Another milestone this month when your toddler has their 2nd birthday. They will be old enough to understand some of what this means, if only for the presents and cake. But it’s also a milestone in terms of their independence and increasing range of skills. Their ability won’t always match their intent though, so be prepared for some outbursts of frustration when they can’t achieve what they want to.
Two year olds really are a work in progress and it pays for parents to have a fairly relaxed attitude. Remember your influence as their parent is not all powerful. Although your contribution to their behaviour is significant, they are their own distinct and unique little person. They won’t always behave in ways you approve of and there may even be times when you don’t like them very much. But in the full spectrum of all they receive from you as their parent, short periods of you feeling pretty neutral will be harmless.
You won’t feel lonely when you have a 2 year old around you. There’s going to be lots of chatter this month when your toddler will be able to string 2-3 words together in a sentence. Which means conversations have meaning; you’ll be reminded every day of just how far your toddler has come in 2 short years. Give yourself a pat on the back. Raising a family is hard work and many of the rewards in parenting are not seen until our children grow up. (See our Costs of Parenting article.) But at 2 years of age, there are clear developmental milestones which cannot have been achieved without significant parental input.
At 2 your toddler will be playing make-believe games. They’ll attempt to dress themselves, not always successfully, but will put hats on their head and walk around in your shoes. They’ll have imaginary conversations with their toys and the pets. Listen carefully because you’ll hear yourself replicated through them. They’ll also be possessive and although they may offer their toys to a little friend during play times they’ll just as quickly want them back. They will have a short fuse and not much patience which will cause them to become easily frustrated. Hold back on the refereeing role when you can and don’t be too quick to sort out these dramas. Give them the opportunity to negotiate, but be ready to step in if they need it.
Your 2 year old is also at the stage where persistence is a familiar trait. If they want something from you they are likely to whinge and whine until you relent. Although this provides an immediate solution, it does reinforce the behaviour. The toddler learns it is a remarkably effective way of getting what they desire. So plan for your responses before hand and work consistently with your partner in how you manage their demands.
Your toddler can squat, kick, pull, empty, examine and poke at items now, often all at the same time! They will question why things work as they do and will look to you to know all the answers. Don’t feel you need to reach for the internet just yet, they’ll only listen to the first 3-4 words you speak and then they’ll be off on another tangent. Your long winded explanations will fall on deaf ears so keep your replies short, sharp and to the point.
All this activity is being fuelled by a brain which is almost 75% of its adult volume. Over the next 18 years the remaining 25% will grow its full size.
Dressing up, brushing hair and attempts at grooming feature during play for 2 year olds. They will enjoy looking at their reflection in the mirror and pull silly faces at themselves. But they won’t be able to sit and play for long periods of time because their attention span just won’t allow it. Instead they’ll move from one activity to another, be absorbed for a little while and then migrate to the next “play zone”. They’ll also want your attention and for you to be involved in their play.
Affection takes on a new meaning at this age and stage. Be prepared for spontaneous hugs and kisses when they get the urge to show you they love you. Just when you think they are getting bigger and don’t need you to be so close all the time, your 2 year old will run to your side and want to be picked up.
Incorporate books and reading every day. Take your 2 year old to the local library and investigate if they have reading groups. Watch your toddler turn the pages of a book, navigate a keyboard and look for ways they can relate to different technology in the house. The remote controls will certainly get a work out this month. Be prepared for your toddler to have some rudimentary grasp of what buttons do what – they will be watching your every move and will retain a lot of the information they absorb through every one of their senses.
Some sleep disturbances are common at this age, when nightmares can emerge. These are influenced by a toddler’s imagination running overtime and their inability to comprehend what is real and what is not. It can be very distressing for parents to witness their child become so frightened by a dream. Separating fact from fantasy is easy for adults who have the cognitive ability to reason, but for a 2 year old this is almost impossible. Reassurance, comfort and empathy are all essential responses. There may be times when it becomes necessary to lie down with your toddler until they calm and drop off to sleep. Doing this at high need, legitimate times is part and parcel of effective parenting during these imaginative years.
Watch your toddler build on their repertoire of gross motor skills. They will be able to run proficiently now, walk backwards, dance and copy movements and hop. They may be able to stand on one leg and balance for a moment or two. They will also be able to hum and sing and enjoy participating in group singing sessions. Your toddler will be able to remember the words to common nursery rhymes if they have been exposed to them. They’ll also recognise familiar landmarks, shop and business logos and associate travelling routes with frequent destinations. They’ll also notice if something is new in the house, if furniture has been moved or some item has been relocated to another part of the house.
This is an observant age for toddlers who are intent on taking everything in and storing it away for future use. Be prepared to be amazed by your toddler’s ability to retain information and then present it to you again when you least expect it. Visits to grandparents, outings to the shops and the most (seemingly) simple activity will have left an indelible mark on your toddler’s memory.
Broaden your toddler’s diet this month and make meals they haven’t been exposed to before. Don’t assume they won’t eat anything new; as long as you and the rest of the family are keen it won’t be wasted. If your toddler is a reluctant eater try an alternative method of serving. Instead of handing the family full plates with food already served, give everyone an empty plate. Serving bowls and dishes can be placed in the middle of the table and each person serves themselves. Pay no attention to the 2 year old and let them watch everyone else filling their plate. They’ll soon protest that they are missing out and want to get in on the act.
Turn off the television and computer during meal times and make a point of everyone sitting at the table. Take turns in talking about your day and involve the toddler as well. Make them a part of the meal, but not the focus. Many 2 year olds learn they get more attention if they don’t eat than if they do. Think about your own relationship with food and what you are role modelling.
Don’t be alarmed if your toddler turns shy this month. This is nature’s way of protecting them from potential harm – they are only responding in the way their body is dictating. They will also return to you for frequent emotional “top ups” if they are in an unfamiliar environment or just feel unsure. Avoid pushing your toddler away or minimising their feelings. Part of your role is to support their emotional and social health. Although the time will eventually come when they can draw on their own reserves of emotional reassurance, for now they will need your help.
If your toddler still has a dummy, this could be the time to stop. If they need it to go to sleep consider replacing it with a special doll, teddy or another “transitional love object”. Dummies tend to impact on speech and language development and prolong the action of sucking, long after a child relies on it as a survival response. They also tend to make a toddler appear “dull” and to pacify them, even at times when it is reasonable for them to be showing animation and excitement.
If your toddler is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, and living in a high risk area, they may require vaccinations now. Check www.immunise.health.gov.au or with your health provider for specific advice.