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Toddler - Week #71

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Your third week with a 16-month-old toddler (Part III of IV)

By Shelley Feldman, edHelperBaby

  Just when you thought things were getting easier... surprise!
           The 16 month mark can present challenges that at times feel insurmountable, along with a bit of utter confusion tossed in.  Your toddler is slowly beginning to evolve into his own sweet little person, when out of nowhere he may throw you a few curve balls.  One second he is as happy as can be playing without a care in the world, and the next he's flailing around on the floor like the Tasmanian devil, whipping toys and blocks at anyone in sight.  He wants to be on top of you, but away from you at the same time.  He may run towards you with a wonderful, self-initiated hug and kiss, and then top it off with a nice chomp on your shoulder.  Need I say more?  As parents, we need to remember that not only is this time difficult for us, but difficult for our little ones as well.  There is usually a reason behind the crazy and unpredictable behavior that you're beginning to see, and now your greatest challenge is to try and figure it out.


  Aggression and Tantrums
           I was once told by my own mother that having a toddler would be a humbling experience.  Now, I completely understand what she meant.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but all children, even the calmest most mild-mannered mellow children, with the calmest most mild-mannered mellow parents, will act out on occasion.  Particularly during this month when your toddler's communication and motor skills are growing with leaps and bounds, so does his level of frustration and aggressive behavior.  A 16-month-old child still hasn't mastered the ability to fully accomplish the tasks that he takes on independently.  These feelings of powerlessness and failure may overwhelm him, leading to a full meltdown in the most inconvenient of places and times.

       Unfortunately, we are unable to control our children's behavior all of the time, but, we can assist them in understanding where their bizarre, irrational behavior is coming from and what they can do to get a better grip on it.  A young toddler needs limits to keep him safe when he is playing alone, as well as when he is playing with other children.  At this young age, he still has no idea about the impact his behavior has on others or on himself, and he needs an external control (this is where you come in) to stop him from behaving dangerously or aggressively.  Your 16-month-old child continues to struggle with impulse control, and it will take years and years of patiently guiding him before he has enough self-control to keep his behavior in check himself.

       Not surprisingly, your 16-month-old little angel still tends to see his tantrums as mini "shows" which he enjoys putting on for you, expecting a standing ovation at the end of each act.  If your toddler doesn't have an audience, and doesn't receive the attention from his negative behavior that he is expecting, he may actually stop the tantrum quite quickly on his own.  Just be sure that if you do choose to walk away, he is completely safe, and not in any danger of harming himself or anyone else in the vicinity.

       Along with the lovely tantrums that you are now witnessing, it is very likely that your toddler will also go through a period of biting.  This "Dracula phase" may be related to his never ending exploration of what his body is capable of doing, however, it may also be an act of aggression stemming from the inability to communicate his wants and needs effectively all of the time.  But do not fear, there is a small light at the end of this tunnel.  Most forms of aggression such as biting and hitting begin to diminish as your child learns to better express and understand his feeling and emotions.


  Motor Skill Development
           So many new skills continue to develop over these next few months.  Motor skill development is one stage of development that may be easiest to track, as you will now begin to see your child completing the concrete tasks that he was unable to do a few weeks ago.  Now is the time when all of the toys you purchased months ago can be played with more appropriately, instead of being strewn around your house in a chaotic fashion.

       Your 16-month-old is now becoming more adept at using his hands and fingers, and may be able to stack blocks into a tower and delight in crashing them to the ground.  Stacking and smashing is not only a fun activity for your child at this age, it's a learning experience too, reinforcing the concept of cause-and-effect over and over again.  Your little builder may also be able to start playing with the shape sorter, putting the different shaped pegs into the correct holes, instead of dumping them all over the floor in a heap.  Another great toy to try out this month would be the rainbow stacking rings.  Your toddler may now be able to recognize that they aren't only funny little things to put on their arms and feet, but in fact can be stacked one on top of another and have an educational purpose.

