead of rough play, you can encourage your toddler to massage or tickle the baby’s feet. I often find that allowing a toddler to do something like creaming the baby’s feet (even if it gets a bit messy) is better than constantly saying ‘don’t touch the baby’. Then you can say something like ‘baby loves it when you touch her feet, why don’t you give them a little rub?’. Try to encourage him to be kinder to the baby by reminding him of all the nice things he has done, instead of all the naughty things. Encouragement and praise always works better than criticism and nagging.

Remember at this age there are lots of new things happening in a toddler’s life and your son needs lots of extra hugs and kisses, so he feels equally as important as the baby.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Learning

My two-and-a-half-year-old son is very clingy.

My two-and-a-half-year-old son is very clingy. I work at home and he’ll cry and protest when I try and go to my office. Five minutes later he is perfectly happy with the nanny, but I find these scenes distressing. He doesn’t like to leave me when we go to friends’ houses and I don’t like to force him to mix with other children if he doesn’t want to. I’m dreading when he starts nursery school. I’m also now expecting a second baby, and I’m sure we’re going to face more problems when the baby arrives. Is this kind of behaviour normal in a toddler? I feel very guilty about his neediness. Is there anything I can do?

I do think many children go through a clingy stage at this age when they just needs lots of love and reassurance ? and you’re right, your son should not be forced to do something he doesn’t want to. Working from home does make it harder for the toddler to understand why he can’t be with you, but as he is perfectly happy after a short while, it is worth persisting with lots of gentle reassurance that you will be back later.

As there is a new baby on the way, I would advise that you try and help your son to become more independent now, before the baby gets here, so that he does not associate the baby with being abandoned. A good idea for sensitive little souls who don’t rush to mix with other children is to arrange smaller play dates, with only one or two other mothers and children. The adults can join in with the play, instead of just watching them. Another way is to concentrate on getting him to play with you first, doing lots of role play games with teddies and dolls. Once he is happy to play alongside you in a group situation, his confidence will increase and he will become less clingy as you gradually withdraw your presence.

Finally, please, please do not feel guilty about working. Your son will not be damaged by having a working mother. In my experience the only damaging thing about working mothers is the unnecessary guilt they feel.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Learning

How much choice should I let my toddler of 2 years 7mths have?

How much choice should I allow my daughter, Sarah, who is 2 years 7 months, to have? I have always believed that giving plenty of choice over what to wear or eat would help her to grow up confident and knowing her own mind. But this isn’t happening as she constantly changes her mind or refuses every option I put to her. Some days I feel as though we are locked in confrontation from morning until night. I have tried reasoning with her, but it makes no difference.

Many two-and-a-half-year-olds have very definite opinions about what they like and don’t like, what they will wear and what they won’t wear. Life is quite black and white for them and they have very good staying powers when it comes to getting their own way.

While it is a good idea to encourage small children to have a say in certain things, giving them complete control and choice can have the reverse effect and make them feel very insecure. Children like to have boundaries and limits. They may rebel against them at times, but having them there helps children to feel secure knowing that their parents are in control.

With your daughter I would begin to put some limit on her choices, so she does have her say, but within your guidelines. Offer her two or three outfits she may choose to wear to nursery. If she begins to protest and starts to want something else, remain firm that she has to choose one of the ones selected or not at all. Try to remain detached and calm in the situation, rather than letting it escalate into a confrontation. At first you may meet with some resistance, but if you and anyone else who is involved in her care remain consistent and firm, she will soon realise that it is not worth being indecisive for long. Keep any reasoning simple and concise; “You may choose any of these outfits as it is going to be cold today and they will keep you warm”.

There will be many issues over which you should offer no choice, for example issues relating to safety or health. But where choice is appropriate, keep it simple, limiting the options to two or three at most. When offering a choice over food, give her three options you are happy with. If she has eaten ice cream three times this week then don’t offer it again; you know better than your daughter what makes up a healthy diet and you need to be in control of it. If she requests ice cream, even if it wasn’t an option, tell her there is no more left and that she will have to wait until the weekend when you go shopping. Next week offer her ice cream as an option once rather than every night.

