Parenting Resource

From Baby to Big Kid: Month 24

May 13, 2016

It’s two candles on the birthday cake for your little one! And the big difference this year is that he will be blowing out his own candles. Browse the information and links below to see what your little one is experiencing and learning this month.

What It’s Like for You

Your child really is becoming more independent than ever. You might be wondering, as you pull those candles out of the cake and cut your first slice, whether the “terrible two’s” are going to be as bad as everyone warns. The truth is that you and your child will probably have some challenging moments here and there, but the third year of life is also one full of laughter and discovery. As your child talks more and more—and he can tell you about his thoughts and ideas and his sense of humor emerges—you’ll discover that not only do you love your 2-year-old, but you like him too.

What It’s Like for Your Child

We went to my cousin Marcella’s birthday. I was sitting on Nana’s lap when they were cutting the cake. They gave me a piece with the green balloon on it. I said, No! Want pink! Everyone looked at me. Mommy said, Sweetie, that’s not nice. You got the green balloon. It’s yummy, here take a taste. But I don’t want the green. I want the pink because I am wearing my favorite pink shoes with the bow. Me want pink! Pink cake! Pink shoes! I demanded. My Aunt Deborah said, I have an idea, let’s share. I have a pink flower and I’ll give you some. And you give me some of your green balloon. Mommy said, What a good idea, Deborah. Say thank you to Aunt Deborah. So I said thank you, but it sounded more like “Dank do.” Then Aunt Deborah whispered in my ear, You are pretty clever. Pink balloon, pink shoes. I love it! I snuggled close to her. She always makes me feel good. Aunt Deborah cut up my cake and I used my fork to eat it all by myself. I am so big now!

What Your Toddler Is Learning

Social-Emotional Skills:

  • Persistence, as she keeps at her goal of having the pink, not the green, part of the cake
  • Early self-control as she copes with the disappointment of not getting it all her way, and accepts sharing as a compromise
  • Manners, when her mother prompts her to say thank you
  • Relationship-building and self-esteem, when she snuggles close to Nana who appreciates her feisty personality
  • Confidence, when she feeds herself

Language and Thinking Skills:

  • To use language to communicate a desire
  • To use language to share an idea (the similarity between the pink shoes and the pink cupcake)
  • The skill of matching—noticing similarities between two things—when she points out the shoes and cake are the same color
  • Pronunciation of new words (though she makes common errors, as when she pronounces /th-/ as a /d/ sound)

Physical Skills:

  • To coordinate and utilize her fine motor skills, or the small muscles in her hands and fingers that are critical to learning to write later on.

What to Expect From Your Baby’s Development

As you review the chart, keep in mind that development is not a race and that every child grows at her own pace and in her own way. Your child may develop skills faster or slower than indicated below and still be on track. If you have questions or concerns, talk with your child’s health care provider or other trusted professional.

Your Toddler’s Development From 24 to 30 Months

What Your Baby Can Do What You Can Do to Connect With Your Baby

I use my body to get me places!

  • I can walk up stairs one foot at a time.
  • I can walk backward.
  • I can balance on one foot which helps me climb.
  • Limit TV time and get moving. Go on a neighborhood walk. Let your child stop to check out what’s interesting to him.
  • Play “island hop.” Line up circles of paper on the floor and help your child jump from one to the next.

I am using language to tell you what I’m feeling and thinking.

  • I can make longer sentences like, More juice!
  • My favorite words might be no, me, and mine. I may get overwhelmed by my strong feelings and need your help to calm down.
  • Talk about what you are doing together. Ask her about her ideas: What part of the book did you like?
  • Acknowledge feelings and teach social skills at the same time: I know the doll stroller is your favorite toy. But Thomas would like a turn pushing it.
  • Stay calm when your child is having a tantrum. This helps her learn to calm herself—an important life skill.

I am getting really good at playing pretend.

  • I can use one object to stand in for another. A shoebox may become a bed for my stuffed hippo.
  • I laugh at silly things, like the idea that my toy car might go moo instead of beep beep.
  • Sometimes I get scared. I am getting so good at using my imagination but am not always sure what’s real and what’s pretend.
  • Use pretend play to help your child handle challenging situations. You might act out a story together about meeting a new babysitter.
  • Let your child lead the play. Ask: Who should I be? What happens next?
  • Acknowledge your child’s fears and explain what is real and pretend. This builds trust and security.

I want to make friends but still need help with sharing.

  • I like watching other children and might copy what I see them do.
  • I may have one or two best friends.
  • Give your child regular chances to play with children his age. This will help him develop important social skills while having fun.
  • Be patient with conflicts around sharing and turn-taking. Toddlers need help with their growing social skills.

