You’ve probably heard stories about toddlers. Some of them might be a little intimidating (grocery store meltdowns, anyone?). Some might be downright hilarious. Some may be inspiring. Regardless of what you may have heard, one thing we can all agree on is that there is no stage like the toddler stage! Here are some things you can expect when caring for a toddler and some tips on how to navigate some of the challenges:
They’re pretty mobile and have tons of energy.
At this stage, they can walk quite well, and possibly even run. You might see them pull toys or other items behind them, and may walk on their tiptoes at times. If there is a ball at the location of the care session, you can gently roll the ball to them and they will likely kick it or pick it up and throw it back to you. Because they’re so quick, be sure to watch them closely. Accidents can happen quickly and being on guard can help prevent any mishaps! Keep the number to poison control handy, just in case.
They may prefer to do things “by myself.” A lot.
And it’s completely normal. At this stage, they’re starting to become aware they are separate from others. Along with this, they’re learning independence. Factor in extra time to get coats and shoes on when leaving the house. Always be sure to ask if they’d like help before you step in. This will help ensure a smooth transition to whatever is next!
They are quite vocal.
You likely will not have to worry about what they are thinking, because they will tell you (sometimes even before they do something they shouldn’t). Have fun with them! You can have great conversations with a toddler. Ask them questions about what they like and don’t like. Play silly games like hide and seek in an open room (ie just cover your face and say you can’t see them). Get creative and enjoy hearing about their opinions and silly jokes!
They are rapidly growing.
They’re able to do more challenging tasks, like sort colors or objects into different piles, or play make-believe. Play is essential to their cognitive development! You can help by playing fun games with them, like hiding an object for them to find, or helping them put together an age-appropriate puzzle.
Factor in nap time.
Depending on the age of the child, they may take naps regularly. Be sure to keep them on their nap routine, as this will help keep their day structured, which is very important at this age in particular! As with infants, toddlers will also need to have a safe sleep environment such as a toddler bed with a firm, flat mattress and a fitted sheet. Keep stuffed toys and other items out of the sleep space. Check in with parents to find out if they have a monitor so you can keep your ears open for when they wake up. Toddlers thrive on consistent routines and their parents will thank you for keeping them on schedule!
They love to learn.
Putting together a puzzle, reading a book and pointing at words, learning how to jump rope - it doesn’t matter what you’re teaching them, toddlers absolutely love to learn. Take the time to teach them something and you’ll have a new friend almost immediately!
They might be picky eaters.
Most toddlers go through at least one phase where they are picky about what they eat. Vegetables (especially if they’re green), proteins (unless it’s chicken nuggets), and even fruit are sometimes scowled at. It’s helpful to at least offer healthy options to them so they eventually become accustomed to eating a variety of foods. When in doubt, try being creative with food. For example, “broccoli” is disgusting to some toddlers, but calling it “baby trees” can result in giggles and a happy meal time. It can also be fun to cut fruits and vegetables into fun shapes to make a “vegetable person!” Allowing the toddler to be creative and build the person using carrot sticks, cucumber slices, apple slices, and berries can be rewarding after their plate is clean! Of course, parents might share food preferences or allergies so it’s important to note what they share with you!
Diaper changes can be... challenging.
By challenging, we mean wear a helmet. We’re kidding! Mostly. Toddlers who are not potty trained and don’t like to be changed may flail/twist as you’re changing them. Distractions are your friend here! Giving them a soft book or a toy may work, or if nothing else seems to be working, putting a show on the tv is an option (parent-approved, of course). You can lessen the struggle by asking their permission before changing their diaper and/or giving them a reward or something to look forward to after it’s done (example “once your diaper is changed, we can get dressed and go play outside!”). You can also change a toddler safely on the floor if a changing table feels challenging or you know that it’ll be a big cleanup job.
The parents will likely share if the toddler is being potty trained. Listen to their routine, and note how often to check in with the child to see if they need to use the bathroom. Staying consistent is key! If the parents ask you to check in with the child every 20 minutes, set a timer and consistently check in with them. Make sure to get the parent’s permission before helping with potty training and stay nearby, as a toddler shouldn’t have access to the bathroom by themselves.
When a toddler is on the verge of a meltdown (clearly frustrated, the tears are starting, etc.), there are two magic words that can help defuse the situation before it gets worse: “show me”. Saying this to a toddler shows them that you want to help and gives them an opportunity to explain their frustration. Remember, you and your favorite new toddler are getting to know one another. When things get tough, choose to get physically down on their level and be patient, kind, and understanding with them (and yourself). This can be an important step towards building a trusting and (hopefully fun) relationship with each other.
As with any child, be sure to ask the parents if there are any allergies and only feed them what the parents have approved. If they do have an allergy, ask the parents for the location of their epi pen and write down any procedures they share with you.