Toddler Parenting Tips for 1- and 2-Year-Olds

The best advice for raising happy, healthy toddlers

As a parent of a toddler, you know what it feels like to be in a state of constant motion—and emotion. As your child continues to grow and develop, their daily needs and activities will change right along with them. Take a closer look at what to expect during the toddler years when it comes to diet and nutrition, sleep, safety, health concerns, and more.

Strategies for parenting your toddler
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Daily Life

Toddlers love to show off their new physical skills. They explore, climb, and play for hours on end. Most of them enjoy doing simple activities, like picking up rocks, pouring water in and out of large containers, and playing simple games like peek-a-boo.

A younger toddler’s day will rotate between eating, sleeping, playing, and getting diaper changes. An older toddler will have more time to play and will be eager to get involved in any activities you’re doing.

Toddlers who go to daycare are likely to enjoy watching the other kids play too. Although they’re too young to truly play together, your little one may enjoy sitting near the other kids as they play with their own toys.

Diet & Nutrition

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the number of calories that a toddler needs will range based on the child, any medical needs, and of course, physical activity.

The AHA estimates your toddler will need between 900 and 1,200 calories every day. Most 1-year-olds need about 1,000 calories per day, with those calories divided among three meals and two snacks spread out throughout the day.

Keep in mind, it’s normal for toddlers to follow odd feeding patterns. They may eat a lot at breakfast, graze the rest of the day, and then not be hungry at dinner.

The next day, they may do the opposite. It can be frustrating as a parent, but it's considered a normal pattern for toddlers to practice "cluster" feeding or have days when they simply eat more.

In general, toddlers without any food allergies should eat the following food servings every day:

  • 3 ounces of grains
  • 2 ounces of meat or legumes
  • 2 servings of dairy
  • 1 cup of vegetables
  • 1 cup of fruit
  • 3 tablespoons of oil or other fat

While your toddler may be refusing dinner, they are probably still getting plenty of calories. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that a good guideline for toddler portion sizes is about a quarter of an adult portion size.

More important than calories, however, is the quality of food that your little one is eating. Make sure your toddler is eating a balanced, wide range of nutritious foods. If they need some ranch dressing for carrots or are more likely to eat a bowl of oatmeal if it's sprinkled with a bit of brown sugar, that's not a bad thing.

The AAP advises caregivers to offer only water or milk as toddler beverages. Juice is often high in calories and sugar. Also remember to offer two to three healthy snacks a day to your toddler, since their small stomachs can't hold a large amount.

Try not to make food a big deal. If your toddler refuses to try a new food, say "OK," remove the food, and then offer it again another time.

The key is to not make food a power struggle or attach negative emotion to it. Don’t punish your child for not trying a new food, but continue to offer healthy snacks at regular intervals.

It’s normal for toddlers to be picky eaters sometimes. Allow some independence during mealtimes and you might reduce food refusals. The AAP also recommends that babies give up the bottle between 12 and 24 months.

Most children can transition from a high chair to a booster seat by 18 months. Sometimes being able to sit in a booster seat reduces mealtime tantrums, as your toddler may love sitting with the rest of the family at the table.

Physical Activity

According to the Society of Health and Physical Educators, toddlers should get at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity each day as well as an additional hour or more of unstructured physical activity. These activities don’t have to be complicated—spending time at the park or simply taking your toddler out for a walk around the neighborhood are good options.

Getting enough physical activity usually isn’t hard for toddlers. For them, play is work. The simple act of playing helps toddlers further develop motor skills, learn important concepts like colors and numbers, and sharpen skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, and more.

A busy toddler is always on the go, and keeping them interested and focused can be difficult. As your toddler’s attention span increases and their behavior becomes more predictable and manageable, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to try new activities.

Toddlers are naturally curious, which makes this stage a perfect time for some parent and child classes. From soccer to yoga, music to movement, there are plenty of structured activities for older toddlers.

