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Toddler - Week #73

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Your first week with a 17-month-old toddler (Part I of IV)

By Shelley Feldman, edHelperBaby

Ambivalence is the name of the game
           As the 17th month arrives, your toddler continues to have very little (okay, no) self-control.  Explaining consequences or attempting to rationalize with him gets you nowhere, but feel free to go ahead and give it a shot anyway.

       When he wants something he wants it yesterday, and still hasn't figured out that screaming will not make it get there any sooner.  He has undoubtedly become a wee bit more defiant lately, and it is a clear attempt to strut his newfound sense of independence.  On a daily basis he is now trying to do things that he knows he shouldn't, and doing so while being in charge of his little life and your own.  Be prepared to hear the word "no" on a regular basis for the next few months, and try to understand that he is just learning to assert himself.  You can also expect to be quite bewildered when he suddenly screams when you leave him alone for a little while, but doesn't even bat an eye when you return.  The ambivalent behavior of a 17-month-old toddler can be utterly confusing.


Separation Anxiety
           Most little children experience some form of separation anxiety, and although it may leave you with a heart wrenching picture of panic, it is completely normal.  The good new is, if your little one has been struggling with your departures lately, you can begin to breathe a sigh of relief.  The 17-month-mark is quite often the peak of many toddler's separation anxiety, and although she may continue to be unusually clingy and timid at times, the majority of symptoms usually diminish quite quickly after 18 months.

       Some toddlers are more inclined to worry about separation, and it is even more likely if she is shy.  Other times this anxiety may arise out of the blue when a child is stressed, or is brought into an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.  However, children who were in day care or away from parents in early months appear to have less difficulty making this adjustment than those who were solely at home with Mommy and Daddy.  Letting go of one another is a gradual process that evolves daily, is a fundamental part of growing up, and can take some getting used to.  If your little one (or you) appears to be having a very difficult time with separating, there is nothing wrong with making the time spent apart a gradual process.  Look for ways to make separations easier like creating a special routine for partings and returns, and keep separations short at the beginning and build gradually on your child's successes.  Remember as a parent that it's hard to feel alright whether she's happy or sad to see you go, so state your good-byes clearly and try your best to keep it short, sweet and to the point.

       Childhood is a magical time when anything seems possible and the world is at your toddler's disposal, but it is also a fearful period.  Separation anxiety is the first fear that most parents encounter with their children, and if left unresolved may gradually transform into other childhood fears as they grow.  In order to help your little one through to the end of this difficult period, offer her reassurance and comfort.  Your child needs to gradually learn to manage separations and the feelings that go along with them by soothing herself.  She is now beginning to learn from the past and anticipate the future, and soon she will be able to realize that Mommy and Daddy will be right back when they leave and everything will be okay.  Soon she may even be able to convince herself that she can handle the anxiety for a few minutes without freaking out.

       Your little toddler is now learning that she has some control over her environment and wants to experience that control in familiar surroundings with familiar people.  Although she may be curious about others it is usually from a distance, and doesn't necessarily mean that she wants to get involved with them.  This can be a very sensitive period when she is scared at anything and everything unfamiliar so try not to push her.  Don't become concerned if she has gone from loving everyone to being a suspicious worry wart lately, as she will adapt to new people eventually especially if she is given time and allowed to approach new people when she's ready.  Often if a new person makes the first attempt to interact with your little one she may become fearful, so try not to force the issue as it may make her pull farther away.  Keep in mind that these childhood fears are something to be resolved in her own time and at her own pace, and she will slowly become less wary of "strangers" eventually.

       One of our greatest challenges as parents is to promote independence in our children.  Being able to tolerate time alone as well as time with others increases your child's range of knowledge and experience about the world and how it works.   Be firm but compassionate, and remember that separation is important, but time spent together is essential.


Boys vs. Girls
           Before you even begin to read this section, I have to emphasize that children do NOT conform to stereotypes.  There are however notable differences between little boys and little girls that you will specifically begin to notice around the 17-month-mark, and they absolutely deserve a little attention.

       You may now begin to notice that your little girl is rapidly turning into a social butterfly and thoroughly enjoys the company of (most) others.  She has also become more sociable than boys her age, and has begun to form close "friendships" with a few little girlfriends in her play group.  Don't be surprised if she spots a friend across the playground from last weekend and runs to her as if she has spotted a long lost friend!

