Human Development and Family Studies
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension
In many families today, mothers and fathers both have jobs.
There also are many single-parent families where a mother or father
has to work outside the home. When parents are away from home,
they need someone they can trust to take care of their toddlers.
That someone might be
Taking care of someone's child is an important job. If you know about toddlers, you will know how to take care of them. You will be prepared to do your best work. If you know how toddlers grow and develop, you will not expect a 2-year-old to speak in entire sentences or a 3-year-old to ride a bicycle. You will know what to do when a toddler says "no!" You will know what changes to expect the next time you are asked to be a caregiver.
Children from 18 months to 3 years are called toddlers. Two-and
3-year-olds are toddlers because they are learning to walk and
tend to "toddle" about on unsteady legs. By the time
children are 4 years old, they are past the toddler stage because
they have learned to walk, run, climb, open, close, talk, and
make friends. Toddlerhood is a stage of independence. Toddlers
want to do everything for themselves. They experiment with their
newly-learned skills and ideas by rebelling
against caregiver's wishes and by saying "no" so many times a day that they begin to sound like broken records!
Around 2 years, toddlers begin to understand language. Words and short sentences make an exciting new development in a toddler's thinking. They learn to connect words with actions and objects and begin to communicate. "Go car," "bad dog," and "read book" all become familiar
Toddlers grow physically and socially as their muscles develop and they learn muscle control. They use their eyes, hands, feet, and bodies together in constant motion. They climb, push, pull, and touch everything within reach. They kick, throw, dance, chase, and fall down. Feeling and tasting also become learning methods for toddlers and can be dangerous unless the house has been safety-proofed.
Socially, toddlers enjoy family members and other children, but may be afraid of strangers like new caregivers. Two- and 3-year-olds often develop fears of unfamiliar sights (men with beards, people who wear glasses) and sounds (the vacuum cleaner, thunderstorms). They may need lots of reassurance to calm down after they have been frightened.
Willy and Nicholas were active children. Willy liked to climb and Nicholas liked to open cupboard doors and pull everything out onto the floor. When Nicholas and Willy were together, they played next to each other, but not with each other. They said "no" and "mine" often and sometimes had temper tantrums.
Temper tantrums are normal for toddlers because they have not learned how to share. They often become upset when they cannot have things their own way. Their attention spans are short and they quickly lose interest in what they are doing. Here are more facts that you need to know about
Toddlers change a lot between 18 months and the end of their
third year. Most 2-year-olds learn to use their large muscles
to run, throw, climb, and dance. They learn to use their small
muscles to scribble and to pick up things in their hands. Most
3-year-olds learn to use their large and small muscles together
to enable them to ride tricycles, draw pictures, throw balls,
and help clean-up around the house.
Two- and 3-year-olds grow smarter and learn to use their brains to talk, to imitate the words and actions of others, and to create imaginary friends. They grow more aware of the people around them and learn that they are independent, separate human beings and different from others.
They learn to watch what people do and sympathize with how they feel. Toddlers learn about emotions and what it feels like to be frightened, frustrated, happy, and mad.
Toddlers also grow socially. They learn to say words and talk to people who are important to them. They learn to make friends, to love, and even (when they are almost 4) to share. When toddlers rebel against a caregiver's wishes and say "no," they learn to be independent and to do
things for themselves. When toddlers go along with a caregiver's request, they learn to please others and to get along with friends and members of their families.
Toddlers develop in four ways:
We can think of this development as a pie with four slices.
If a toddler is missing a piece of pie, his or her development
and growth will be incomplete.
There also is a fifth part of the toddler's growth. That is their development of language. Learning to talk changes the world for toddlers. It gives them the ability to say what they like and do not like, what they want and do not want, and to talk about their emotions.
Learning to talk depends on the development of each slice of the pie. Toddlers have to have their throat, tongue, and mouth muscles developed enough to form words. They need to have gained the intellectual ability to recognize what words mean, and to remember when to use them. Through language, toddlers learn to control and sort out emotions and how to cooperate socially with playmates and people around them.
Toddlers grow as whole human beings. It is a mistake to focus on only one part of their growth. If you learn only about a toddler's physical growth, you may believe that 2-year-olds are no different than 18-month-olds. Toddler's abilities to run, talk, feel happy, and make friends increase side-by-side. As their muscles grow, so do their emotions. As their capacity to think and remember grows, so does their need for companionship and friendship.
The table in this section, shows
how average toddlers grow and develop in each of these areas -
18 months through 3 years. Remember this is only a guide.
