Second-Year Surprise

Raising a toddler is a lot different from caring for a baby. Here's what you need to know now that your child's blown out her first birthday candle.

Introduction

You're probably feeling pretty confident these days. With a full year of baby basics under your belt, you could teach a class on how to keep an infant well fed, happy, and constantly entertained. However, much of what you learned in Year 1 simply doesn't apply in Year 2. Here are five facts that will help you enjoy life with your toddler.

The "terrible twos" start at 1 1/2.
Your child hasn't morphed into a monster. He's simply dealing with emerging independence, limited language skills, new emotions, and grown-ups who seem to control his every move. Expect "no" and "mine" to be his favorite words at this age. "His job now is to push away from you," says Karen Deerwester, an early-childhood consultant in Parkland, Florida. Use games, silliness, and plenty of patience to win cooperation (he's still too young for time-outs and logic). Also, ease transitions by giving your tot a five-minute warning before switching activities. When he does lose it, throw him a lifeline. Say, "When you're done screaming, I'll help you with that shoe."

She doesn't eat as much as she used to.
That's because her growth slows down dramatically this year, says Stuart B. Taylor, M.D., a pediatrician in Gaithersburg, Maryland. While babies typically gain about 14 pounds and grow seven to eight inches in their first 12 months, they put on only six pounds and three to four inches in Year 2. Don't stress out about your toddler's lack of interest in food. She simply has better ways to spend her time than sitting with a plate of steamed veggies. Her constant motion also helps her burn off more fat than she did as an infant. "Aim for a balanced diet over the course of a week, rather than every day," Dr. Taylor suggests.

Separation anxiety peaks at 18 months.
Even if your child has never been one for teary goodbyes, three factors collide to increase anxiety at this age. First, toddlers have a greater sense of themselves as separate individuals, says Maria D. Kalpidou, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist at Assumption College, in Worcester, Massachusetts. They're also very attached to their parents. Finally, they're old enough to remember previous separations -- and the uncomfortable feelings surrounding them.

The uneasiness will ebb over the next year, but to minimize it, make sure your toddler is well rested and well fed when you introduce her to new people or places. Spend a few extra minutes letting her bond with a new caregiver or exploring a new environment with her. When you must leave her, say a quick goodbye, reassure her that you'll be back, then just go. She'll pick up on your emotions, so be positive and don't come right back to check on her.

This is a critical time for reading.
"Your toddler is entering the world of symbolic thinking," says Claire Lerner, a child-development specialist at Zero To Three, an early-childhood resource center in Washington, D.C. He's starting to grasp that words are labels for objects and that a picture can stand for something real -- for instance, the tree he sees in his book is like the tree outside. Spend at least a few minutes each day reading to your 1-year-old. Even if you make it through only a few pages, read out of sequence, or recite the same story night after night, you're sending the message that books are fun.

You're not needed as much.
In the beginning, there were probably countless times when you felt as though you'd never be able to leave your infant's side. But now that your baby's not a baby anymore, it's time to remember who you were just a few hundred days ago. Try to recapture some of your old interests, whether they include a regular yoga class or going to the movies. This "me time" will help you enjoy your toddler's childhood rather than feel tied down by it. Denise Wolf, a Philadelphia mom of two, has a standing date with her husband on alternate Thursday nights. On weekends, they trade time off so that he can work out and she can grab coffee with a friend. "My kids come first," Wolf says. "But taking care of myself and finding time alone with my husband are essential too."