Today's Parent, Canada's national parenting magazine, is committed to helping parents build happy, healthy families. Speaking to moms and dads of children from birth to 9 , articles tackle the complete range of parenting issues, including health, education and behaviour.
Nearly everyone who has parented a toddler–or who has been a toddler—has a tantrum story. When I sat down to write my new book on parenting, Cribsheet, I asked a few friends about this. My mom recounted in detail holding the bedroom door closed so my brother wouldn’t get out during a tantrum-induced time-out. My friend Jenna reported that her mom is still angry about a tantrum episode Jenna had at age four in a Kmart.
Tantrums are at the more extreme end of toddler acting out, but toddlers act out in other ways as well. They can almost seem like scientists—experimenting with what is possible.
If I throw this half-eaten cauliflower stem at Mom and say, “I don’t LIKE IT!,” what will happen? The constant experimentation can be exhausting and confusing, but the somewhat good news is that there are evidence-based approaches to dealing with discipline.
I say “somewhat good” since there is no magic bullet that will completely stop tantrums and turn your two-year-old into a seven-year-old. Instead, parenting interventions focus on how to respond to bad behavior when it starts and limit recurrence.
There are a few specific examples of these, including 1‑2‑3 Magic, the Incredible Years, Triple P—Positive Parenting Program, and so on. Broadly, all these emphasize a few key elements.
How to discipline a toddler? 29 toddler discipline tactics that workFirst, recognize that children are not adults, and you usually cannot improve their behavior with a discussion. If your four-year-old is taking their shirt off in the museum, they will not respond to a reasoned discussion about how you actually do need to wear a shirt in public places. The flip side of this—more important—is that you shouldn’t expect them to respond to adult reasoning. And as a result, you should not get angry the way you would if, say, your spouse was stripping in the museum and didn’t stop after you explained why they shouldn’t.
All these interventions emphasize not getting angry. Don’t yell, don’t escalate, and definitely don’t hit. Controlling parental anger is the first central part of the intervention.
This is so easy to say, but it is often so hard to do. It takes practice on your part.
Second, these approaches all emphasize setting up a clear system of rewards and punishments and following through on them every time. For example, 1‑2‑3 Magic develops a system of counting (to three, obviously) in the face of disruptive behavior, and if three is reached, there is a defined consequence (a time-out, loss of a privilege, etc.).
Finally, there is a strong emphasis on consistency. Whatever the system you use, use it every time. If the consequence of counting to three is a time-out, then there needs to be a time-out every time.
As an extension, if you say no to something, you stick to no. And similarly, do not make threats you cannot carry out.
The evidence that these work is based on a number of randomized controlled trials.
To give an example, a paper published in 2003 in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reported on an evaluation of 1‑2‑3 Magic among 222 families. All the parents involved were looking for help managing their children’s behaviour, although none of the children had clinical behaviour problems. That is to say, they were just engaging in the standard difficult behaviours.
The intervention was fairly light—parents attended three two-hour meetings that discussed the 1‑2‑3 Magic approach, and were shown videos and given handouts about particular problem issues. There was a fourth two- our meeting a month later to reinforce.
The experimental group—the one that got the intervention—had improvements on all the variables measured. The parents scored better on measures of parenting—i.e., “Are you hostile and angry toward your child?”—and the children scored better on a variety of measures of behaviour. Moreover, the parents reported that their children were better behaved and more compliant, and that their own stress had gone down. The authors noted the effect sizes were not enormous—it would be hard to expect huge effects, given how limited the intervention was—but they were large enough for parents to notice them and affect their time with their children.
What about the more annoying things? Like, say, your kid insisting on singing the same song 50 times in a row? Just as an example.
You probably need to live with those. One of the main tenets of these parenting approaches is that discipline should be reserved for actual bad behaviour, not for things that are merely annoying.
Cover: Penguin Random House Right: Emily Oster by Dana Smith
As a mom of three, Terrie Malcolm has experienced pretty much every toddler phase—the good and the bad—at least once. The “hating the stroller” period—where a toddler just won’t stay in the stroller—is one she’s lived through three times. Her daughter Rebekkah was especially anti-stroller for a while. Strapped into a double model at a Canada Day event alongside her nine-month-old brother, Rebekkah wanted out so badly, “she actually tried to chew through her five-point harness,” Malcolm recalls.
