25 Milestones of the First 5 Years

Pets, Teeth, and Chores

Get a pet no earlier than age 2. A 2-year-old can look with interest at a fish and will have minimal problems (a few hands in the fishbowl won't hurt anybody), says George Scarlett, PhD, a contributor to Proactive Parenting: Guiding Your Child from Two to Six (Berkley). For pets such as cats and dogs, it's best to wait until a child can be gentle and considerate, probably not until he's at least 3 or 4. Don't expect him to be able to take on much in the way of responsibility, like feeding or walking -- especially without your prompting and guidance -- until he's around 7 or 8, or even older.

Have drop-off play dates by age 3. However, your child's maturity, temperament, and familiarity with the other child are important factors. If your preschooler doesn't seem comfortable playing without your being there, suggest that the play date take place at your house next time.

Start chores when baby is 18 months old. Putting away toys, dropping clothes in the hamper, or bringing napkins to the table are all good first chores for toddlers. While a toddler will need help at first, you'll be surprised at how capable your child will become as she does more. As she gets older, add more chores, such as watering plants, wiping up spills, making her bed, and carrying plastic dishes to the sink.

Tell your toddler about the new baby in your belly sometime during the second trimester. At this point, you start to show, and your chance of miscarriage has passed, says Corinna Jenkins Tucker, PhD, assistant professor in the department of family studies at the University of New Hampshire. "Young children are very concrete, so whatever their age, be sure to tell them what their role will be and what they can do to help once the baby arrives," she says. Tucker, expecting her second child, took her 3-year-old son with her to her ultrasound to help make her pregnancy more understandable for him.

Take a baby to the dentist within six months of his getting his first tooth, or no later than his first birthday, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children see a dentist at age 3, earlier if there are problems such as staining or abnormal tooth development. Which is right for you? Consult your pediatrician, or err on the side of caution and go when your child is younger to ensure the best preventive care.

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