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Toddler - Week #82

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Your 19-month-old toddler (week 82)

By Shelley Feldman, edHelperBaby

Fine Motor Development
           Nineteen months is a wonderful age for you and your toddler.  Every day his quest for knowledge increases and he explores everything within his grasp, involving all of his senses in the expedition.  Your little one is now beginning to learn about spatial relationships, as well as size, weight and shape, and he will give anything that crosses his path a complete examination with his eyes, mouth, and fingers, before moving them from one place and then to another.

       You will now discover that your toddler enjoys filling bottles, cups, boxes and bowls with little objects, and then emptying them before beginning the ritual all over again.  At 19 months your toddler now possesses the fine motor skills to hold a container with one hand, put smaller items into it with the other, and then use both hands to simultaneously dump everything out.  Although it may appear to be a mindless time-filler, this activity is actually teaching your toddler about an object's capacity and what happens if it overflows.  More specifically, he is learning about cause-and-effect, an essential life lesson that is now being seen in its simplest form.

       Because of your little one's improved finger dexterity this month, he is now able to appropriately use his shape sorter, and is starting to realize that round pegs won't fit into square holes no matter how hard he pushes.  He is also becoming more successful at stacking blocks, and you will be amazed to watch his towers grow taller and taller.

       Despite having improved fine motor skills and possibly having the ability to play with toys labeled for older children this month, continue to use caution.  Most toys labeled for older children are such because they contain small parts that remain choking hazards for your child this month.  Toddlers at this age continue to chew on everything, especially if they are getting their 2 year molars a little early, so be careful.  There are numerous alternatives for promoting your child's fine motor development that are age appropriate, and it is always best to err on the side of caution in this case.


Messy Eaters
           Your vacuum will become your new best friend this month, so keep it close at hand as you will need it after every meal.  Just in case you haven't already noticed, toddlers this age are very messy eaters, and it is almost guaranteed that your little one will get more food on the floor than in her mouth.

       Sometime this month you should begin encouraging your 19-month-old to try out her skills with a fork and spoon.  Initially, be prepared for a big mess, lots and lots of spills, and don't expect much food to end up where it should.  At first, your toddler may resist the idea of using anything but her own trusty fingers for feeding, but continue to make utensils available during meals.  The goal is that over time (a lot of time) she becomes increasingly proficient with her self-feeding skills, and is eventually able to do it completely independently.  For starters, help her hand-over-hand until she grasps the concept of using utensils, and then only intervene when it looks like she wants and truly needs your help.  Let her explore these new implements like she does everything else, and don't feel the need to rush.  If you are concerned about your toddler eating enough this month, it may ease your mind to know that toddlers actually eat more if they are allowed to feed themselves, so it's definitely in everyone's best interest to give it a shot.

       Learning to eat independently is an important learning experience, but most beneficial if she has the opportunity to go at it alone.  Despite wanting to take over and feed her yourself, try not to give in.  Although it may take 10 times longer to get through a meal when she's in charge, it will be worth it in the long run.  By allowing your toddler to feed herself, it is not only helping her to become more independent at mealtime, but is also aiding in the development of a healthy attitude towards food.  So, leave yourself a little extra eating time at meals, do your best to protect your floor, furniture, clothing and ceiling, and give your little one a chance.

       Although you may never be able to prevent your toddler from turning mealtime into mess-time, you can make it a little easier and possibly a little neater too.  Provide her with utensils that are chubby and have short handles, and place her food in bowls or plates with high sides that can help with scooping.  Also, use bowls that can be attached to her high chair with suction cups and she will be less likely to toss the entire plate across the kitchen.  Offer her foods that stick to the utensils, like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, or bananas, because when the food sticks to the spoon without much of an effort, she is more likely to get it into her mouth instead of on the floor.  Ration her food out slowly at meals, and provide her with only a few bites on her plate at a time so she doesn't become overwhelmed.  Lastly, try and turn the other cheek, duck when the apple sauce flies your way, and let your little one explore.

       If you're having a difficult time getting your toddler to stop playing with her food during meals, try and give her the opportunity to play with interesting textures like finger paint, or edible play dough during playtime.  If she has the chance to get this type of play out of her system ahead of time, she may be less inclined to explore the texture of the food with her fingers during dinner, and may be more focused on trying to eat appropriately.


Learning Takes Time (and LOTS of It)
           It can take a long time to master something new.  Some lessons are understood in the blink of an eye, and others seem to go on forever before your little on catches on.  If it does become frustrating to continuously repeat yourself over and over again, try and remember that your toddler wants to catch on quickly, but sometimes he just can't.  Patience is one of the most important life lessons that you can pass on to your little one, and more importantly if you are patient with your toddler, he will learn to be patient with himself as well.  This is the time to praise the tiniest of accomplishments and try not to focus on what he can't do, but what he can.  Your little one will get aggravated enough on his own, and he definitely does not need any extra help from those around him.

       Every day adventures can provide the perfect training ground for trying out new things and practicing the old, so when you and your toddler are on an outing, allow plenty of extra time for his little side trips to explore.  Although you may just want to get from point A to B, your 19-month-old's natural instinct is to take many detours along the way, and you will quickly learn that the more you call for your little explorer to stay by your side, the less compliant he will become.  This month he enjoys the little game of running from you (as long as he knows you're only a few steps behind), and he also gets a big kick out of asserting himself.  Your little angel is slowly evolving into his own little rebellious person, and this is just the beginning.


           Hand Prints, Foot Prints and Finger Paint       

       Finger painting is a great activity to introduce to your toddler this month.  Although 19 months may be too young to manipulate a paintbrush easily, it is the perfect age to make some great artwork with her hands and feet.

