Lyndsey Garbi, MD, is a pediatrician who is double board-certified in pediatrics and neonatology.
Caring for your toddler is sometimes fun and sometimes overwhelming, but it's always busy. From potty training to storytime to full-blown tantrums, there is almost never a dull moment with toddlers. Your toddler is no longer a baby content to lie on their play mat and coo at you. Now you have a little explorer, propelling themselves along on slightly unsteady legs, ready to discover everything they can about the world. Here are some tips to help you take good care of your toddler day-to-day.
Toddlers thrive on routine. It's a good idea to start their day with a meal and basic tasks like getting dressed and brushing their teeth. Have them help with household chores like loading the dishwasher or sorting laundry. You could spend time outdoor and let your toddler explore nature or the playground. Then, come home for lunch and put them down for a nap. In the afternoons, ideas include going outside again, or staying home and playing with blocks or puzzles. Serve dinner and go right into your bedtime routine, which could include a story and a song.
Your toddler needs you to structure their day to meet their needs. This includes nourishing food (three meals and two snacks), time to play (at least three hours), and time to rest (11 hours at night plus a one to two-hour nap). Toddlers need close supervision as they explore their world. They also need your unconditional love.
Toddlers are usually ready to start their day around 7 in the morning. They need breakfast and then a morning snack about two hours later. They should get outside by about 10 a.m. and spend most of their morning playing and exploring. Lunch should be around noon, with a nap right after. When they wake, they may be ready for another snack. In the afternoons, toddlers can play with open-ended toys like blocks or a ball. Dinner would need to be early so there is time for a bath and getting ready for bed by about 7 p.m.
Playing outside has many benefits for toddlers and it's ideal if they can get outdoors every day. Sun exposure helps keep toddlers' body clocks in balance, improving their nighttime sleep. Getting outside also helps toddlers meet their daily requirement of at least three hours of physical activity. Meeting this minimum improves behavior, learning, and sleep. On occasions when you cannot go outside, open curtains to expose your toddler to natural light and find creative ways to keep them physically active.
Tantrums are common in toddlerhood, but extreme behavior can indicate a problem. Reach out to your pediatrician if tantrums happen multiple times per day or if they escalate for long periods. It is typical for toddlers to test limits as they learn to assert their independence. Encourage your toddler's developing sense of autonomy by giving them choices and teaching them to do things for themselves (while enforcing safety rules), which may reduce behavior problems.
Toddlers may hit because they can't express themselves in words. If a toddler wants to play with you, they might hit you because they don't know how to tell you. If this happens, teach them the words they need to use to ask you to engage with them (also be ready to teach them that sometimes you can, and sometimes, they have to wait). Toddlers may also hit to express frustration, such as when they do not want to leave the playground. When this happens, offer empathy, while making it clear that hitting is not OK. You might say, "I know you're disappointed. But, you need to use gentle hands."
Some babies whine to communicate their needs. They may cry softly or without tears to tell you that they are hungry, sleepy, or need a diaper change. They might also be too hot or too cold.
Potty training is the process of teaching your toddler to use the toilet and to stop needing diapers. You can introduce your child to the potty once they start displaying signs of readiness, such as when they can sense the need to go and have a way to communicate that to you.
Daycare is drop-off childcare outside of your home. A family daycare is generally smaller and located at the provider's home. Daycare centers are located at a facility and can accommodate more children. Some workplaces have onsite daycares.
Babies need a diaper change if their diaper is wet or soiled. Wet diapers can simply be replaced with a new one. If your baby has had a bowel movement, they need a thorough cleaning before getting a new diaper. Remove the dirty diaper and clean your child with wipes or baby-safe soap and water. Pat the area dry and replace the diaper.
Burping your baby helps extra gas escape to reduce discomfort and spit-up. To burp your baby, sit them up and support their head with one hand while gently patting their upper back with your other hand. You can also position your baby across your chest with their face over your shoulder. Using a burp cloth can protect your clothing.
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