       Right now you can expect your little girl to be more compliant around adults than boys her age, but don't expect this to last for very long.  She may also begin to show fewer competitive traits and appear less domineering than her little boy counterparts, but she won't be sitting back for very long.  I promise that she will soon realize that she has as much of a right to get pushed on the swing first, or be the first one up at bat, and will not back down to anyone.

       Most importantly, and fortunately for them, little girls have been granted the gift of being able to cope more easily with physical, emotional and intellectual stressors than boys are, and you will now begin to see glimpses of this amazing strength surfacing.

       If you are the parent of a little boy, please don't dismay about what you will read ahead!  Remember - these are generalizations and by no means absolute (however, being the mom of 3 little boys, I must admit that they are all true...at least for us right now).

       It is very common that little boys develop social skills at a slower pace than girls and may have some difficulties with overall social development.  Interestingly, your little boy may appear to have more friendships than little girls his age, but right now they are primarily superficial and short-lived.  Don't be too surprised when you go to the park and he makes ten new little best buddies one second, and completely forgets about them mid-play.  You can now also expect to see your little angel becoming more socially aggressive and slightly "bully-ish" at times.  Little boys love to be in control at this age, so when he feels someone else stealing his thunder he may act out physically (hence, the "dracula syndrome" that you have recently seen).

       Be aware that this is the time when your little boy may appear more emotionally vulnerable than girls, and often internalizes his feelings instead of expressing them.  Try to be especially in tune to what is going on with your son at an early age, and make an extra effort to let him know that it's alright to get upset and to actually talk about it.


Beginning to Trust
           Trust is the necessary foundation for every successful relationship, and whether a toddler learns to trust or distrust later in life highly depends on the initial parent-child connection.  If day after day for the first 17 months of your child's life you have done your best to be an attentive parent, enthusiastically welcoming your little one's smiles with open arms and unconditional love, you're doing a great job.  Consistently comforting your child and assuring him that his basic needs will always be met leads toward healthy attachment and trust towards you that will last a lifetime.  If his needs are regularly met over and over again as an infant, he quickly learns that you'll always be there for him.  Fortunately for you, when he gets a little bit older this initial trust will help him improve in the patience department, and he will actually be able to wait when you can't met his needs immediately.

       Interestingly, along with trusting you, your little one has come to the conclusion that you're a safe person to practice his other less pleasant emotions on.  In particular, you may now be his partner while he explores and experiments with the concepts of disobedience, frustration and anger in a safe and understanding environment.  Don't be surprised when your little angel intentionally disobeys you, looks right in your eyes and touches exactly what you said not to touch (while a mile-wide grin spreads across his cute little angelic face).  You both know that your message was heard loud and clear, but again he's trusting that he can test out his new skills on you nonetheless.

       Your toddler is now learning that he can depend on you (even if you've made a few innocent mistakes along the way) and his level of trust increases every time that you keep your promises--and children never forget what they are promised.  Your 17-month-old is quickly learning who he can depend on and who he can't depend on, and when his needs are met the world appears to be a safer place.  In a nutshell, establishing a loving, nurturing, respectful relationship between you and your little one from the beginning, equates to a mentally healthy and happy child down the road.



       Around the age of 17 months, your toddler is starting to understand and recognize that things come in different colors, shapes, textures and sizes.  Teaching her to sort various familiar items into piles and then group them out into smaller categories will help her to practice this new skill.

       In order to do this activity, mix two groups of items on the floor and then see if she can sort them out into two containers.  It is important to keep this task as simple as possible in order to increase her chances of success, so use two groups of identical objects (blocks and balls for example).  Keep in mind that at this young age, your toddler will be most successful at sorting things when the two sets differ in size, shape, color and form.

       Don't worry if your little one appears to have some difficulty with this activity.  Sorting is actually a developmental skill that involves abstract concepts and may take time to grasp.  Some children may be able to do this early on, and for some it may come later.  Many children at this age (particularly, boys) are more interested in focusing on large motor skills like running around the room, climbing on top of things that they shouldn't, and knocking everything over, so be patient.  With practice she will be able to help you complete this task working together, and eventually she will be able to sort things alone.  I promise, once she is able to grasp the concept of sorting, it will quickly become a favorite way to entertain herself independently.  It may even buy you a little quiet time for yourself...imagine that!


  Andrew and Devin's Opinion
           Lately, my 17-month-old twins have been quite a comedy team.  They find humor in the most unexpected things, and I have recently found them in quite precarious positions.  Initially I thought that the sorting activity would work best by sitting with the boys individually, but, was quickly (and quite happily) surprised by their ability to succeed together as a team.