Why your toddler won’t stay in the stroller
It’s fairly common for toddlers to freak out in the stroller—and it makes sense developmentally. “Toddlers are just starting to gain control of their bodies. They really want independence, and they want to explore and learn about the world around them,” says Tanis Shanks, a parent educator from the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute in Saskatoon. Put that together with a toddler’s natural state of pretty much non-stop action and movement, and it’s not surprising that stroller meltdowns happen. (Of course, it’s also important to check that the stroller isn’t pinching or otherwise causing discomfort.)
There are days, though, when strapping in just isn’t negotiable—maybe you’re zipping through an airport or doing daycare drop-off on foot or by public transit. For those times when you simply can’t let your toddler walk on their own and you don’t have the option of a carrier, try these strategies to take the stress out of strollers.
1. Use your words
It might sound a little airy-fairy, but empathizing with your kiddo can go a long way, says Shanks. Say, “I know you don’t want to sit in the stroller. You want to walk or run. But it’s time for you to get in the stroller so we can walk to daycare.” Malcolm and her husband, Pat, who are also the parents of 20-month-old Everlea, use silly songs and voices, crooning, “Sorry you have to be in there….” Toddlers don’t understand the concept of time, so instead of saying you’ll arrive in five minutes, point out something they can see, like, “When we get to that red building, then you can get out and walk.”
2. Distract, distract, distract
What’s the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown?This is one of the golden rules of parenting a toddler, and it definitely applies to stroller time. Break out a special book or toy that is just for when they are buckled in and co-operating (it should be something that can be attached to the stroller so it doesn’t get tossed out). Tell stories, or play a game like I Spy. You can also buy a toy steering wheel so your little speed demon can “drive.” Sometimes the Malcolms will jokingly offer to get into the stroller so the kids can push, and the giggles are often enough to smooth over the fussing. “We’re also not above bribery,” says Malcolm, who will hand over a juice box or snack once they get in. (Note that snacking in the stroller can be dangerous if you aren’t keeping an eye on your child, since unattended eating is a choking hazard at this age.)
3. Change the ride
Borrow a friend’s jogging stroller to see if the different angle or height helps. Some stroller-hating toddlers are perfectly happy in a wagon—a number of models have an extra-long handle for adults to pull more easily, or you can lever the handle so you can push the wagon rather than pulling it. Pedal-less push bikes and tricycles can also be good options if it’s a slower or shorter walk, such as to the park. Many malls and amusement parks have specialized strollers or carts to borrow or rent. “My kids are happier to be in something that looks like a toy fire truck or dump truck,” says Malcolm. Or try a stroller board—also known as a buggy board, glider or ride-on board—which looks a bit like a skateboard and attaches behind the stroller’s rear wheels so your toddler can stand up while hanging on to the stroller’s handle. Many parents say these boards are absolute game-changers.
4. Get active beforehand
If you can, take five minutes before stroller time so your toddler can get the wiggles out by dancing or running around, or make a game out of reaching arms or waving feet while they’re in the stroller to release some energy, recommends Shanks. “We know toddlers need 180 minutes of activity a day, and 60 minutes of that should be pretty vigorous,” she says. “It’s also recommended that a toddler not be restrained in a stroller or car seat for more than an hour at a time, so take breaks.”
Above all, remember that this is just a normal stage of development, depending on how active and curious your toddler is. And while every parent of a toddler knows that sometimes just getting out of the house can be a marathon, try to give yourself extra time so you can get from A to B without anyone melting down—including you.
Rose Neale*, a mom of two from Toronto, noticed her four-year-old daughter, Elodie*, was kind of clumsy. “When she first started walking, she’d fall down frequently while running or playing,” says Neale. Elodie often bumped into other kids or furniture and had little bruises on her legs. At the time, Neale didn’t think much of her daughter’s behaviour. “I’m clumsy, too,” she says. “I thought, Poor thing, she’s just uncoordinated, like I am.”
For the most part, clumsiness in toddlers is normal as they are still learning about how to move their bodies. However, there are signs that could suggest something bigger is going on.
Janice Heard, a community paediatrician and clinical assistant professor at the University of Calgary, explains that when toddlers start walking, they have a wide gait to help keep their balance. “A toddler walks with their feet a few inches apart—rather like they have a full diaper,” she says.
Your kid needs to improve her fine motor skills? Set up an arts and crafts station!Parents should watch to see if their kids are toddling equally back and forth or if they seem to favour one side. An unbalanced gait could point to a weakness of one of the hip or leg muscles , or a sore foot or joint, or they may have an injury. It could also be an indication of an autoimmune disease. “Babies as young as two years old can also get juvenile arthritis,” explains Heard. Around three in a thousand Canadian children have childhood arthritis, according to the Arthritis Society. If parents notice a swollen joint accompanied by a fever, or their toddler won’t stand, Heard recommends going to the emergency room.