       All of the above mentioned toys are great, classic, battery-free choices that have stood the test of time.  It is very important that we offer our children simple toys at this age that they are able to "succeed" at with a little guidance.  Many toddler toys can be overwhelming with all of the bells, whistles, lights and beeps and can actually overload your little one's senses.  As a general rule this month, keep it simple and remember that the less a toy does by itself, the more your child's imagination and creativity will be challenged.

       Besides becoming better adept at playing with toys, your 16-month-old may now be able to help turn the pages of a favorite book.  Merely flipping a book from front to back is no longer satisfying, and now he challenges himself to be more controlled with his actions turning the pages one (or two) at a time.  Although children of this age can appreciate a very simple story line, the illustrations continue to keep most of their attention, so choose books with beautiful artwork.  It's also best to stick with board books right now because they can better withstand the not-so-gentle touch of a 16-month-old.

       One final note, regarding your toddler's developing motor skills.  If you suddenly spot a streaker running through your house sometime this month, don't be surprised.  With or without your approval, your shy little toddler may now be able to take off some of his clothes by himself.  Trust me on this one, when he figures it out, it is guaranteed to become one of his favorite new past times.  Keep the camera somewhere you can easily access it because adolescence, blackmail, and bribery are just a few years away!


  Encouraging creativity in your little abstract artist
           Do you find that every time you have a pen, pencil, paint brush, or marker in hand a little thief tries to steal it from you?  Now is the time when your 16-month-old becomes more adept at handling smaller objects, and wants to begin to express himself artistically in his own special way.  Gather all of your paper and non-toxic crayons, and show him what he can create.  If you hand him a crayon, be prepared for him to scribble on anything in his path.  Despite beginning to be able to understand that crayons are not for eating, he has not yet developed the skills to determine what is appropriate to color on, and what is not.  This is also a perfect opportunity to begin displaying his masterpieces around the house (the refrigerator has always proven to be a favorite place) to show him how proud you are of his newly discovered talent.  Keep in mind that this is another new experience, and that he may put the crayons directly into his mouth to explore.  Quite quickly he will learn that they don't taste very good, and a glance in the mirror will reveal a not so pleasant looking green and purple tongue.  Toddlers at this age are just beginning to slowly understand that crayons are not food so be patient.  They will eventually learn that these are the first tools they will be provided with to create colorful pictures, amazing scribbles and spark their imagination.

       Parents who raise a creative child have allowed them to explore and experiment from the very start.  It may be difficult at times, and often test your parental tolerance to unpleasant noises (banging on the pots and pans), or a laundry pile of mud (after a fun filled afternoon of playing in the dirt).  But, just remember as you count to ten backwards, that you are trying to instill the ability to see that life is filled with many different solutions, and not just the right or wrong ones.  Helping to launch your toddler's creativity is one of the greatest gifts you can give, and in the meantime you may even find out a few new things about your own imagination too.


           Time to create a masterpiece       

       First you will need to buy a small box of non-toxic crayons and the largest sheets of white paper you can find.  You may actually want to purchase larger stubbier crayons to start with, as they may be easier for her little hands to grab hold of.  I've found this activity works best on the kitchen floor so you can both spread out and not feel confined to a small space.  Tape as many big sheets of the paper as possible directly to the floor, and remember that once she sets off with crayons in hand, nothing will stand in her way.  Basically, she will not know where to draw and where not to draw so protect your house before she begins.  Once the drawing area has been established and your house is safely wrapped up, you will want to select only one or two primary colored crayons.  I don't recommend letting her loose with the entire box of Crayolas because even for a well adjusted adult, it can be very overwhelming to have to choose one color out of a box of 96 or more, and it's also a guaranteed mess.  Once again, keep this activity basic.  Try to name the colors of the crayons as you go, and see if she can repeat you.  Let her experiment with a variety of ways to hold the crayons, but, continue to expect them to go into her mouth a few times.  Although the scribbles may be illegible now, they are the first building block of learning to write and to appreciate her budding creativity.  Remember, this should be a fun activity for both of you, so just let her experiment and doodle to her heart's content.  When the crayons start flying across the room, you'll know that she's had enough.


  Andrew and Devin's Opinion
           My 16-month-old twin boys love to eat crayons.  Knowing this ahead of time, I was prepared for the green and red tongues which were inevitable after this was over.

