The Baby to Toddler Transition

Before you know it, your baby is coming to a year old. Find out the changes you can expect in him as he bids infancy goodbye and how you can make this transition easy for both of you.

WORDS RACHEL KWEK
 
The time your child is between one and three years old is an exciting and possibly challenging one that is marked by a whole lot of cognitive, physical and behavioural changes. His new-found mobility may see him (and you) constantly on the go. He gains greater awareness of himself and the world around him and is driven to express himself with his premature language skills. Besides milestones to celebrate, join your tot on an unforgettable journey of self-discovery as he crosses into toddlerhood.
 
Eating Habits
Key changes: 
You’ll probably notice a sharp drop in your toddlers’ appetite after their first birthday, Dr Vina Tagamolila, resident physician, Department of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, SGH, says. While it seems they should be eating more now that they are more active, Dr Tagamolila explains that their growth rate has slowed and thus do not require as much food as they did before. The range of food they can eat expands, on the other hand, as they grow teeth. The number of times they need to feed in a day decreases too and this is the time to wean them off bottles. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends switching to cups by the time he is 18 months old. Toddlers are more able to handle utensils as their finger dexterity and hand-eye co-ordination advance rapidly as well, says Dr Priyantha Edison, staff registrar, Department of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine, SGH. 
 
What parents can do:
Help your toddler get used to a feeding schedule of three meals and two snack times in between meals. Teaching children to wait for their next meal or snack even if they are hungry ensures they do not overeat. It also means they are more likely to eat what is served, Dr Edison says. She adds that iron-rich foods remain an important part of a toddler’s diet, which fruit, vegetables, dairy and whole grain should be regularly incorporated into. There is no need for “toddler food” as they can generally eat most of the food you do as long as it is adequately processed for their little mouths. She encourages parents to let their children feed themselves though they may make a mess initially, adding that such opportunities to act independently can assist in their overall development.
 
Socio-emotional Development
Key changes: 
While infants spend much time playing on their own, their interactions with the people around them get more complex as they grow older. Dr Tagamolila says they become aware that they are separate from others and start to imitate their behaviour. Although they may enjoy the company of other children, they are unlikely to understand the concept of sharing till they are about three years old. It is also common for toddlers to display separation anxiety. 
 
What parents can do:
Dr Mark Loh, consultant paediatrician and neonatologist, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, says engaging toddlers in any kind of interactive activity that encourages verbal and non-verbal expression will help them learn how to communicate with others. Creating opportunities for your child to meet and interact with people (especially children close to their age) gives them plenty of chances to observe and mimic social behaviours. Parents should also teach their tots to identify emotions and healthy ways to express them. Responding positively to your child when he attempts to interact with you or others builds up his confidence and encourages him to interact more. To reduce your child’s separation anxiety, Sai Jun Lin, a psychologist from the Department of Child Development, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, suggests parents calmly reassure their children that they will be back or nearby before leaving them. 
 
Physical Development
Key changes: 
In addition to increment in size and weight, your child’s range of movement expands tremendously from the time he hits toddlerhood. While he used to be able to only sit and crawl, he now starts to stand and walk. Before long, he will be able to tiptoe, pull toys behind him as he walks and runs. This new-found mobility highlights the need for you to put safety measures in place as your tot is at a greater risk of hurting himself.
 
What parents can do:
Give them plenty of chances to practice their new movement skills by involving them in day-to-day activities like getting dressed. “Parents should strike a balance between giving their kids the freedom to explore their environment and preventing accidents and injury,” Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, specialist in paediatrics and consultant, Raffles Children’s Centre, says. As your toddler is likely to hold on to things around him for support as he cruises, make sure that these structures that are within his reach are sturdy and will not topple over when he pushes himself against them. Ensure there are no dangerous objects such as choking hazards, sharp objects, medicines and electrical appliances within his reach. Dr Pradeep Raut, consultant paediatrician and neonatologist, Parkway East Hospital, advises parents to block off access to stairs and places like the kitchen with a gate or fence and to place plug covers on unused electrical outlets. Being vigilant when out with your toddler is also a must. You wouldn’t want to find him falling into a pond or running towards a road. 
 
Cognitive Development
Key changes: 
Growing into toddlerhood, your child has formed multiple connections among the things in the world around him. He is able to engage in make-believe play, sort objects by shape and colour and use objects for the purposes they are meant for. He also starts developing a sense of self and likes and dislikes, Dr Sinnathamby says. Doctors say this awareness, as well as his newly discovered motor and language abilities, makes your toddler realise he can make choices about a person, object or situation. As a result, he is driven to assert himself by communicating his likes and dislikes as well as needs and wants. However, toddlers do not understand logic and still have a hard time with waiting and self-control, Dr Tagamolila says. Therefore, your tot may throw tantrums, which characterise the infamous “terrible twos”, to get his way, Dr Edison says. This is also when he starts getting choosy about what he eats and begins to understand toileting urges.
 
What parents can do:
Experience is key so expose your tot to different environments and activities and help him process what he gathers through his senses. Also, there’s no need to tear your hair out as he starts to have a mind of his own. “Difficult behaviour should be interpreted in the context of a toddler’s quest for autonomy and independence,” Dr Edison says. In encouraging your children to be independent, you allow them to experience mistakes, she adds. Such experiences provide valuable clues as to how your child makes sense of them and overcomes his frustrations. Over time, learning from making mistakes helps them manage frustrations and thereby become more self-regulated. However, if you want him to do something, avoid phrasing your instruction in the form of a question as it gives him a chance to say no. Be mindful of the way you respond to your toddler when he throws a tantrum as it could possibly affect the nature of future tantrums, Dr Edison says. 
 
Instead of always giving in to your child, both doctors advise parents to be calm, consistent and assertive when handling tantrums and to teach their toddlers to manage their emotions when they don’t get what they want.
 
Language Development
Key changes: 
The emergence of language skills is an exciting and liberating event for the toddler and marks the undeniable end of infancy for parents! Your toddler’s ability to process and use language increases as he learns more words and his ability to communicate with others flourishes. From mimicking simple sounds and words, they move on to say them with a clear meaning or purpose. Dr Loh says while some infants may not utter specific words until they are 18 to 24 months old, they should be babbling their own jargon by 12 to 15 months of age. By two years of age, he can connect words and physical representations and name many common body parts and common objects, Dr Tagamolila says. He would have a vocabulary of about 50 to 100 words by then and can say two or three-word phrases like “no more” and “I want this”. By three years old, what he says can be understood half of the time and he can also follow one-step commands without being shown what to do. 
 
What parents can do:
Everyday activities are excellent opportunities for language learning. Reading to him and with him, singing and naming people and objects around him all aid in vocabulary building. Dr Edison suggests parents talk slowly to their toddlers and respond to their speech as though it has meaning. Asking questions and encouraging them to narrate experiences are very effective too. “Children should be encouraged to use words rather than actions to express themselves. Repeat what your child tells you so he knows he is heard,” she adds. Songs, rhymes and jingles also make language learning more interesting.  
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