Parents may also notice that their child often drops toys or misses the chair when they try to sit. At this stage, your toddler isn’t fully “automatic,” explains Heard. They need to concentrate on each individual movement they’re making, until they get more practiced and are able to perform more than one motion at a time. (Sort of like when you learn to drive.)
In cases of extreme clumsiness, parents may fall down the Google rabbit hole and discover something called developmental coordination disorder (DCD), or dyspraxia. The condition affects fine and/or gross motor skills, and it isn’t uncommon, affecting five to six percent of Canadian children. Heard says kids with DCD are often reluctant to try new physical activities because they find them difficult, and tasks like doing up buttons or learning to ride a bike are harder for them.
Children with DCD have noticeable difficulty with motor skills in comparison to their peers. If you are concerned about DCD, speak to your family doctor or paediatrician.
Practice makes perfect
Most children start to walk independently between a year and 18 months. Even if your little one still loves to be carried, make sure to give them plenty of opportunities to practise. Ideally, toddlers should be working on their walking skills two to three hours a day, in an environment where they’re not going to hurt themselves.
Kids are born naturally far-sighted and tend to bump into things that are close to them, but eye problems may still play a role in your toddler’s coordination. “A lot of times, vision problems get chalked up to toddler clumsiness, and eye conditions don’t get evaluated until school,” says Sheena Taff, a licensed optician in Vancouver.
This turned out to be true in Neale’s case. When Elodie was three, they enrolled her in junior kindergarten, where the registration checklist included getting an eye exam. The test showed Elodie is nearsighted and has a “lazy eye” (amblyopia), requiring glasses.
Taff says issues like amblyopia and strabismus (where the eyes are not aligned properly) are common in children. “In most cases, these things can be corrected with patches, glasses and treatment when they are young,” she says. Along with clumsy behaviour like bumping into things, watch for whether your kid seems to have difficulty grabbing objects, as this could mean an issue with depth perception. If they’re tilting or turning their head a lot when trying to look at something, it may point to an astigmatism. Crossing one or both eyes when holding a toy is another red flag, explains Taff. But one of the most common signs of a vision issue is eye rubbing—and not just when they’re tired. “It’s a natural response to blurred vision,” she says.
Taff recommends parents take their kids for an eye exam when they’re a year old. If there’s a family history of vision issues, get a referral from your doctor to see a paediatric ophthalmologist.
After wearing an eye patch and getting glasses, Elodie is much more coordinated. She now participates in various after-school sports, including swimming. “She loves it,” says Neale. “I’ve never seen a happier, more excited kid jump in the pool.”
A self-mending covering that automatically adjusts to changes in body shape, maintains a comfortable temperature, fends off bacteria and even senses environmental changes — no man-made fabric can match the fantastic feats performed by your child’s skin. But even this amazing material can fall prey to problems. Here’s how you can identify common children’s skin rashes, and what you can do about them.
Our expert panel
Richard Haber, dermatologist
University of British Columbia
Scott Murray, dermatologist
Dalhousie University, Halifax
Ian Landells, dermatologist
Memorial University, St. John’s
Michelle Ponti, paediatrician
Look for: Raw, red, inflamed skin. Where: In the diaper area. Cause: Enzymes in stool breach the skin’s protective barrier, causing irritation that’s aggravated by moisture and rubbing. In other cases, a yeast called candida (the culprit behind thrush) multiplies out of control when something upsets the normal balance of bacteria that live on the skin. Home care: Changing diapers frequently and airing baby’s bottom can help keep diaper rash at bay. Cleanse the area with warm water (soaps and wipes may remove the skin’s protective oils) and pat dry. Apply petroleum jelly or zinc oxide cream to shield sensitive skin from urine and stool. See a doctor: If the skin becomes broken or oozes fluid, or if the rash does not start improving after a few days, your family doctor or paediatrician may recommend a cortisone-based salve to hasten healing. Red “satellite” dots around the edges signal a yeast rash, which usually requires treatment with a prescription anti-fungal cream.
Look for: Tiny reddish specks which may turn into small, fluid-filled blisters. Where: In skin creases, areas covered by clothing or on skin that’s stayed in prolonged contact with a surface — like a car seat — under hot, sticky conditions. Fever can also spark heat rash. Cause: Overheating plus blocked sweat glands. Home care: Remove the offending fabric to let heat dissipate. Patting with a damp cloth may also cool the skin. Opt for cotton clothing, which allows air to circulate. See a doctor: If the rash does not disappear within a few days, your family physician or paediatrician may suggest a mild corticosteroid cream to speed healing.