Did You Know…

That having a strong, positive relationship with your child can help him develop self-control? Researchers followed a group of 102 babies (and their parents) from age 7 months to 4 years. They found that children who had developed a close, positive, and mutually responsive relationship with their parent or parents over their first two years were more likely to show self-control, self-regulation, and patience when they were 4. “Mutually responsive relationships” were ones in which parents and children related to each other well, were “in sync”, picked up on each other’s cues, communicated well, and enjoyed each other’s company.

Reference: Society for Research in Child Development (2008, February 7). Close ties between parents and babies yield benefits for preschoolers. ScienceDaily.

What the Research Means for You

You matter. When you take the time to listen to, respond, comfort, and have fun with your child, you are building a strong connection between the two of you. You are also helping her develop the confidence and other skills she needs to succeed later on in school and in life.

Spotlight on: Supporting and Nurturing Your Child’s Early Friendships

As your child gets older, he will become more and more interested in playing with other children, instead of just playing next to or nearby them. Playtime with peers is critical to helping children develop friendships, learn to cooperate, and practice sharing. Because your 2-year-old is just beginning to learn these skills, toddler playtimes can have their challenging moments. But with a little planning, and by keeping your cool, you can make it fun for everyone (despite the inevitable fighting over a toy and other assorted challenging behaviors that go with the territory). Here are some common questions and answers about playtime with young toddlers.

How many kids should I invite over to play?

It really depends on your child. If your toddler is slow to warm up or on the shy side, you may want to invite only one other child whom your toddler knows well. If you have a very social 2-year-old, inviting two or three other children might work fine. As you’re planning the playtime, see if at least one other parent can stay, both to help you out with the kids and to provide some much-deserved adult conversation.

When are the best times to have friends over and for how long?

Invite friends over during typical “peak” times for your toddler—when she is well-fed and not tired. This tends to be mid-morning. For this age range, playtimes that last one hour to 90 minutes often work best. Plan to offer a snack at the halfway point (talk to parents beforehand about possible food allergies). And, if any of the children are potty training, be sure to ask them periodically if they need to use the bathroom.

What types of activities should I offer?

Children really enjoy free play, so the best thing to do is have a few choices of age-appropriate toys out and available (toy cars/trucks, blocks, dolls/stuffed animals, some plastic dishes/toy food). Interesting objects like a large moving box are also great as children will have a blast climbing in and out and using their imaginations to turn it into a cave, a house, or anything else they think up. Letting children make their own fun, within limits, works best as it allows them to explore what interests them and nurtures creativity.

It’s also good to plan some activities that don’t require sharing. And, if possible, offer multiples of the same or similar toys (such as putting out two trains). If children are having an especially difficult time with turn-taking, try these activities that are less “competitive”:

  • Dancing to music
  • Making music (with toy instruments or “kitchen instruments” like a wooden spoon banged on a plastic bowl)
  • Playing in the sand or with playdough
  • Blowing and then running to pop bubbles

Toward the end of the children’s time together, introduce slower, quieter activities to wind down. These might include drawing/coloring, reading stories aloud to children, or puzzles.

Also be sure to give children the “5-minute-warning” that it will be time to go home. Letting children know what will happen next gives them a sense of control and can make the transition a lot smoother.

How do I handle conflicts about sharing?

It is really difficult for young toddlers to share their most-loved toys and other objects. To help your child adjust to sharing his precious objects during playtime, before his friends arrive have him choose just a few items that he doesn’t have to share. Put these special toys away in a closet or a room separate from the play area. Then remind your child that while he won’t have to share his favorite toys, he will need to share the others. This doesn’t mean your sharing problems are over; but with time, discussions like these help your child learn the “rules” of playing with friends.

When there is a conflict over a toy—which is very normal and expected at this age—you can:

  • Explain: We take turns with our friends. Right now, Darnell is playing with the train. He has it for 3 more minutes. I will set the timer and when it goes off it will be Julia’s turn.
  • Set a kitchen timer for 3 minutes. Show the children the timer and explain that when it “dings” that it will be time for Julia to have her turn with the train.
  • Validate feelings. If Julia is still upset, let her know you understand: It’s hard to share, but it will be your turn soon.
  • Redirect: Let’s play with the dump truck. You can fill the back with blocks and then we can dump it.
  • Stay cool. Yes, there may be crying but this is part of the learning process. Learning to (and accepting the reality of) taking turns is not easy for young children. Keep in mind that because 2-year-olds still lack self-control, it is not appropriate to expect them to be able to share on their own. They are just beginning to learn this skill. It won’t be until they are between 3-4 years old that they really understand how to share and have the self-control to wait their turn.