Around the House

Your toddler will likely want to be by your side most of the time they're awake. It’s important to let them get involved in some of the activities you’re doing.

While it may be easier and quicker to do everything yourself, allowing your toddler to help in even the smallest ways can keep them active and teach important skills. You can tell them to throw a napkin in the trash for you or allow them to use their toy broom to sweep alongside you.

Chores for toddlers will mostly consist of picking up toys, putting dirty clothes in a hamper, or putting books back on the shelf. Your little one will likely be interested in helping you do chores too. Allow an older toddler to assist you in wiping up messes, caring for pets, and making the bed.

Talking to your little one is key to helping them develop better language skills. Use descriptive words in your conversation that describe the color or size of objects. You might even narrate what they're doing by saying things like, “You are building with blocks. You knocked the blocks over.”

The best way to spend time with your toddler is to get down on the floor alongside them in a child-friendly space—but follow their lead. If they are playing with a doll, play with them.

Just don’t be too concerned about whether they're doing things “the right way.” In a toddler’s imaginative play, it’s OK for bathtubs to be on the roof of the house and it’s fine for cars to talk.

Health

Regular wellness visits are key to ensuring your toddler is on target with developmental milestones. They also allow your child's doctor to keep track of their growth and provide immunization against certain illnesses.

Visiting the Doctor

Well-child visits for toddlers usually occur with a pediatrician at 12, 15, 18, and 24 months of age. At these visits, your pediatrician will screen for:

  • Autism at 18 and 24 months
  • Developmental problems at 9, 18, and 24 months
  • Lead screening risk assessment at 6, 9, 12, 18, and 24 months
  • Obesity with a body mass index yearly starting at 24 months
  • Tuberculosis testing on recognition of high-risk factors by 1 month, at 6 months, then yearly beginning at 12 months

Common health issues in toddlers include ear infections, colds, and skin issues. If you have questions about your child’s development or concerns about sleeping or eating habits, talk to your pediatrician.

Also be sure to mention any changes in your life. A new partner, a move to a new place, or a change in daycare all have the potential to affect your child’s health.

Potty Training

It’s also important to ask your pediatrician about your child’s potty-training readiness. Your pediatrician can help you recognize the best time to start teaching your child to use the toilet.

Potty training is a huge milestone for toddlers. While it's a challenge for parents, most moms and dads look forward to life post-diapers.

Keep in mind that pushing a child to potty train too soon can backfire. Plenty of potty training methods promise results, but these techniques don’t work unless your child is ready.

There are specific developmental milestones that your child should reach before you tackle potty training. These include the ability to recognize that they need to go, bladder and bowel control, and language skills that allow them to tell you when they need to use the toilet.

It's also important to consider whether or not your toddler is actually interested in the potty. Signs of discomfort when they have a wet or dirty diaper are also an indication that they may be ready to potty train.

Sleep

While many toddlers are sleeping through the night, sleep issues can still be common at this age. And this lack of sleep can lead to toddler tantrums and general crankiness.

Keep in mind that your toddler still needs up to 14 hours of sleep a day, so it's important that you stick to a routine that includes plenty of naps and an early bedtime.

The toddler stage also typically includes the transition from sleeping in a crib to sleeping in a big kid bed, though parents shouldn't feel pressured to make the switch at a certain age. If your child is still comfortable in a crib, there's no reason to move them until they are older.

If your child is a younger toddler, they're probably still taking two naps a day. You don't need to change that unless you've already started to see indicators that this is changing on its own. For example, if your toddler is starting to have trouble falling asleep at naptime, they may be ready for just one nap per day.

The same is true of the afternoon nap. If it's starting to get later and later, chances are you can transition out of the morning nap and move to an afternoon nap only.

Try to eliminate unplanned naps so your child can experience longer, deeper, healthier sleep. It may be easier to handle that trip in the car if your toddler takes a quick nap, but do your best to keep them awake or plan the trip for a time when they won't be sleepy.