Look for: Whiteheads and pimples. Where: On the face. Cause: Spurred by hormones passed from mother to baby before birth, glands in the skin produce excess oil and become clogged. Home care: Usually infant acne clears up within a few months without treatment. Don’t pick pimples: Breaking the skin can lead to infection. And avoid harsh soaps and washing more than once or twice daily, which may aggravate the condition. See a doctor: Consult your physician if spots start looking inflamed: He may prescribe topical antibiotics or other medications.
Look for: Clusters of blisters or red bumps that may ooze fluid and form a honey-coloured crust. Where: Usually around the nose, mouth or other areas not covered with clothing. The infection can also enter via scratches, scrapes and bug bites. Cause: Strep or staph bacteria, which are passed by touch. An infected child can pass the impetigo to other parts of her body. Home care: Applying over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to cuts and scrapes may prevent bacteria from invading wounds. See a doctor: This fast-spreading infection often needs treatment with oral antibiotics, so see your child’s doctor if you think your child has impetigo.
Look for: Small red spots that blossom following four or five days of irritability, sore throat and fever. The giveaway? The rash — which fades within hours and lasts only a day or two — appears when your child’s temperature returns to normal. Where: On the trunk, spreading to the face, neck and limbs. Roseola (which means “sudden rash”) crops up most commonly between six and 24 months of age. Cause: A type of human herpes virus. The infection is probably most contagious during the fever phase of the illness, before the rash breaks out. Home care: Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease fever-related discomfort. While time is the only cure, when the rash flowers, the worst of the illness is over. See a doctor: If your child’s temperature reaches 39°C (102°F) and does not respond to medication. If you’re pregnant and have never had roseola, check with your doctor.
Look for: Reddish spots with tiny blisters at the centre, usually preceded by runny nose, cough and mild fever. Where: All over the body. Cause: Varicella virus, which is spread through the air or via direct contact. It’s most contagious 24 to 48 hours before the rash develops. Home care: Calamine lotion, baking soda baths and antihistamines relieve itchiness; ibuprofen or acetaminophen ease chills and aches from fever. Keep kids home until blisters scab over (usually about a week) to avoid passing the virus along. See a doctor: Any child with fever plus a rash should be looked over by experienced eyes to rule out more serious illnesses. You should also consult your physician if:
• Your child has fever that climbs to 39ºC (102ºF) and doesn’t respond to acetaminophen or ibuprofen;
• The rash looks infected or your child experiences breathing difficulties.
An antiviral medication can reduce the duration and severity of symptoms; and a vaccine can usually prevent chicken pox if it’s given before or soon after exposure. If vaccinated kids do develop the illness, symptoms are usually milder than normal.
Look for: Lacy red rash, often accompanied by a low-grade fever. Where: The rash usually first appears on the face in a “slapped cheek” pattern before spreading to the trunk, arms and legs. Cause: Parvovirus B19, which is passed along in much the same way as viruses that cause the common cold. Though the rash lingers about 10 days, fifth disease is no longer contagious after this symptom emerges. Home care: Normally, symptoms are mild and don’t need treatment — though some children suffer aching joints, which can be treated with a kids’ pain reliever. See a doctor: Alert your family doctor or paediatrician if your child has a chronic condition or blood abnormalities. Check with your own physican if you’re expecting: The virus sometimes causes health problems in babies whose mothers are first exposed during pregnancy.
Look for: Raised red welts. Where: Anywhere on the body, usually shortly after eating or touching something a child is allergic to, though hives can also be triggered by factors like stress, sun and cold. Cause: A chemical attack mistakenly launched by immune cells. Home care: Antihistamines help relieve itching and swelling. See a doctor: If your child develops hives, visit your doctor: You need to find out whether your child has an allergy and how you should go about handling any future attacks. Take your child to hospital immediately if he has trouble breathing.
Look for: Tiny flesh-coloured or pearly bumps that may have a dimple in the centre. Where: Can appear almost anywhere on the body, including the face, neck and trunk, and in skin creases. Cause: A type of poxvirus that is passed along by skin-to-skin contact (a child can spread the virus to other parts of his body) or swimming in a pool that’s been contaminated by someone with molluscum. Home care: Since the infection is harmless, mild and clears up without treatment, there’s not much parents need to do at home. See a doctor: If your child is bothered by the bumps or they spread quickly or leave pits in the skin, discuss treatment options with your family doctor or dermatologist. Possibilities include: a prescription cream that revs up infection-fighting cells in the skin, a blistering compound, and surgically scraping away the growths.
