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5 Things About Toddler Development That Will Surprise You

You’ve made it past his first birthday.  (Or perhaps, more importantly, you made it past his first birthday party.)

Suddenly, it hits you.  This little man isn’t weaving around the room like an inebriated Hobbit. He’s toddling.

Which means he’s no longer a baby.  He’s a toddler.  *gasp*  What in the world HAPPENED!

There’s no stopping the Toddler Development Train now, friend. He’s going to start shocking your socks off with all the things he can do.

I’m not talking about the “obvious” toddler development milestones like running, throwing a ball, talking, etc.  Those are boring. I’ll let other boring websites cover those.

We don’t do boring.

I’m talking about the interesting and under-reported kind of Einstein toddler brilliance that gets swept under the rug.  The stuff that will make you share Mighty Moms with your friends.  (Yep. That was an unabashed share-beg.)

Humor. Music. Empathy. Independence. These are the toddler development milestones riding on the road less toddled. These are the ones we’re going to conquer.

Toddler Development Surprise #1:
A Sense of Humor

When I say your toddler is going to develop a sense of humor, I don’t mean you are going to sit back and watch Jim Gaffigan together. 

It means that somewhere between 15-18 months, your child is going to understand that when Mommy makes a funny face, he should laugh.

Or when Daddy accidentally trips over the blocks, smashes the bouncy seat, steps on the cat, and flails onto the couch, his little brain recognizes that that’s some funny stuff. (And Dad should definitely do it again.)

Speeding Up a Sense of Humor

Just exactly how is your child going to develop her amazing sense of humor?  By watching you, of course!  A study at Cardiff University confirmed that children use their parent’s tone and affirmation to flag things as “funny”.

The more you laugh, the better sense of humor your toddler will develop! (So this is a great excuse to break out my favorites Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan!)

Toddler Development Surprise #2:
A Sense of Rhythm

Babies as young as 9 months show an understanding of rhythm, by looking at the screen longer when the woman was moving off beat, indicating they knew something was “off”. It shows just how incredible that infant brain really is!

But understanding and duplicating are two totally different things.

Duplication of rhythm arrives in stages, starting at around 12-4 months. You’ll notice her bobbing up and down with the music.

The second stage arrives at around 18 months, when she really jumps into the role as Diva Dancing Queen of the Living Room.  Get out the disco ball (I know you have one) and the baby bell-bottoms your hippie grandmother gave at your baby shower.  It’s home video time!

She’ll move from side to side, perhaps even circling around and around (so you can see those bell-bottoms from all angles). Once she’s exhausted that timeless move, she may upgrade from the lower torso and experiment with arm movements, waving them in the air like she just don’t care.  

Speeding Up a Sense of Rhythm

Obviously, the easiest way to speed up your child’s rhythm is to listen to a lot of a wide variety of music.  Play slower music and teach her how to move slower, then toss in a fast song and talk about moving faster.  (A bonus vocabulary lesson!) She will LOVE it, tossing up guffaws and giggles that further her humor development. Two skills at once? Wicked good.

My kids LOVED the Beethoven’s Wig music series when they were little. (Beethoven’s wiiiiiggg…is very biiiiiggg.) The silly lyrics are addicting, and always include the name of the song and the composer. The 2nd half of the CD has just the music (with no lyrics). It’s a sneaky way of educating your children in the beauty of classical music.

For more suggestions on this, check out Molly’s article: 5 Benefits of Music You Should Know About.

Toddler Development Surprise #3:
A Sense of Empathy

Empathy, the awareness of how others are feeling, doesn’t just *poof* happen. It’s something that has to be built, like a layer cake.

In the very beginning, your child will just have a feel that something is “off”. That the normal happy feelings aren’t flooding through the room, for some reason.

Help her toddler development along, by explaining the emotions in the room, (“Sara is very tired and needs her pacifier.”) with an action that Big Sister can help fix (“Can you help me find her pacifier?”).  Then after Big Sister has saved the day, praise her for helping change the feelings that were in the room (“Thank you, Abbi! You helped Sara feel better!”).

This will help her to understand that she can identify other people’s feelings, and learn that sometimes she can help improve those feelings!

Speeding Up a Sense of Empathy

The first step in teaching anyone to be empathetic (like a spouse, for example…) is to start with the basics: identifying feelings.  If your child feels sadness, allow him to feel sadness. Give him the words he needs to identify the feeling he’s having.

If he’s angry, point out to him that he’s angry. And then guide him in proper ways to handle that anger (scream into a pillow, calm yourself on the step, etc.). Kids need to hear that feelings are okay, but that how expressing those feelings need to be in ways that are healthy and non-destructive.

On the other hand, if you have feelings (and I’m sure you do, right?), don’t shy away from sharing some of the basic feelings (happy, sad, tired, frustrated). Avoid sharing any feelings, however, that could add stress to your child: fear, rage, depressed, etc. Share those with a friend instead.  (Toddlers don’t give the best advice, anyway.)

If you haven’t been using Please and Thank-You with your Toddler, now is the time to start! Not only will your constant courtesy rub off onto him (making you look freaking awesome), it will increase his empathetic skills. Even if it’s only, “Can you please pick up that pen on the floor for Mommy?” It will give him a small task that he can feel really good about doing after being praised!

Toddler Development Surprise #4:
A Desire to Sing

I know what you’re thinking. America’s Got Talent is coming to your city, and your two year old can belt out Beyonce’s Halo like nobody’s business.