Some toddlers speak in complete sentences when they are 3 years
old, and others know only a few words. One 2-year-old might be
frightened of strangers and others might welcome them with open
Nicholas and Willy grew and developed at different rates. Willy rode a tricycle when she was 3 1/2. Nicholas was not sure he could ride his trike. He often said, "I can't" and contented himself with pushing his trike in his yard. When Willy and Nicholas played together, things did not go well. Willy wanted to play with Nicholas' toys, but Nicholas did not want to share. They would grab the same toy and both shout "Mine!" As they got older, Willy learned to share sooner than Nicholas and often let him have his way. Check the following chart [Table 1: How Babies Grow and Develop] and see other ways Nicholas and Willy might have developed differently.
How you can help
The main thing toddlers learn during their second and third
years is independence. This means they learn to do things like
climb, dress, walk, eat, and turn pages in books all by themselves.
If you are taking care of toddlers, you can help them learn to
Willy and Nicholas have a quiz for you to see how much you
have learned about toddlers and how you can encourage 2-and 3-year-olds
to explore and learn.
TRUE OR FALSE - "Words aren't important to me! I'll get along just fine even if I don't learn about language."
The answer is FALSE. Everyone gets along better in the world once they have learned about language. Thinking in language is called "symbolic thought." A symbol is something that stands for, or represents some other thing. For example, a siren causes us to pull over to the side of the road. The sound is a symbol. Words also are symbols. If you write or say "STAR," you do not have to draw a * for others to know what you mean. Think of all the objects, actions, and emotions we can express quickly to each other because we share a symbolic language. Words are very important!
Here are some ways you can help toddlers learn about language.
TRUE OR FALSE - "I want to do everything for myself. It's a good idea to let me help you when you clean, carry, build, and run errands."
The answer is TRUE. If there is one thing toddlers want, it's ACTION, and one way to be active is by helping. When toddlers learn to walk, they experience again and again the successful feeling that comes with reaching and taking. For example: when toddlers can reach for a brightly colored sponge, take it to the table and clean off the crumbs (just the way they have seen you do it), they feel good about themselves and can say with confidence "I did it myself."
Letting toddlers have the freedom to help in this way, though, is hard work for caregivers. Toddlers do not stay with one job for very long. Before you know it, they are on to another interesting activity. Toddlers move so fast it is hard for caregivers of any age to keep up with them. In fact, there have been experiments that show a professional athlete can not do exactly what a 2-year-old does throughout a day without reaching a state of total exhaustion.
Here are ways you can help the toddlers you care for stay physically occupied.
TRUE OR FALSE - "It's normal for me to have make-believe playmates. I'm not telling lies when I tell you stories about my pretend friends. I really do play with them!"
The answer is TRUE. Three-year-olds think and play differently than 2-year-olds. Two-year-olds are very active and physical. Three-year-olds slow down a little bit and advance toward imaginative play. Three-year-olds are more social than 2-year-olds, and they like to play with other children instead of just next to them. Sometimes they "make up" other children and think of these imaginary friends as special people in their lives.
Children develop social skills mainly through play. They learn how to share, cooperate, have conversations, and even how to meet people while they play. As a caregiver, just the right amount of play with toddlers (and their imaginary friends) can help stimulate their social development. Here are some simple "rules of play":
TRUE OR FALSE - "If I cry when I see you, you'll have to forget about caring for me. My crying means I don't like you!"
The answer is FALSE. Most toddlers develop fears of some kind, and many are afraid of people they do not know. When a caregiver with whom they are not familiar arrives to stay with them, they often respond in the only way they know - by crying, clinging, hiding, or refusing to cooperate with anything that is asked of them.
Fear is a normal human emotion. It allows self-protection. Most fears, though, are learned and can be overcome. Recognizing that a child is truly frightened and then reassuring him or her are important steps in dealing with children's fears. Here are other ways you can help toddlers overcome fears.
As toddlers grow, they worry about being away from their parents. When they were infants, they forgot about people they could not see, but as toddlers, they remember them and know when they are not around. As a caregiver, you can help toddlers worry less about separating from their
parent(s). Two things will help:
1. Always tell the child that the parent is leaving. "Sneaking out" will hurt the toddler's level of trust.
2. Absorb the toddler in an interesting activity before the parent leaves. Plan ahead so you will have an activity ready to go as soon as you enter the toddler's home. You might even bring a toy or interesting object with you so you can give it to the toddler as soon as you arrive.
Here are some activities that will help you learn about toddlers.
Remember that toddlers are active people with short attention
spans. They like to help and do things by themselves. Choose activities
that fit each developmental stage.
