You don't have to be a child development expert to give your toddler a good start in life. Recent research confirms what we've known all along: Love, attention, and basic care are all your child really needs and wants. To help your toddler reach his full potential, follow these eight simple steps.
Show your love
It seems obvious, but it's true: Children need love to live. Your emotional caring and support give your child a secure base from which to explore the world. This isn't just touchy-feely advice: Hard scientific evidence shows that love, attention, and affection in the first years of life have a direct and measurable impact on a child's physical, mental, and emotional growth. Love and touch actually cause your child's brain to grow, according to Marian Diamond, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Magic Trees of the Mind: How to Nurture Your Child's Intelligence, Creativity, and Healthy Emotions From Birth Through Adolescence.
How do you show your love? Hug, touch, smile, encourage, listen to, and play with your child whenever you can. It's also important to respond to your child's needs for comfort and attention, experts say it's impossible to spoil a child with love. Being there for your child when he's upset helps you build trust and a strong emotional bond, according to Zero to Three, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of infants, toddlers, and families. And responding to your child's bids for attention during happy times is just as important.
Care for your child's basic needs
For your child to be able to devote his energy to learning and growing, he has to be well fed (diets low in protein and vitamins and minerals, and either too low or too high in calories, can slow development and may even affect IQ). He also needs to be healthy, well rested, and comfortable (wet diapers and ear infections are big energy drains).
To keep your child healthy, take him in for regular well-child checkups, keep his immunizations up to date, and help him get plenty of sleep. During REM (rapid eye movement) sleep your child's brain cells are making important connections. These synapses, as they're called, are the pathways that enable all learning, movement, and thought. They are the key to your child understanding all he is seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling as he explores the world. If you're worried about your toddler's sleeping or eating patterns, talk to your doctor.
Talk to your child
Research shows that children whose parents spoke to them extensively as young children have significantly higher IQs and richer vocabularies than kids who didn't receive much verbal stimulation.
If you don't know what to say or your child's too young to carry on any conversation, just describe what you're doing: "Mommy is putting warm water in the tub so you can get cleaned up." Try to avoid baby talk. Your child can develop good language skills only if you speak to him correctly.
Read to your child
Next to talking, reading out loud is one of the most important things you can do to help build your child's vocabulary, stimulate his imagination, and improve his language skills. It also gives you an opportunity to cuddle and socialize.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading aloud daily to your child. It doesn't always have to be children's books. If you're reading a magazine or a newspaper, do it out loud so your child can enjoy it too.
Wondering where to start? Take our reading quiz to see how much you know.
Stimulate all his senses
For your child to learn about people, places, and things, he needs to be exposed to them. Every new interaction gives him information about the world and his place in it. Studies show that children who grow up in an enriched environment — where they are presented with new experiences that engage their senses — have larger, more active brains than those who grow up without adequate sensory stimulation.
You don't need to bombard your child with stimulation 24 hours a day, nor should you try to engage all his senses at once. Children can become overstimulated. Just let your child play with lots of different toys and objects. Choose things with a variety of shapes, textures, colors, sounds, and weights. Play music and interactive games such as peekaboo and patty-cake, go on walks and shopping trips together, and let your child meet new people. Even the simplest daily activities will stimulate his brain development.
Learn more about the effect of music on your child's development, and get the lyrics to your favorite lullabies.
It's also important to give your child room to roam. Toddlers need space to crawl, walk, and run to develop strong muscles, good balance, and coordination. They also benefit from safe spaces where they can explore their surroundings without hearing "No" or "Don't touch" from you. The easiest way to do this: Childproof your home (or at least the common areas). Keep dangerous objects out of your child's reach and safe ones accessible. For instance, in the kitchen, put childproof locks on all the cabinets but one. Fill that with plastic bowls, measuring cups, wooden spoons, and pots and pans that your toddler can play with safely.
Encourage new challenges
It's important not to frustrate your child with toys and activities that are way beyond his abilities, but a little struggling goes a long way toward self-improvement. When an activity doesn't come easily to your toddler, he has to figure out a new way to accomplish the task. That type of problem-solving is the stuff better brains are made of. If he's attempting to open a box, for example, resist the urge to help him. Let him try first. If he continues to struggle, show him how it's done, but then give him back a closed box so he can make another attempt on his own.
Take care of yourself
Parents who are depressed or upset are often unable to respond swiftly and sensitively to their child's needs. One study published in the journal Child Development and Psychopathology found that children whose mothers were chronically and clinically depressed had abnormal patterns of brain activity, suggesting that the children also suffered from depression.
If you're feeling blue, find ways to divide the household and parenting responsibilities with your partner; if you're a single parent, surround yourself with people who can offer you help and support. And don't forget to treat yourself to some time alone once in a while. Being a parent — especially an involved and active one — is tiring, and you need time to re-energize. Get more advice on coping with depression.
Find good childcare
If you work and aren't able to care for your child during the day, (or need a babysitter regularly) a quality childcare provider is essential to your toddler's healthy development. You need to find someone who can do all the things mentioned above when you're not around. Whether you want a nanny, relative, or daycare center, it's important to find someone who is experienced, caring, and reputable. A genuine love for children and the energy to help them thrive should also be on your wish list.
~ Courtesy of the BabyCenter