Your toddler is 1½ years old, but it may not seem like all that long ago since he was a small baby. This can be a complex age for parents who, on one level, see their toddler as being almost grown up and, on another, still so very young.
Your toddler will surprise you every day with what they can recall and how excited they become by the smallest thing. Something new brought into the house will be cause for the most minute examination and prodding – but don’t expect your toddler to understand what “don’t touch” means. They are driven to learn about the world through touch and feel, so to try and suppress these instincts will be almost impossible. Some toddlers even love to lick or taste objects too and in doing this obtain maximum sensory input.
Your toddler will still need lots of emotional “topping up” from you when they are feeling unsure. Although they are driven to explore their surroundings, they also need to feel secure enough to venture out away from your side. They can only do this if their emotional reserves are full. Try not to interpret your toddler as being needy or fragile when they want to cling to you and not let you out of their sight. A change of routine, a house move, a new baby in the family and other events can all bring a temporary change in an 18-month-old’s behaviour.
Growth and development
Your toddler should be able to walk completely unaided by now and even progress to running at times. If they’re being chased as part of a game, they may easily lose their balance, especially if they’re laughing at the same time. It will still take a fair amount of concentration to coordinate stepping and running, climbing and scaling, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly your toddler develops their gross motor proficiency.
Look for outside toys that promote climbing, such as swing sets and free standing climbing frames. Investing in one of these will bring hours of pleasure and will help build your toddler’s physical strength and agility.
Your toddler will be linking body parts to names around now, so play the “where’s your nose/mouth/tummy/eyes” game. You can also play this with teddy or a doll and ask them to point to the correct feature.
At 18 months they are likely to be saying some clear words, as many as 20, but this won’t reflect their understanding of many more. Ask your toddler to bring you something and watch them carry out the task. Their comprehension won’t match their verbal ability just yet.
Play and interaction
Have plenty of non-toxic crayons, paints and brushes and paper around. It’s equally important to encourage your toddler to practice their fine motor skills and discover their creative side. Making collages, finger painting and play dough will all be popular activities as well. Set up a play table at their height, which they can freely access and they know they’re welcome to use.
Avoid cleaning up too quickly, your toddler’s attention span will still be very short and they are likely to flit between one activity and another. Show them how to use implements a couple of times and then encourage them to try themselves. This is a very independent stage and you’ll find your toddler will want to have a turn at what you’re doing. Praise their efforts and let them know how clever they are. Your attention and positive feedback is so important for them to build self-esteem and confidence.
Keep reading to your 18-month-old toddler every day and let them choose the story they want read. You’ll find that they develop their favourites and will return to them time and again. Although you may feel utterly bored reading the same old story, they will love the predictability and reassurance of it.
Watch your voice as you read, and inject as much animation into your voice as you can. Your toddler won’t be critical of your attempts and will even mimic you. Watch them as they turn the pages, not one by one just yet but in clumps. Show them that you read from the left page first and then the right; you may want to track the words with your finger. Although they won’t understand what this means quite yet, daily exposure and repetition will eventually help your actions make complete sense.
What you can expect this month
Your toddler may have other ideas but they still need a day-time sleep at this age. An average morning waking time is around 6.30am-7am, which means most toddlers are ready for another sleep after lunch. If you find they’re too tired to eat well, consider giving them an early lunch or a big morning tea and then lunch when they wake up. Implement the same settling management during the day as you do at night. If you find your toddler is reluctant to settle through the day, try making their room a little darker.
Your toddler will be able to bend over now and pick something up off the floor without losing their balance. And drop things they will. Watch them as they spot the smallest little bit of fluff on the ground and hone in on it until they can pick it up for closer examination. If you find your toddler is not focusing on objects, has an unusual appearance to one or both eyes, or turns their head in order to see objects more clearly, have their vision assessed as soon as possible. Visual problems, when diagnosed and treated early, have significantly better outcomes than when left for periods of time.
Food and nutrition
Let your toddler help you with food preparation when possible. Putting cherry tomatoes in a salad, ripping up lettuce leaves, and mixing ingredients, are all suitably entertaining for toddlers. Even the most simple food preparation will help your 18-month-old learn about what is involved in putting together a meal. Let them help you set the table and get the cutlery ready. Pull their high chair or booster seat right up close to the dining table and make them an integral part of the family gathering.
If you’re finding they don’t want to eat much, give everyone at the table an empty plate and get them to serve themselves from serving plates lined up on the table. Give little or no attention to your toddler other than their own plate and when they indicate they want some food too, then apportion some to them. Giving less attention rather than more, playing it cool when they don’t eat, and just getting on with general conversation can change the dynamics of toddlers seeking attention during mealtimes.
Keeping your toddler healthy
Your toddler is due for their 18-month vaccinations this month, so make an appointment at your doctor or your local clinic to be immunised. Don’t forget to take along your baby’s health record so it can be recorded.
If your toddler is out in the sun, don’t forget to protect their skin and eyes from solar radiation. Your toddler has thin skin, which will burn easily. Avoid them being out in the sun between 10am and 3pm and, remember, the sun is equally as damaging in winter as it is in the summer months. Don’t forget to protect your toddler’s eyes as well. Macular degeneration is a disease that can start in infancy. Provide your 18-month-old with a diet high in green leafy vegetables and fruits. Consider your own health care too and role model sun protective behaviours yourself. Don’t forget to brush your 18-month-old’s teeth twice a day, with a soft, small headed toothbrush and a pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Encourage them to spit out the toothpaste when you’ve finished brushing, but don’t be alarmed if they swallow it. Fluoride works both topically, e.g. when teeth are exposed to it and systemically – when the child swallows it. Use a children’s toothpaste that has the correct amount of fluoride for children’s teeth.
If your 18-month-old toddler is still waking in the night to feed, think about your own responses to their waking.
Feeding, lots of cuddles, getting up to watch a DVD or ending up in your bed are all likely to be interpreted as a “reward” for their waking.
Don’t trust your toddler to know how to gently handle the family pet.
At 18 months they are still too young to have learnt empathy and the skills involved in being careful with animals. Don’t leave your toddler alone with a dog, no matter how much you trust the animal.
Put shoes on your toddler when they go outside, especially if they’re not in your own yard.
Their feet will still be soft and need the protection of shoes from hard stones and the ground. Don’t worry if their feet are still flat. With time they will develop an arch and a more mature appearance.
If you feel the need to “check” on your toddler when they are in bed, then join the club.
Parents have done exactly this for many generations and have gained comfort in knowing their child is safe. Many parents, particularly mothers, go through regular pre-settling rituals with their children, which are intended to keep their child safe.