There are toddler milestones all parents expect and look forward to (first steps, first words, first foods) that are met with excitement and recorded with pride. But sometimes there are big, unexpected emotional events that may leave parents worried about the effects on their toddler's development. These include moving, the loss of a pet, or a divorce -- all situations that can leave parents uncertain about how to give guidance and relief. In times of turmoil and trouble, age-appropriate children's books can be a great aid to help toddlers understand confusing situations. Stories can explain traumatic situations in simple ways and provide the necessary words that parents struggle to say. Here are the biggest emotional milestones toddlers go through, along with book recommendations for each situation to help them accept difficult changes.
Introducing a New Sibling
Toddlers who have spent time being the center of their parents' focus can have trouble sharing toys and attention; this can leave parents worried about introducing a new sibling. But parents can help with the transition by encouraging a child to help pick out toys for his new sibling or praising them about what a good big brother he is going to be. Reinforce this idea at storytime with We Have A Baby by Cathryn Falwell, which explains how a new baby becomes a happy part of the family routine. Add the name of the baby and toddler into the story to make it feel like it was written just for them.
Just don't be surprised if a toddler regresses into baby-type behavior when it comes to potty training, speech, and sleep patterns because he wants to remain the baby of the family. To ease the mood in those situations, Darcy and Gran Don't Like Babies by Jane Cutler offers a lighthearted twist in validating a child's feeling about the addition to the family. In the meantime, don't worry -- the regression will be short-lived and your child will form a bond with his sibling in no time.
We Have A Baby by Cathryn Falwell
Darcy and Gran Don't Like Babies by Jane Cutler
Divorce and Meeting a New Stepparent
Change in a family foundation can be troubling to a young child. According to Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., author of Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers and the Changing American Family, divorce is the closest thing to death a child can experience, and some older children may take things personally and blame themselves. Always be understanding and gentle with their feelings and be willing to talk. If your child sinks into a bout of self-blame, read Was It The Chocolate Pudding? by Sandra Levins to reinforce how a child's actions are never the reason for divorce. You can interject the toddler and your family into the book to make it especially relatable and bring a sense of comfort.
Strive to maintain stability by making a minimal amount of new adjustments. If one parent remarries and introduces a stepparent into the family, help the child adjust to the new adult in her life. Chelsea's Tree by Marcy McCann is a fine aid for showing how stepfamilies flourish, as it includes a section for family photos.
Recommended Reading (divorce)
Was It The Chocolate Pudding? by Sandra Levins
Two Homes by Claire Masurel
Recommended Reading (new stepparent)
Chelsea's Tree by Marcy McCann
Do You Sing Twinkle? by Sandra Levins
Losing a Lovey
Toddlers don't know the value of money but they do know the value of their chewed-up blankets. To a parent, the disappearance of a beloved but smelly stuffed animal may be a blessing, but to a child it's upsetting because a lovey represents comfort and security. In Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems, the child is devastated when her beloved stuffed bunny goes missing, but her parents aid in the search. Validate your child's feelings of sadness if a lovey is lost and can't be easily replaced. Check out A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka (a Caldecott Award winner), which illustrates beautifully (without words) what happens when you lose something you love. If enough time has passed, slowly introduce a backup lovey or wait to see if your little one clings to a new object.
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems
A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka
Spending Time in the Hospital
Parents may worry that kids will have a lasting fear if they spend time at a hospital with unfamiliar doctors and medical instruments. Not true. According to Tina Bryson, Ph.D., and co-author of The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind, a child won't have a concrete memory of a hospital stay, especially if she's a toddler. To ease her, always use simple language to explain what is happening. She may understand the terms "sick" and "hurt" but also assume that getting better is automatic.
Franklin Goes To The Hospital by Paulette Bourgeois is helpful in inspiring kids with bravery. If it's a parent spending time in the hospital, avoid spending excessive time there, because toddlers may not like the unfamiliar surroundings and can act out, and always keep favorite toys and games on hand for comfort and quick entertainment. Bringing along Why, Charlie Brown, Why? by Charles M. Schulz will also help clarify confusing situations that may come up.
