Parenting a toddler often feels like navigating a minefield. At this critical age when children are learning so fast and changing every day, how can we help them learn to eat well, sleep well, and play well? Here are a few of the most common parenting mistakes to avoid:
Toddlers like routines. They thrive when they know what to expect and what is expected of them. Try to keep them on regular meal and bedtime routines, and be consistent when responding to bad behavior, like throwing food on the floor.
Neglecting one-on-one time
While family time can be fun, children really love spending time alone with just one parent. Make sure that each child gets some alone time with a parent as often as possible. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are playing together.
Offering too much help
It’s tempting to jump in and help your toddler finish a puzzle or fasten her shoes, but resist. Toddlers need to learn self-reliance and how to deal with frustration. So let your child struggle to do something, but offer her plenty of encouragement.
Feeding them nothing but “kiddie foods”
Restaurant children’s menus are often full of nothing but junk—hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, deep-fried chicken nuggets, and other nutritional horrors. Grocery stores are also full of unhealthy food marketed to children, such as sugary cereals, processed cheeses, and goldfish crackers. There’s no reason toddlers can’t eat most of what adults do. Put some of everything you are eating on your child’s plate, but don’t pressure him to eat it all. Your child might resist if you try to force him or her to eat something.
Tossing the crib
Many parents move their children into a real bed too early, which can create sleeping problems. Children may have trouble staying in bed and end up climbing in with their parents. Switch to a bed when your child can escape the crib by herself, or when she asks for one, which usually occurs between ages 2 and 3.
Toilet training too early
Impatient parents often pressure kids to use the toilet by themselves before they are ready. It’s fine to prepare them by showing them the toilet, explaining how it works, and by letting them watch you use the toilet—and asking if they’d like to try it. But don’t get discouraged if they show no interest at first; let them tell you when they want to start using it themselves.
Allowing too much screen time
Spending too much time watching TV could give your child learning problems later in life. Children under 2 shouldn’t watch any TV at all. If you find it too tempting to use your TV as a babysitter, get rid of it. Find more creative things to do with your child, like reading, drawing, making houses out of cardboard boxes, or chatting.
Trying to stop a tantrum
While it’s tempting to try to control a tantrum thrown in public, tantrums often must simply run their course. All children have them. Remind yourself that your child is more important than the judgment of whoever is watching, and focus on keeping your child safe and feeling loved until the fit blows over.
Bribing your child will just encourage them to extort more treats from you every time you want them to do something. Instead, reinforce good behavior by saying things like, “I’m really proud of you for eating so nicely at the restaurant.”