1. Playing is learning for toddlers. Their play is different from that of older children. Pick an object like an empty cigar box, and watch how 2- and 3-year-olds play with it. Then give it to 4-, 5-, or 6-year-olds, and watch how they play with it. What are the differences? What are the toddlers learning through play?
2. Toddlers are fascinated with objects and toys. They like to see what they can do with their hands and fingers, and what they can do with the object. Toddlers also are easily distracted. Have some play ideas prepared so you can keep the toddlers happy and occupied. Make or find a safe toy that will enable a toddler to do at least two of the following:
3. With the parents permission, try some art activities with toddlers. Toddlers like to use their hands to explore, so be prepared for them to be messy.
4. Play some games that will help toddlers learn to use their minds and language skills. Here are two ideas for games you can make on your own:
Besides matching, you also can practice naming the objects
on the cards that you are holding. Talk about what you do with
a boat or an apple.
There is a great deal of information available about toddlerhood.
Check sources like public libraries, local book stores, special
television and radio programs, magazines, parent groups or classes,
doctors who specialize in caring for young children, and your
Order these through your local Cooperative Extension office.
Cornell University - *Terrific and Terrible Two-year-olds* by Jennifer Birckmayer and *Three and Four-year-olds* by Gretchen McCrod.
Iowa State University - *Family Daycare Exchange of Information and Ideas, Infants and Toddlers* by Dorothy Pinsky, Cooperative Extension specialist, human development and family life.
The *1-2-3 Grow!* series, issues 3 through 8, by Pauline Davey Zeece and Randy Weigel, Cooperative Extension specialists, human development and family life.
Oklahoma State University - *Agenda of Growth: Three to Four Years* by Elaine Wilson.
Pennsylvania State University - *Off to a Good Start* series by Program Director James E. Van Horn, Cooperative Extension family sociologist. Ask for special issues for 18 to 21 months and 24 months and beyond.
University of Arkansas - *Cradle Crier Months Twenty-two, Twenty-three, and Twenty-four* by Dr. Betty Youngman, Cooperative Extension family life specialist.
University of Hawaii - *The Child from 2-38 by Shirley S. Weeks, Cooperative Extension specialist, human development.
University of Wisconsin, Madison - *Early Childhood Exchange*, Winter 1982, Volume 5, Number 4 by Caroline Hoffman. (Ask for others aimed at toddler development.)
Washington State University, Pullman - *Infants, Toddlers, Runabouts: Five Lessons in Human Development*, $1.50.
*Growing Child* - 22 N. Second Street, Lafayette, IN 47902.
Subscription rate $15.95 yearly.
*Your Child From One to Six*, U.S. Children's Bureau, Pamphlet No. 30, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. $5.00 each.
*A Sigh of Relief: The First Aid Handbook for Childhood Emergencies*
by Martin Green. This book helps you begin safety training with
*Learning Games for the First Three Years* by Joseph Sparling and Isabelle Lewis. Fully illustrated, 100 ideas for games with toddlers.
*Supertot* by Jean Marzollo. Creative learning activities for toddlers.
*What To Do When There's Nothing To Do, A Mother's Handbook*. Dell Books, 1967. 601 activities for toddlers. All materials suggested are household items.
|Physical||Squats to pick up objects. Can pull or throw a toy. Walks without falling. Walks up stairs with hand held. Can kick , stack, and carry toys.|
|Intellectual||Shows curiosity. May say a few words. May put two or three words together.|
|Emotional||Hugs you and toys. Is impatient and frustrated when meeting difficulties. Cries when toys are taken away.|
|Social||Plays alone. Recognizes other children. Tries to copy other children.|
|Physical||Can kick. Stands on tiptoes. Jumps with both feet. Walks up and down stairs.|
|Intellectual||Refers to self by name. Begins to have imagination. Can scribble. Uses simple sentences. May begin to know short rhymes and songs.|
|Emotional||Easily frustrated. Strives for independence; learns "NO". Can be stubborn; needs rigid routines.|
|Social||Joins in short songs, games, story time. Plays simple "pretend" games. Learning to share, but still not very cooperative.|
|Physical||Runs easily. Feeds self. May ride tricycle and turn somersaults. Can cut with scissors.|
|Intellectual||Begins knowledge of simple concepts like: hello-goodbye. back-front, up-down. Recognizes letters and number, can count. Can use whole sentences. Creates imaginary friends and fantasies.|
|Emotional||Begins to show emotion in more socially acceptable ways. Is more concerned with pleasing people.|
|Social||Makes friends of similar ages. Likes to help. Show no preference for same sex friends.|