If your toddler wakes at around 8 a.m., a nap should naturally come around 12:30 p.m. and last about 2 to 2.5 hours. This would mean your toddler is waking around 3 p.m., which is optimal for a 7:30 p.m. bedtime.

Sleeping from 7:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. provides about 12.5 hours of night sleep. Add in the nap and that brings you to 15 hours.

These are approximate times, of course. Family schedules will dictate differences. However, simply shifting the times won't always work to alleviate problems.

Bedtime and wake-up times are the most important. Getting to sleep at an earlier time in the evening coincides with the natural, internal rhythm of your toddler.

Many families co-sleep with their toddlers. While there can be some benefits to having your child in your bed, a study published in 2017 shows evidence that co-sleeping can be disruptive to everyone’s sleep—especially that of the parents.

Safety

Injuries are the leading cause of death for children under age 4 in the U.S. Many of those injuries can be prevented if you follow some basic safety guidelines. Keep these safety tips from the AAP in mind:

Firearm Hazards

Consider removing firearms from the home when you have a toddler. If you choose to keep a gun, keep it unloaded and locked in a safe place. Store the ammunition separately. When your child visits another home or if they attend an in-home daycare, ask how guns are stored.

Poisoning

Toddlers explore by putting everything in their mouths. Use safety caps on any toxic household products and medicines—and keep them out of sight and out of reach. Store the number to poison control on your phone and post it in your house so you can find it easily in the event of an emergency.

Burns

Toddlers also grab whatever is around them to steady themselves. Unfortunately, that may mean grabbing a hot oven door or pot handle. It’s best to keep your little one out of the kitchen while you’re cooking.

Falls

Most falls aren’t a problem But stairs, sharp-edged furniture, and open windows can pose a serious risk. Use gates to keep your toddler away from stairs and install window guards above the first floor. Don’t leave chairs or objects your child can use to climb on nearby countertops or tables.

Drowning

It only takes 2 inches of water for a toddler to drown. Keep bathroom doors closed. Never leave your child alone near a bathtub, a pail of water, wading or swimming pool or any other water. Stay within an arm’s length of your child when you’re near water.

Car Accidents

Toddlers should remain in rear-facing car seats until they are 2 years old or until they reach the height and weight recommended by the safety seat’s manufacturer. Be sure safety seats are installed correctly, and never leave your child alone in or around the car.

Technology

In the past, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended children under age 2 not be exposed to screen time. That policy was updated in 2016, however, as more apps and sites became more toddler-friendly.

However, screen time should still be used in extreme moderation with toddlers. Healthy ways to use digital devices include reading books online or using apps that allow your little one to video chat with distant relatives.

Try to limit the amount of TV your child watches, and don’t leave the TV on for background noise as there’s evidence it could affect your toddler’s ability to learn.

You may also want to think twice about bringing your toddler to the movies. If you are bringing older kids to see a movie, consider finding a sitter for your toddler. Movies can be too loud and the images can be scary for them.

Your Toddler’s World

Toddlers want to explore as much of the world as they can. From how something like a block sounds when it’s banged on the floor to how dirt tastes when they put it in their mouth, they’re constantly trying to learn everything they can.

They’re generally only concerned with their own needs as they don’t yet have the capacity to put themselves in anyone else’s shoes. So your toddler will likely experience a lot of frustration if they don’t get their way.

At this age, they'll spend a lot of time copying other people. They'll want to try and do the same things you do or imitate the other kids at daycare.

Learning more about your child’s development can be key to helping you be a confident parent. Read parenting books on the toddler years, ask questions, and look for resources that will help you be prepared to deal with everything from tantrums to potty training.

Updated by
Cara Henderson
Cara Henderson

Cara Henderson is a registered dietitian nutritionist. Her writing and editing experience includes serving on the editorial board of Preemie magazine, and 17 years of experience writing for health and wellness publications.

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16 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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