       Before I brought my kids into the kitchen for this scribble session, I carefully put up safety gates to ensure I could contain the wandering artists from re-decorating my entire house.  After confining them safely in the kitchen with me, I taped down a 6 foot by 6 foot area of the kitchen floor with large sheets of very thick white construction paper, I then chose one fat crayon for each of the boys, and sat back to watch.

       As expected, Andrew looked directly into my eyes as an enormous smirk came across his face and the crayon went directly into his mouth.  After chasing him around the kitchen and removing the red smudge off his teeth, I sat him down and helped to draw a scribble on the paper.  Andrew thought this was hysterical and tried to pick the scribble up off the paper.  He appeared to be a little baffled when it stayed in place, and then tried to put crayon to paper himself.  From that time on, even the tiniest mark that he was able to make on the paper, brought out laughter to the point of falling over backwards.

       While Andrew was up to his normal antics, Devin sat on top of the drawing paper just staring at the crayon in his hand.  He wasn't quite sure what to make of this whole situation, and appeared a bit intimidated.  After carefully scrutinizing the scene, and looking directly at me for a little guidance, he inevitably put the crayon into his mouth and gave it a good chomp.  A short battle ensued between the two of us, but after realizing he was not going to win, gave up quite quickly.  I then showed Devin, hand-over-hand, what he could do with the crayons, and I had to laugh out loud when he looked down and pointed to my "masterpiece" saying "wow," green-toothed grin and all.

       It was so interesting for me to watch the vast differences in personality between my boys come out through their scribbling.  Andrew was literally running from one side of the paper to the other chaotically scribbling and trying to sneak a few more crayons from the box, which I had carefully hidden (or so I thought).  Devin just remained in one spot the majority of the time making the tiniest of dots and beaming from ear to ear all the while.  About 10 minutes in, I handed out a new round of unbitten implements and took away the old gnawed ones.  Once again I made a point of saying the names of the crayons I handed out in hopes of getting them repeated back.  Andrew really tried his best to repeat "yellow," and Devin is so convinced that everything is called "baby" lately that I wasn't counting on his cooperation.  It was no surprise when he looked directly into my eyes, raised the crayon with confidence and said "baby."  We went back and forth for a few minutes regarding the name, and I soon gave up this battle.  I've carefully learned to pick and choose battles lately.

       With my help and refocusing, and frequent wiping of their mouths, I was pleased that the boys both remained with this activity for 20 minutes.  It was obvious to me that they had both had enough when I looked over and saw Andrew drawing on Devin's head while Devin was trying to stick a crayon up his nose.


  Have you begun to wonder....
           How can I better deal with my toddler's tantrums?       

       If your 16-month-old has begun to throw tantrums, bite, or hit out of frustration, remember that these impulses are healthy and to be expected.  It is completely "normal" to have negative feelings as an infant or as an adult.  The main difference being that as adults we have learned over time (hopefully) how to pick and choose our battles, and how to deal with the ones that we choose in a rational, socially acceptable manner.  Our job as parents (one more to add to the ever growing list lately) is to take control of the situation when he is unable to do so himself, help him begin to develop self-discipline, and teach him how to express his emotions appropriately.

       Despite being small, your toddler has feelings which are ten times his size and he doesn't quite understand them yet.  In order to begin "practicing" with these new feelings, you can expect your 16-month-old to include you in on his experimentation.  At this age he has most likely begun to realize that you will intervene and try to stop him from acting out if he behaves inappropriately.  Most importantly, he knows that you will help him regain control if he loses it temporarily.  Your 16-month-old now depends upon the limits that you have begun to set in order to get him back on track when he falls off.  In his own little mind, he believes that having a tantrum will clear out whatever bad feelings he is having but can't understand.

       Here are a few simple guidelines to keep in the back of your mind.  When you are faced with a child in the midst of a meltdown, be patient, available, and willing to offer comfort at a moment's notice.  At times it may even be best to just watch from a distance and give him a little space to let off some steam.  No matter how "perfect" our children are, tantrums are bound to come and go throughout the years.  Like my mother once told me, having a toddler is a humbling experience.


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