Franklin Goes To The Hospital by Paulette Bourgeois
Why, Charlie Brown, Why? by Charles M. Schulz
Death of a Loved One
There is no time when a parent struggles more for words of comfort than when trying to explain the loss of a loved one. "Death is one of the hardest things on toddlers because they lack the intellectual capacity to grasp a person's death, and they often blame themselves and feel they did something wrong to make the person leave," Dr. Drexler says. "It may take years for them to understand fully but the conversation should start right away."
Although there may be an increase in sleep and eating disturbances, separation anxiety and temper tantrums, Dr. Drexler points out that these are often transient behaviors and should be met with attempts to keep normalcy in the toddler's life and encourage the continuity of close relationships. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst is an excellent way to begin the conversation about death. The gentle story illustrates that we are still connected by love even after someone passes.
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
Tear Soup by Pat Schweibert and Chuck DeKlyen
Death of a Beloved Pet
Sometimes a toddler's first experience with death isn't with a person, but with a four-legged family member or a googly-eyed goldfish, and this is also traumatic. When explaining a pet's absence, it's best to be honest and explain the loss in simple terms. Stay away from phrases like "Fido went to sleep" or "Fluffy went bye-bye"; toddlers can misinterpret the wording and develop fears of falling asleep or saying good-bye to people. Instead, reading Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant can alleviate sadness and anxiety by painting a bright and vibrant picture of a world where pets can eat limitless biscuits and run in fields of green grass. Even though you may want to wait a while before replacing pets, toddlers are actually at the best age to welcome a new furry friend.
Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst
Design Pics/Kelly Redinger/Getty Images
Getting a toddler to settle in for bedtime is hard work, especially when nightmares of monsters under the bed are disrupting precious zzz's. When you shine a light on what the bogeyman really means for your toddler's development, you'll see it's not as scary as it seems. What Was I Scared Of?, by Dr. Seuss shows kids that some things may seem scarier than they actually are. Dr. Bryson classifies nightmares as "little t" traumas, which means they generally don't harm a child's development because they are a natural part of it.
"Nightmares can often be moved past quickly if parents help the child understand how they are feeling and why," Dr. Bryson says. "A little extra holding and comfort is usually all that is needed for these smaller struggles." Make your kids feel magical by reading Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley. The monster shrinks with each page when it realizes the kids are in control, so have your toddler list reasons why monsters aren't real and she will feel confident about warding off the monster in her own closet.
What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss
Go Away, Big Green Monster! By Ed Emberley
Moving to a New House or Neighborhood
According to a study conducted by New York University''s Child Study Center, toddlers are less affected by moving to a new address than they are by a lack of routine, familiarity, and easy access to key people in their lives. Six-year-old Amy in We?re Moving by Heather Maisner lists all the things she will miss when she moves, like the garden and her teddy bears. When reading it, have your toddler list things he will miss, too. By identifying what is causing him to worry, you can talk him through the changes.
Home is often where the toy box is, so keep emotions rooted during a time of uprooting by packing a toddler's room last and unpacking it first in the new home. Allow him to bring a few favorite toys along for the ride to the new neighborhood, which will reinforce the comforting thought that a good friend (Mr. Potato Head) is coming along, too. For a more lighthearted read, try Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move, by Judith Viorst so kids can giggle at Alexander's funny attitude about moving.
We're Moving by Heather Maisner
Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst
Starting the First Day of Preschool
Although it's important that kids learn independence and social skills at preschool, being away from a parent for a long time may lead to separation anxiety. It can leave parents wondering if learning ABCs and 123s is worth the tantrums. But once a school routine is established, he'll feel more comfortable and make buddies. Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes shows how worrying isn't fun, but making new friends is terrific. Suggest that the teacher read it to the class to encourage your child. He will also learn that you (or a caretaker) will always be around to pick him up after school. To offer a reminder of this, Dr. Bryson recommends putting a tiny stamp on his hand, just like in the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.
Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
Andrea Stanley is a freelance writer who lives in New York City with her husband and young son. Her parenting and lifestyle articles have appeared in various publications.
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