What Doctors Wish Parents of Toddlers Knew

This time in your child's life can be stressful -- for the both of you! We asked pediatricians from around the country to share their best tips for parenting toddlers. Here's what they want you to know.

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    Keep Mealtime Simple

    Put healthy foods on the table, and then don't worry how much your child does or doesn't eat, says Dr. David Hill of Wilmington, North Carolina. "We know parents who try to impose overly restrictive diets on overweight children, and they end up with children with even worse weight problems. And parents who pressure underweight children to eat more end up with kids who actually eat less. As long as the options are good, children do best when allowed to pick what they want to eat."

  • Kaysh Shinn

    Don't Panic Over the Potty

    While you might be ready for your little one to be done with diapers, she might not be there yet. Don't worry, says Dr. Ari Brown of Austin, author of Toddler 411. In fact, potty-training isn't considered delayed until a child is four years old! "Your child will be ready when she's ready. The two criteria for success: 1. Your child must be clued into the urge to go, not clued in that she has already gone; and 2. Your child must want to be clean. No matter how many M&M's you give her, it will not happen without the desire to be clean."

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    Let Go of Some of the Rules

    The toddler years are the time your child is trying to foster his independence, so a strict set of guidelines will only result in a power struggle, says Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe of Boston. "Don't impose your will on her. Instead, give her choices. Just like you have choices each day, offer her the same opportunity to make decisions for herself. So for dinner, offer up turkey or pasta--and let her decide which one to have. This way, she feels like she has some say in what she's eating, but you're still making sure she's getting something healthy for dinner."

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    Be Sure to Recognize Good Behavior

    We're all familiar with the importance of time-outs when a toddler misbehaves, but parents often forget to praise their child when she's doing the right thing, says Dr. Amanda Jackson of New Orleans. "We're so focused on trying to prevent bad behavior that we overlook the good stuff. But if you compliment kids when they're being good, they'll be more likely to repeat that behavior. So the next time your toddler puts away her toys or finishes her veggies without a hassle, give her plenty of verbal praise--along with a big kiss and hug!"

  • Take Good Care of Toddler Teeth

    Although your child might fight you when brushing his teeth, it's worth the battle, says Dr. Christy Valentine of New Orleans. "Those baby teeth are holding places for adult teeth, so it's important to take care of them. Also, pay close attention to how they look (brown spots are a warning sign of possible cavities) and when they start falling out. Boys usually start losing their baby teeth at 5 or 6, and girls start a bit earlier. Also, the front teeth fall out first. If you think your child is losing his teeth too soon, or the back ones fall out first, contact your pediatric dentist right away."

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    Stick with a Sleep Schedule

    Sleep is an important part of a toddler's health and development, so be sure to stick with steady nap and bed times, says Dr. Barbara Huggins of Tyler, Texas. "You need to schedule a set bedtime, give or take 30 minutes. Having a regular nightly routine, such as reading books or taking a bath, will help create a calming atmosphere. And while nap times might vary in length and frequency, pay attention to your child's cues and at least get her to lie down when she's tired during the day. Many times toddlers will fall asleep on their own."

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    Turn the Other Cheek During Tantrums

    It might be hard--especially when you're in a crowded store and all eyes are on you--but the best way to handle a screaming toddler is to pretend it's not happening, explains Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann of Los Angeles, co-editor of Caring for Your Baby and Young Child. "As long as the child is in a safe place, look away. They are looking for attention and when they don't get it, the tantrum will stop." Not sure it will work? Dr. Altmann also suggests bringing along books and toys that will distract your little one when she's getting antsy.

  • Kathryn Gamble

    Make Time for Small Talk

    Small talk is the best way to maximize your child's speech development, says Dr. Michele Saysana of Indianapolis. "When you are in the car, point out different things such as cars, trucks, houses, and other buildings. You can talk about the differences in things in terms of size, color, shape, and what different things do. You'll be amazed at what your children will remember next time you're in the car! Of course, you reading and singing songs with them will also teach language development and patterns."

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    Cut Yourself Some Slack

    "I always remind parents that no one is perfect, and we all make mistakes," says Dr. Heather Lubell of Philadelphia. "There is always a neighbor or friend doing something differently, and that doesn't mean one is right or one is wrong. Trust your parental instincts, and most importantly, love your children and let them know it." And when you just can't take another minute of screaming or whining, feel free to give yourself a time-out. "Put your child in safe place and then take a few minutes to cool off," Dr. Lubell says.

    Copyright © 2009 Meredith Corporation.