Your Amazing Toddler

Breaking news: She's not a baby anymore. In fact, your 1-year-old's abilities will amaze you.

Introduction

I'd been dressing my 19-month-old son, Cobi, nearly every day of his life. So I was completely surprised when one day my babysitter remarked, "You know, he can put on his own shirt and pants." I guess I was so accustomed to thinking of him as a baby that I didn't realize how capable he'd become.

"Kids begin to master a wide range of basic skills at this age," says Amy Susman-Stillman, Ph.D., associate director of the Irving B. Harris Training Center for Infant and Toddler Development at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis. To encourage your child, leave more time for daily tasks such as eating, bathing, and brushing his teeth. Then, once you've shown him the ropes, stand back and marvel at what your little one can do.

I Can Get Undressed

  • When does this happen? At 15 to 24 months, when he can stand on one leg without falling over and can control his arms, hands, and legs.
  • Word of caution: He'll need help getting himself untangled sometimes. You may also find articles of clothing in odd places, like in his toy box.
  • How to help: As often as possible, dress him in clothing that doesn't have buttons, zippers, snaps, or laces. Be ready to help your toddler pull his shirt over his head once he gets his arms out of it. When he tugs down the front of his pants, he may need you to show him how to pull down the back and untangle his feet. When your child starts trying to dress himself (which happens around 18 to 24 months), show him how clothing labels can help him tell which way to wear his shirt and pants.

I Can Feed Myself

  • When does this happen? At around 12 to 15 months, when fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination allow your child to handle a cup, spoon, and fork.
  • Word of caution: She'll make a mess, even at age 2.
  • How to help: Starting at 12 months (or even earlier), give your toddler a spoon with every meal and offer thick liquids, like yogurt or chunky rice soup, which are easier to manage. Offering a cup of milk during bathtime is also a mess-free way to help your child learn to drink from a cup.

I Can Bathe Myself

  • When does this happen? Beginning at 15 to 18 months, your child has the coordination to lather up many body parts.
  • Word of caution: Never leave your child unattended when he's in the bathtub.
  • How to help: Offer a small washcloth or mitt, soap, and a plastic cup for rinsing. "You'll still need to give him a final rinse to make sure all the soap is gone," says Judi Orion, who trains toddler teachers at the Montessori Institute, in Denver. If your child takes a bath every night, let him wash himself a couple of times a week. You can do a more thorough job on the other days.

I Can Put My Toys Away

  • When does this happen? At 15 to 18 months, when she can walk without assistance, carry things around the room, and follow simple instructions.
  • Word of caution: She'll need to be reminded a lot—and will require a bit of help from you. Don't expect perfection!
  • How to help: Put boxes or stiff canvas tote bags around your child's room so cleanup is easier, and consider making labels with pictures so she knows where everything goes. Be consistent in asking her to put her toys away, and set aside a specific time of day for this chore (such as right before or after dinner). Let her know she's done a good job when she's finished.

I Can Help Mommy

  • When does this happen? At 15 to 18 months, when he can walk while carrying something in his hands and is interested in mimicking your daily routines.
  • Word of caution: Don't expect too much—after all, he is still just a toddler!
  • How to help: Give your child specific tasks that you can supervise, including dusting a low table or the legs of a chair with a clean cloth, carrying place mats and napkins to the table before you set it, and tossing dirty clothes into a laundry basket or helping you fold small towels that are fresh from the dryer. Remember, it doesn't matter whether your child does a chore exactly right. What's important is that he gets used to—and even enjoys—helping you around the house.

I Can Wash My Hands

  • When does this happen? Your child can learn how to properly wet, soap, rinse, and dry his hands at about 18 to 24 months.
  • Word of caution: You should always be there to check—and recheck—the water temperature.
  • How to help: Place a stool near the sink, some soap within reach, and a small towel on a low bar. Teach your child how to turn the water to cold or lukewarm. Since experts recommend washing hands for 30 seconds to completely kill germs, sing a short song with your child, such as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," to keep him occupied.

I Can Brush My Teeth

  • When does this happen? Your child can move the brush around her mouth at 18 to 24 months, when she can grasp the toothbrush and balance while moving her arm.
  • Word of caution: Be the keeper of the toothpaste—your toddler will want to eat it.
  • How to help: Stow a stool under the sink and a small toothbrush within reach. Squeeze a very small dab of toothpaste on the brush. With exaggerated strokes, show her how you brush your own teeth. To make sure her teeth are thoroughly clean, always do a final once-over with the brush.
  • Word of caution: Be the keeper of the toothpaste—your toddler will want to eat it.

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