If I could keep my 1-year-old son, Leo, frozen in time, I swear I just might do it. He's so darn sweet: He kisses me when I least expect it, happily shares his fruit snacks, and tries to make friends with everyone at Starbucks. Part of me doesn't want him to grow up. Ever! I'm not the only mom who's in a full-blown love affair with the wonderful ones. "This age is so delicious because there are many exciting changes happening," says Alexandra Barzvi, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at New York University's Child Study Center. "One-year-olds now have the skills to get around independently, and their own distinct personality is shining through." Here are some of the highlights of what's in store for you this year--and how to make the most of it.
When's the last time you stared at the moon or stopped to smell flowers? Toddlers are fascinated by everything around them, stuff many adults no longer appreciate. Touching, smelling, and listening teaches them about the world, and seeing the look of wonder on your child's face when he comes upon something new will rekindle your own excitement.
Make the Most of It: Read him books on a variety of topics, and take time to point out neat things like the caterpillar inching across your lawn or what a leaf feels like. And keep in mind that your child's curiosity means you'll also have to be super vigilant about what he tries to touch or put in his mouth.
You'll probably get your first kiss--most likely a slobbery, open-mouth one--at around 12 months. But that's not all: She now has the developmental capacity to give hugs and maybe even say "love you" as she closes in on her second birthday.
Make the Most of It: Show affection by hugging and kissing her--and other members of your family --often. "If you create a warm environment for your child, she'll most likely grow up to be a loving person," says Alexandra Barzvi, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at New York University's Child Study Center.
Kids this age are used to routines, so they'll launch into the cutest giggle fit at anything surprising or silly, such as when you cough louder than usual or make a funny face. "Toddlers also enjoy making people laugh," says Alison Gopnik, Ph.D., author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children"s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. So, you can expect him to repeat things that elicit a chuckle from you.
Make the Most of It: Squeeze in silly time: Make funny noises, tickle him, and play lots of games ("Quack Like a Duck"). Laughter is a sign that your kid is happy and learning about different emotions.
After months of guesswork on your part (Is she hungry? Tired? Bored?), your child can finally tell you what she wants using simple words and phrases, pointing to objects, or shaking her head yes or no. Around 12 months, she'll know a handful of words like "hi" and "Mama," but by age 2, she'll have mastered about 50.
Make the Most of It: Channel your inner sportscaster, and narrate things that your child is doing throughout the day to boost language development, suggests Alexandra Barzvi, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at New York University's Child Study Center. For example, say, "Oh, look, you're picking up your little doll!" or "You're holding a green crayon!" to expose her to a broad range of words.
You might have caught glimpses of your baby's temperament before, but now he's really beginning to discover his own character--and he's more than willing to let it be known when he likes or dislikes something, says Alison Gopnik, Ph.D., author of The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life.
Make the Most of It: Tune in to your child's cues to figure out what's best for his personality. For example, if he seems to be outgoing around kids, sign him up for a group activity. But if he's a bit shy, try a one-on-one playdate.
Sometimes it feels like your toddler wakes up in the morning with a whole new set of abilities, whether it's walking around without holding onto the furniture or scaling the staircase on her own. Most kids take their first step before 15 months, and then they spend the next several months learning to climb, run, kick, and even jump.
Make the Most of It: Provide toys that encourage movement, like balls and push carts. Double-check childproofing to make sure your kid has a safe place to run around and practice her new skills.
Originally published in the September 2009 issue of Parents magazine.