With a little planning, some grown-up supervision, and some full-of-fun toddlers on the run, you too can host a successful playtime. Just be sure to leave some time afterward for a nap. No, not for your toddler. For you!

Let’s Play: Activities That Nurture Bonding and Learning

Toddler-Powered Jack-in-the-Box

Find a large box, big enough to fit your toddler. At first, hold one of your toddler’s stuffed animals in the box (gently cover the toy with the flaps of the box) and sing, Silly bear is hiding in the box, One, two, three and up he hops! Then see if your child would like to get inside the box and hop out: Silly Brandon is hiding in the box… Children love to have a starring role in this game, which builds listening skills, self-control, and an understanding of cause and effect.


Line up 8-10 empty 2-liter plastic soda bottles. Give your child a playground ball or beach ball to roll and knock them down. Let your child try to set the “pins” up again. Games like this build fine motor skills (using the small muscles in the hands and fingers), large motor skills (the large muscles in her arms and legs), coordination, turn-taking, and cooperation.

What’s on Your Mind?

1. How can I control the ever-escalating routine that my 2-year-old demands as part of being put down to sleep? She has to have every stuffed animal in just the right place in her crib, then the blankets have to be put on in a particular order, etc. If something isn’t just so, we often have to start over again! I know that part of it is simply a delaying tactic, but it’s starting to drive me a little nuts!

I knew my own daughter’s bedtime routine had become unmanageable when one night, after an hour of kisses, stories, rocking, singing, and blanket placement, she asked for a final hug and I snapped at her, “Fine, but this is IT!” In that moment, I thought to myself, whatever happened to bedtime being a warm, nurturing time? After an hour, all I felt was trapped and at the mercy of a very small and sleepy dictator.

When it comes to bedtime stalling, it’s easy for parents to feel manipulated and therefore frustrated with their child. For many children, though, going to sleep alone in a darkened room is the most challenging separation they encounter each day. A long bedtime routine may be an important coping mechanism that helps them prepare for being separate from their loved adults overnight. When parents show their (quite natural) frustration about bedtime, it is likely to only increase their child’s insecurity or fearfulness and fuel their need for a longer bedtime routine.

However, stalling may not be the only motive at work. A child’s temperament is also a factor. Children who have a strong need for routine and order to feel safe and secure may heavily rely on the structure of a rigid bedtime routine.

Whatever the underlying cause, here are some steps you can take. First, begin to set some limits with your child that respect her need for a consistent routine and closeness with you, but that are manageable as well. And make them incremental. For example, if you usually read five or six books before bed, have her pick three or four and eventually get down to the number of books that are acceptable to you. If you usually rub her back for 20 minutes, gradually reduce this to 10 and then 5 minutes. If bedtime involves strategic stuffed animal placement, let your child pick her 3 favorite stuffed animals, rather then the whole menagerie. She may initially protest, but if you are loving but firm, while maintaining the spirit of her loved routine, she will adjust over time.

Letting your child know when bedtime is approaching can also be very helpful as your child feels more in control of the transition and consequently more safe and secure. This may also help her separate from you when it’s time to say good-night. Before you know it, it’ll be sweet dreams for everyone—you included.

2. My 24-month-old, who had been using utensils pretty consistently to eat, has reverted to using his fingers most of the time. Should we force him to use utensils?

This is an issue that depends on a family’s cultural beliefs and practices. In some families, fingers are used to eat most food, while in other families, forks and knives are the way to go. Either way, it’s important to consider your child’s age and stage and what he is capable of mastering as you decide how best to respond.

Two-year-olds delight in using their senses to explore the world. Fingers are perfect for eating because toddlers can touch the food and examine its texture. And, for little guys, it is often easier to use fingers than to coordinate the small muscles in their hands to use a fork or spoon. But never fear, children are driven to move up the developmental ladder and act like big kids. In the next few months your son’s small muscle coordination will also improve, which means that using utensils will be less challenging. Until then, if your goal is for him to use utensils, keep setting his place with a fork and spoon and give him positive feedback when he uses them. You can also set some limits around using fingers by reminding him that playing with food is not allowed. And remember, 2-year-olds are like mini-teenagers. When they know something drives you crazy, they’re likely to do it even more. So try not to force the issue. Turning it into a power struggle is more likely to prolong his desire to turn every meal into finger food. Letting him make his own decision to use utensils makes it more likely it’ll happen sooner.

Expert Reviewers

  • Terrie Rose, PhD, President and Founder, Baby’s Space
  • Ross Thompson, PhD, Professor of Psychology, University of California at Davis
  • Robert Weigand, MS, IMH-E, Director, Child Development Laboratory, Arizona State University

This ZERO TO THREE newsletter series was made possible by generous funding from the MetLife Foundation.

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