Here’s the thing, though. The chances of her singing it on key, are remote. Toddlers are notorious off-key singers, because making those big musical note leaps is beyond their development. (Seriously. Have you heard her sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? It’s adorable. Off-key, but adorable.)

Fortunately, this out-of-tune singing isn’t a statement on her future abilities. It has less to do with raw talent and more to do with the fact that she’s just learning how to speak.  

Speeding Up the Sing-a-Longs

Similar to how you’re helping your toddler learn rhythm by listening to lots of different music, you can help her learn how to master pitch and tone with her voice by exposing her to singing.

Encourage her to sing by singing with her! It doesn’t matter if you’re off-key because…

  1. She will be off key too!
  2. The neighbors stopped listening to your side of the fence years ago.
  3. Acting silly with your kids teaches them to have fun, and the families that have fun together, stick together. 

A year of singing together and you can both wow the AGT judges. A mother/daughter duet!

Toddler Development Surprise #5:
The Emergence of Nightmares

This toddler development milestone isn’t quite as fun.

In fact, it totally sucks. 

Somewhere after 18 months, you may notice your toddler waking occasionally at night not because he’s hungry, but because he’s scared. This is about the time that nightmares or night terrors can start to surface.  Sadly, it’s a milestone every child will face.

Since it can’t be skipped, our job, as loving parents, is to help our little ones learn how to cope when things are hard and scary. By talking over the dream and helping address our children’s fears, we give them the first step in independently overcoming them. 

  • Let the “lovey” talk to him about her feelings (like a puppet), and give him reassurance. (Since they’re best friends anyway.)
  • Let him crawl into bed with Mom and Dad for an hour or so. (Not the whole night, or he may decide that’s his new sleeping space. If that happens, though, we can help you gently help him move back to his room.)
  • Turn on a ladybug constellation light like this one to distract him from the dream.

There are several other techniques you can use, but they’re too involved to include here. Check out my article How to Defeat Your Child’s Nightmare Monster for Good. 

Not every “screaming at night” episode is a nightmare, though.  Night terrors can happen at this age as well (up to age 7).  Let me give you brief summary so you can know how to spot the difference, since they should be treated in different ways.

Was it a Nightmare?

The answer is Yes, if…

  • It happened after midnight, when your child was in REM sleep.
  • Your child cried out for you (or came to your room), but recognized you when you comforted him.
  • Your child can remember what the dream was about.

Toddlers and preschoolers are very susceptible to nightmares, because their minds struggle to know the difference between real and fantasy. For this reason, be careful what things your toddler can see on TV and in video games! You definitely want to avoid triggering something at 3am.

Was it a Night Terror? 

The answer is Yes, if…

  • It happened within 2 hours of going to bed that evening.
  • Your child woke up screaming, with a racing heart beat, and perhaps sweating.
  • Your child was inconsolable for 5-15 minutes.
  • Your child didn’t seem to recognize you.
  • Your child had no memory of the incident later (these are often more traumatic for you, than the child)

Night terrors do not happen during the dream cycle of sleep (REM), so they aren’t psychological (like dreams). They are more developmental. Interfering with a child who is dealing with a night terror can sometimes make it worse, so use your best judgment in how to be supportive, but allow the terror to run it’s course.

UPDATE: There is one product that I’ve discovered that actually can help reduce night terrors by up to 80%. It’s called Lully Sleep and you can see it in action by clicking here.

Trust me, it’s going to be 3000% harder for you than it is for him. (And I say “him,” because boys tend to have night terrors more often than girls.) He won’t remember any of it.

Night terrors seem to occur more when the child is overtired, so if your toddler (or even a preschooler) is still struggling with independent sleep, I would encourage you to set up a Sleep Session and let us read through your sleep log and help you create a plan to get him better rest.

The World’s Easiest Way to Capture
Your Toddler’s Development

You remember how fast your baby disappeared, right?

Well, I have some shocking news for you.  Your toddler is going to disappear even faster, and all the sudden you’ll be preschool shopping!

Sure, I know you’re taking a lot of pictures and things, but what about the stories that go with those snaps? Please, do yourself a favor and read the simple discovery that removed all my Mommy Guilt.

Sure, I originally started it for baby milestones, but better late than never, right?  Trust me, you’re going to want to read this life-hack. It just may be my most significant contribution to the world of mothering.

Now, go over there and hug your little Einstein. Play some dance music, sing a few tunes, and get out the giggles he’s carrying around inside.  It will do his little brain a world of good!

What is your toddler mastering this week? What has surprised you the most?

Have You Read These Yet?

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  • http://www.apa.org/monitor/nov07/thejoke.aspx
  • http://www.whattoexpect.com/toddler/toddler-growth-and-development/developing-a-sense-of-humor.aspx
  • http://www.todaysparent.com/toddler/funny-girl/
  • http://www.motherforlife.com/baby/13-36-months/development/6153-developing-your-childs-sense-of-humor.thtml
  • http://www.urbanchildinstitute.org/articles/features/empathy-and-kindness-early-developmental-milestones
  • https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/ages-stages-empathy/
  • http://oureverydaylife.com/children-start-sing-46916.html
  • http://www.whattoexpect.com/toddler/toddler-growth-and-development/learning-to-sing.aspx
  • http://sleeplady.com/toddler-sleep-problems/nightmares-or-night-terrors-toddlers-sleep-may-need-monitoring/
  • http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/sleep/issues/child-awakens-bad-dreams/

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