       Before I brought my little ones into their room, I thought it best to set up the activity ahead of time.  I placed 10 wooden blocks and 10 balls in a pile in the center of the floor, and then placed a large square box and a large round box to the left and right of the pile.  I then let them waddle like little penguins into their room, and Devin ran right over and into the pile of blocks and balls on the floor.  Andrew maneuvered himself quickly into one of the boxes and was quite determined to stay there for a while.  After bribing them (I am so grateful for Cheerios at moments like this) to sit down and climb out of the boxes, I showed them what we were going to do.  I took one block and placed it into the square box overemphasizing the word "yes" as I did it, and then took one ball and placed it into the round box saying "yes" with an exaggerated nod of my head.  I then picked up one block and placed it into the round box saying "no" while shaking my head, then one ball and placed it into the square box saying "no" (you get the idea).  I did this over and over again until I felt that my point was made (and all of the Cheerios were gone).

       I then led Andrew over to give it a go, but there was no way that Devin was going to sit back and watch his brother steal the show.  As soon as Andrew picked up a block Devin soon followed, and immediately an image of flying objects flashed in front of my eyes.  I was shocked when I realized that each of them had actually held onto their blocks, and amazed when they each placed it into the correct box!  They then proceeded to place 7 out of 10 blocks correctly, and 6 out of ten balls correctly.

       Because this was working out better than expected, I decided to give them another whirl at it.  I emptied the boxes into another pile on the floor and let them go.  This time whenever they placed a correct (or incorrect) item into the box, each of the boys let out a loud "hooray" and clapped.  It turned out to be a nice little self-esteem builder for the morning...who would have known?

       Of course, my little angel Andrew had to eventually put a twist on our morning activity.  He started taking the balls and deliberately placing them into the incorrect square box shaking his head and saying a long drawn out "NOOO."  He repeated this action until all of the balls sat neatly in the bottom of the wrong box, then looked up at me defiantly and laughed.  Such a little trouble maker already.  Devin was not happy with Andrew's little game, and tried his best to stop him, but to no avail.  Andrew was as determined as ever to do things his way, no matter how many times his partner tried to intervene.

       All in all, despite Andrew's attempt to change the rules, my boys were able to fill the boxes five more times before they appeared to have enough, and they really had a great time doing it.  In fact, this was such a success that next time we play the sorting game I might even get a little crazy, and let them try to sort three different things!       

       Have you begun to wonder...       

       How can I avoid raising a "spoiled" child?       

       Parents are often afraid of creating a spoiled child.  A child will not become spoiled by being given what he needs and a bit of what he wants.  Spoiling doesn't come from being good to a baby in a normal way, and it doesn't happen all of a sudden.  It is not about what he gets, but how he obtains it, and it never comes from giving too much love and attention.  Children may become spoiled if unreasonable "needs" are constantly met, annoying whiny behavior is tolerated, and minor "wants" are met at great cost and inconvenience to others.  Finally, it is not a product of how much your child has, but can occur when money and material objects continually replace love, time, and affection.

       Your first baby is actually the one who is the most likely candidate for spoiling.  When they arrive they are the most amazing new little gifts in the world, and if an adult can become obsessed with a new 52 inch television, you can imagine how a baby can become all encompassing for months.  The good news is, if you should choose to have a second child you will have more assurance and know that children can be denied things, some times for their own good, and you don't need to feel guilty about it.

       In some situations, parents become willing to sacrifice themselves by giving their toddler everything he asks for.  Try not to do too much for your child.  Let him discover new things, take a few risks and do things for himself.  Allow him to become frustrated and then to succeed on his own.

       Now, I am the first to admit that it can be so much easier to do certain things for our kids, especially when you're in a rush and dealing with stubby little fingers, clumsy little legs, and the general slowness associated with a toddler.  But, try your best to slow down a little bit whenever you get the chance, and remember excessive dependency is unhealthy in the long run.

       Right about now your 17-month-old is learning that a well-timed tantrum, complete with screaming, whining and crying can turn the tables and get him what he wants.  Don't give in to this, let it fall on deaf ears, and hold your ground when you need to.  This is the month when you truly need to begin picking and choosing your battles.  It takes willpower to say "no," mean it, and set limits, but, you are doing it for his own good and building up a little frustration tolerance as well.

       As parents, we have to find a balance that works for everyone.  All that our children ask is that we provide them with the attention that they need, set limits, keep a routine, maintain healthy boundaries...and love them more than you've ever loved anyone before.


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