Taking good care of a toddler

By: Christine Langlois

Author: Canadian Living


Taking good care of a toddler

By: Christine Langlois

Basic care
For the parent with endless time and patience, a toddler's firm resolve to do things for himself is a source of delight and pride. It's a little less charming to the beleaguered parent who is trying to catch a bus, to get to work by nine, or to make dinner for other family members. During this age, everything from feeding to dressing to bathing to sleeping becomes a potential battleground. For parents, the rule is: don't engage.

As much as possible, let your child have the time he needs to try things for himself; be there to assist, but not to control. Turn routine tasks into games or invite your child's help.

Play Peekaboo while dressing, or ask him if he can find the red shirt in his drawer. When time starts to run out, give gentle warnings that soon you're going to have to take over. Respect the fact that your toddler is beginning to take charge of his own little body.

Learning to use the toilet
What parent isn't keen for a toddler to start using a potty and eventually the toilet? It's a welcome relief to eliminate the work, the mess, and the expense of diapers. But you can't rush a child who isn't ready. So how do you know when he's ready?

Soon after your baby turns a year old, he might become aware that the wet feeling in his diapers or the puddle on the floor is coming from him, although he has no control yet over his bladder or his bowel movements. In a few months he may be able to tell you when he feels the sensation, but I have to go often means I'm going. There's no time to rush over to the potty or toilet, let alone get his pants down.

But by the age of two or two-and-a-half, he has the necessary physical control and the communication skill to tell you when he needs to use the potty. Rushing a child before he's ready only ends up frustrating both you and him. Take it slow take it easy. Encouragement is important. Tell him, "Good job," even if he misses after giving it a try. Don't punish, shame, or blame a child for mistakes. Accidents are common until about five years of age.

The key to success is to stay calm. If your child won't use the toilet or shows signs of worry, postpone the learning process. If your child spends part of the day with another adult, make sure you discuss how your child is learning to use the toilet. Have other caregivers use the same words and follow the same routines.

Is your toddler ready for potty training? It can be hard to tell especially for first-time parents, but these are some helpful tips to get your tot on the path to successful, stress-free potty training.

Signs of readiness

• Stays dry for long periods.
• Can walk to the potty or toilet and sit on it.
• Can pull loose pants down.
• Can tell you when he needs to go.

Toileting tips
• The best time of year to start placing a child on the potty is during the spring and summer when children need fewer layers of clothes.

• Empty her dirty diapers into the toilet or potty. This may help her understand what she is supposed to do.

• Start by saying it's time for her to use the toilet like mom or dad. Let her watch you use the toilet.

• Explain in simple terms what happens when she goes to the bathroom. Tell her what happens to her urine or bowel movement when it goes in the toilet.

• Teach the child the words pee and poo that everyone understands.

• This is a good time to replace overalls with pull-down pants.

• Take her to the toilet when she tells you she has to go. Keep your child company.

• Never force a child to use the toilet. You're only setting up a power struggle that can lead to more problems. Stay patient, don't get angry if she misses.

• Give it up if it isn't working, and try again a few weeks later.

Hygiene tips for toddlers
• Trim nails short with small, blunt-tipped scissors or clippers.

• Give your child a step-stool in the bathroom so he can learn to wash his own hands after using the toilet.

• Teach him how to lather and rinse.

• Give him a facecloth and let him wash himself in the bathtub.

Tips for washing a toddler's hair
Hair washing can become a problem at this age. Some children are frightened by having their heads in, or even near, water. You don't want to force the issue and risk starting a lifelong fear of water, but you do have to wash the week's muck out of your child's hair. You'll have to experiment to find a satisfactory solution. Try some of the following suggestions:

• Once she's had her first haircut, you could try playing hairdresser or barber in the bath, pretending to cut and style each other's hair.

• Let her wash your hair first. Let her apply and lather the shampoo in your hair before she does her own hair.

• Don't lay her back in the tub. No matter how firmly you hold her, she doesn't feel safe for whatever reason. Keep her sitting up.

• Consider alternatives to the bathtub: standing her on a stool to wash her hair under the kitchen sink, or standing in the shower.

• Don't try to get her used to the feeling of water on her face by splashing at her. You'll just make things worse.

• Always use a no-tear shampoo. Keep the lather and the water out of her eyes and face.

• Offer, but don't force, a facecloth to protect her nose and eyes while you're washing and rinsing. After you've lathered her hair, she can hold the folded facecloth over her eyes while you slowly pour warm water over the top and back of her head to rinse.

• Let her rinse herself using a hand shower.

• Even children who don't mind having their hair washed object to the after-wash comb-out. A spray-on detangler will reduce anxiety.

When buying clothes, keep in mind that your child will soon want to choose his own clothes when he gets dressed for the day. If it will bother you to have him looking uncoordinated, choose colours that can be mixed and matched.

• If he wants to wear one blue sock and one red sock, let him. Save your energy for the big battles, or buy only blue socks.

• Your child may quickly display an aversion to certain kinds of fabrics. Respect his taste.

• If your child is learning to use a potty, dress him in clothes that he can easily remove by himself. Choose trousers with elastic waists instead of fly-fronts.

• Besides a good waterproof coat and boots, invest in waterproof pants that can be worn over his regular clothes.

• You don't have to have his first shoes specially fitted, but you will want to make sure that his toes are not squashed, and that there is no painful rubbing anywhere. Check the fit of his shoes every few months; it's not unusual for young children to grow through three shoe sizes in one year.

• When your child goes out to play in the sun, make sure he wears a wide-brimmed hat and an SPF 30 sunscreen. In the sunny months, make the application of sunscreen the last stage of getting dressed. But you still need to reapply the sunscreen every two hours or after each swim.

• Children might start wearing sunglasses with a UV filter by age one, if they will keep them on. If they won't or can't, stick with the wide-brimmed hat and keep them out of the sun until they're old enough to wear the protective sunglasses.

General health
Once your child has all his baby teeth -- sometime between his second and third year -- arrange a first visit to the dentist. If your own dentist isn't comfortable treating small children, ask your friends and neighbours to refer you to a suitable dentist, Some dentists only treat children under eighteen; their offices can be as much fun as an amusement park!

The first visit should serve simply to put your child at ease in the dentist's office, so don't wait for an emergency. If you yourself are uncomfortable about visiting the dentist, don't pass your anxieties on to your child. Don't say, "The dentist won't hurt you," or "It won't be too bad." Treat a trip to the dentist matter-of-factly, no different from a trip to the grocery store. The dentist could give your child a "ride" in the big chair, count his teeth, give him a new toothbrush and a sticker or toy treat. He may also demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques, but leave any problems to the next visit. Caring for your child's teeth means that you:

• Make sure he gets enough calcium and vitamin D in his diet.
• Continue daily brushing and fluoride supplements, if required.
• Floss his teeth regularly.
• Let your child see you brushing and flossing your teeth.
• Let him choose his own toothbrush.
• If your child isn't fond of toothpaste, offer a children's brand with fluoride, to be used no more than twice a day until he is six.
• Make sure your child rinses after brushing and doesn't swallow the toothpaste.

Visiting the doctor
Continue with regular visits to your family physician for vaccinations and booster shots, for review of any parental worries and guidance on what to expect. Also your doctor will document growth and weight and assess physical mental, and emotional development. Familiarize your child with what to expect during these visits by "playing doctor" first. Use a toy doctor's bag to show the child how the doctor will examine his eyes and ears; let him listen to your heartbeat. Also, since a toddler will easily become bored while waiting in a crowded doctor's office, bring toys or books as distractions.

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Taking good care of a toddler