It may take Sarah a while to fully adapt to the new way of choosing, but setting sensible limits while still allowing choice, will increase her security about things and make her less likely to change her mind or react over every issue.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Learning

My son of two and a half has suddenly become afraid of dogs. He will begin to panic and cling to me when one even walks past him. We only see dogs when we are out in the street or park.  No one close to us owns a dog so I am not sure where the fear has come from. Are there ways to help him overcome this fear or will he just grow out of it?

It is not just children who are afraid of dogs.  Some adults can be wary if they have had little exposure or a bad experience.  Your son’s behaviour is entirely understandable.

Dogs can seem particularly scary to a small child since a dog will be more physically threatening – after all a dog’s face is probably at a similar level to your son’s head.  Many children grow out of this fear as they grow in size and learn to understand the behaviour of animals.  However, it would be nice for both you and your son if you are able to help him manage his fear.

Ideally, you could ask a friend with a really trustworthy dog whether you would be able to introduce your son to their pet in a relaxed and friendly environment.  Puppies are not usually the best introduction, since they are more liable to jump up and play-nip, which will only increase your child’s fear of dogs.  A well-behaved dog of about two, which is accustomed to the behaviour of a small child, is ideal.    Once your son is comfortable in the presence of this dog, you could ask him “Do you want to feel his silky fur?”   If he does, you should hold him close to you and guide his hand gently over the dog, well away from the dog’s face.   If he is at all frightened or draws back just say “It’s ok, you don’t have to stroke the dog” and move him away.  Simply being in the same room or garden with a dog that shows little interest in your son will help to reassure him.

Your son is old enough to understand that most dogs are friendly and reliable; however, it is sensible for him to be cautious of dogs that he doesn’t know.    Do not encourage him to approach dogs when you are out and about as a dog jumping up or barking at him will increase his fear.  Help him to understand the behaviour of dogs in the park by explaining what they are doing, e.g.  “Look,  that dog is chasing a pigeon”.  “Look at that funny little dog running after a ball”.   In time your son will feel more comfortable with the behaviour of dogs.

Introduce toy dogs into your games and find stories that he enjoys where dogs are featured. Get him used to the idea that, on the whole, dogs are friendly rather than threatening and can give a lot pleasure to people. Once he is used to thinking in this way about “pretend” dogs he may be more willing to get used to the real kind.

Development FAQ: 18-24 months – Learning

My daughter of 23 months is very headstrong and determined to do things her way.  Every morning she wants to get dressed all by herself, which I know should be encouraged, but she is not yet able to cope without some help. This usually ends in her getting very frustrated and having a tantrum as I finish getting her ready for the day.  How can I make getting dressed easier for her so she is able to manage it on her own?

Learning to dress herself and to manage simple tasks is essential to your daughter’s development.   Skills such as undressing, putting on shoes and clothes and brushing teeth are all to be encouraged.  But it can be frustrating for you both, and takes time and patience.

There are ways of minimising the frustration your daughter experiences when she is unable to get a garment on or off without help.  If you can, choose clothes that are easy for her to put on – skirts and trousers with elastic waistbands, roomy jumpers and t-shirts with wide necks are ideal.  Give her plenty of praise when she gets it right, and this should mean she is more likely to allow you to help her when she gets a little stuck.

Teach your daughter some of the tricks of getting dressed.  Laying out her clothes on the floor may help.  You could suggest that she puts her legs into her trousers whilst sitting down.  Help to acknowledge her bid for independence and leave her alone to get on the clothes with which she is able to cope.   If you know this is going to take some time, try to factor this into your morning routine.

If your daughter is not managing very well, try to avoid saying, “Shall I help you?” You could try to blame the clothes when you see she is struggling, “That silly shirt with all those buttons, it can’t work out where your head should be. Shall we try together to get this silly t shirt to find your head?”

  • Select clothes which are easy for her to put on
  • Allow plenty of time for her to get dressed
  • Give plenty of praise
  • Be patient

In Gina’s book “The Toddler Years”, you will find lots of advice and information about how a child learns to dress herself, and what you can expect of her to do at each stage.