       To begin this activity, cover every square inch of your "art room" that you do not want to come into contact with paint.  Despite the fact that you can not be guaranteed a clean ceiling, you can almost guarantee a clean floor if you place a large bed sheet beneath your toddler's chair, and anywhere else she may migrate to over the course of this activity.  After laying out the sheets, I then recommend taping large sheets of finger painting paper to your toddler's high chair tray, or to the table in front of where she will be sitting for further protection.

       After doing your best to prevent more of a mess than you already expect, fill a shallow tray with finger paint.  Initially you may only want to use one color in the tray at a time in order to avoid creating "mud," but after your little artist gets the gist of it, go ahead and show her what happens when you mix colors together.  Next, help her place the palm of her hand into the tray, mush it around in the paint, and then place her hand onto the paper.  Go ahead and try the same technique with her feet as well, but be prepared to grab her immediately unless you would like a very colorful path throughout your house.

       After you've made a few mementos, let her get creative with the paint.  Show your toddler how to push the paint around the paper in order to make artwork, and let her explore the texture.  She is bound to enjoy the sensation of squishing the paint between her fingers, and don't be surprised if she sneaks a bit of "paint tasting" in there as well.  Expect to get very messy, so don't try to avoid it, and just have fun.


  Andrew and Devin's Opinion
           What a mess (but, worth it)!  On the morning of our activity, I purchased three jars of non-toxic finger paints in red, blue, and yellow, as well as large finger painting paper from our local art store.  Before I even began to consider breaking out the finger paints, I covered as much of my kitchen floor as possible with sheets, pulled Andrew and Devin's high chairs away from the walls into the center of the kitchen floor, and dressed everyone involved in old oversized t-shirts.

       I then securely taped the finger painting paper to Andrew and Devin's high chair trays, and put one "blob" of finger paint in the center of another shallow tray.  One by one, I then placed each of the boy's hands into the paint, squished it around and made handprints, all the while amazed with the compliance that I received, but not expecting it to last.  Deciding not to tempt fate, I chose to avoid doing footprints at this time, out of fear that I would not be able to catch both of them before my entire house was redecorated.

       I was actually looking forward to giving Andrew and Devin the opportunity to explore the finger paint on their own (contained in their high chairs, of course) without my intervention, so I quickly changed the paper on their trays so that they could begin again.

       Never before have I seen such differences in personality emerging from my 19-month-old twin boys, as when in the throws of the more "open-ended" portion of this finger painting activity.  Andrew jumped right in and began to mush the paint around with his hands.  On occasion I did have to request that he stop trying to eat the paint, but generally speaking he did great.  On the contrary, Devin wanted nothing more than to escape from the confines of his high chair from the second he laid eyes on the blob sitting in front of him.  Devin did make a half ditch attempt to touch the paint when it was first was placed on his tray, however that was it.  The face he made upon experiencing the slimy texture mush between his fingers was priceless, and he was not amused by his brother's antics to engage him in the activity from the next high chair over.

       In retrospect, I should have expected the varying experiences that my boys had with finger painting.  Andrew loves to examine his food at every meal, squishing it around his plate, taking it in and out of his mouth (lovely) and appears fascinated with the various textures he is presented with. Although he is an extremely finicky eater with an overly sensitive gag-reflex, he loves "slimy" foods, and prefers mush to anything solid. Devin on the other hand, is a great eater, but wants nothing to do with the pureed foods that his counterpart desires.  He would rather have a grilled cheese sandwich than mushy peas any day, and is much more interested in learning to eat with a fork than Andrew, who would be much happier slopping up his meals with his fingers any day.

       Overall, I really enjoyed participating in this activity with my boys.  Despite Devin's ambivalence regarding the paint, I still believe it is important to expose little children to all types of art and media at an early age.  I also am hopeful that if I re-introduce this activity in a few weeks, Devin may actually be willing to give it another try.


  Have you begun to wonder...
           How do I best handle a finicky eater?       

       Most toddlers are finicky regarding food some of the time, and some toddlers are finicky about food all of the time.  If your 19-month-old has been leaning more towards the latter of the two lately, it may help to know that eventually your little one will grow out of this phase.  In the meantime, there are a few tricks that may help you and your toddler cope, while you are in the midst of this common eating battle.

       When your toddler does choose to eat, keep his options as nutritious as possible.  You want to be certain that you fill him up with nutrient dense foods, as opposed to empty calories, and be sure to avoid excessive fluid intake as well.  Feed your little one only when he is hungry (although it may sound obvious) because many children lose their appetite by snacking too much before their actual meal-time.  Also, try and tune into your little one's "hunger pattern" and see when he actually expresses a desire to eat, or presents you with clues about when he gets hungry.  Once this pattern has been established, try to stick with planned mealtimes that are predictable, because your 19-month-old thrives when he can anticipate the day's events.

       It is important that the mealtime environment is kept relaxing in order to avoid a power struggle, so try not to pressure your little one to eat, but allow him to make a few decisions along the way.  Offering your toddler the opportunity to make a few choices during his dining experience may also make him feel more in control, and may actually get him to eat a little more.  Be sure to give your toddler all the time that is necessary to explore his food and eat at his own pace, but when you notice that eating has turned to playing, it's time to stop the antics before things get ugly.

       Try and encourage your 19-month-old to try new things, but don't force the issue. You may need to get very creative and a little sneaky as well, hiding fruits and vegetables in other foods to be sure he meets all of his nutritional requirements, but do whatever needs to be done.  Once again, just be patient.  His eating habits will improve eventually, and they will definitely improve faster if you don't push.


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