Look for: Flesh-coloured domes, or flat, callous-like growths on the soles of the feet (plantar warts) that may have a dark dot in the middle. Where: Typically on the hands, feet and face. Cause: Various types of papillomavirus that are transmitted by physical contact; can spread from one part of the body to another. Home care: While the body will eventually fight off the infection unaided, it’s best to cover warts with waterproof tape or a bandage to stop the spread. You can try over-the-counter salicylic acid preparations (take care not to burn surrounding skin), but be patient: It may take up to six weeks to see results. See a doctor: If your child is upset by the warts or they spread to an extensive area, they can be removed with liquid nitrogen, scraping or laser. However, these uncomfortable treatments may not be suitable for small children.
Look for: Most teens — about 85 percent — develop acne, which ranges in severity from scattered blackheads and whiteheads to inflamed red cysts. The tendency to develop acne seems to be inherited. Where: On the face, neck, chest and back. Cause: Surges in sex hormone production drive glands to produce extra oil, and dead skin cells start piling up quickly, blocking pores and sealing in bacteria that normally live inside. While acne isn’t an infection, these bacteria produce irritating substances that build up; the pressure may rupture pore walls. Home care: Over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide ointments may help curb acne if used correctly: Instead of globbing them on during breakouts, spread over pimple-prone areas once or twice a day. And don’t ditch the cream if zits don’t clear up overnight: It may take six weeks to start working, and it’s normal to experience a flare-up after two or three weeks as skin adjusts to the medication. Overzealous cleansing actually promotes oil overproduction: Most dermatologists recommend washing two or three times a day with a mild soap or a gentle soap-free cleanser. See a doctor: When drugstore benzoyl peroxide preparations don’t reduce the severity of breakouts, or the pimples become inflamed or leave scars, it’s time for help. Prescription treatments from topical and oral antibiotics to vitamin A creams often bring acne under control.
Look for: Small blisters. The area may tingle for a day or two before the sores appear. Where: On or near the lips. Cause: A type of human herpes virus that’s transmitted by touching the blisters (kissing, for example) or sharing cups or other utensils with an infected person. Home care: Keep the area clean and dry in the blister phase, and lubricated with an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment during the later phase to minimize cracking and bleeding. See a doctor: Ask for your doctor’s advice if your child experiences frequent outbreaks: While there’s no cure for cold sores, an oral antiviral medication can reduce the severity and duration of each episode.
Look for: Small red bumps. Where: Around the base of hairs that have been shaved away. Cause: Friction and irritation from a razor; the tips of curly hairs can also pierce the skin, becoming ingrown. Home care: Gently scrubbing with a washcloth before shaving to remove dead skin may help. Use a shaving gel (formulated for sensitive skin) to reduce friction, frequently change blades, shave in the direction of hair growth and don’t share razors. Avoid scented gels, creams and aftershaves: Fragrance can irritate the skin. See a doctor: Seek medical advice if the rash is severe or becomes infected.
Imagine the police force responsible for protecting your child’s skin from viruses and bacteria suddenly runs riot. That’s what happens during an eczema flare-up: Immune cells take offence at some minor irritant and launch attacks that cause the skin to erupt into an intensely itchy, inflamed, red, scaly rash.
Scientists still don’t have a fix on why the skin’s defensive forces are so touchy in people who have this type of eczema. Also called atopic dermatitis, this condition affects around 10 to 20 percent of the population, and shows itself between bouts of symptoms as dry, sensitive skin. What they do know is that this type of “irritable” immune system reaction also lies at the root of asthma and hay fever, and a susceptibility to this trio of allergy-linked conditions tends to run in families.
But while researchers haven’t yet found an exact cause or a cure for this common children’s skin rash, that doesn’t mean your child is doomed to scratch forever if she has eczema — about 40 percent of kids outgrow attacks by adulthood. In the meantime, a three-pronged approach to prevention and treatment can also save your child’s skin:
How to keep your kid’s skin moisturized
Normally, natural oils lock moisture into the skin and protect the surface from irritation. This barrier isn’t as strong in a child with eczema, so you have to shore it up with a greasy ointment like petroleum jelly, which should be applied to outbreak-prone areas at least once a day. The best time is after a bath, when the skin is still moist.
Hold harsh chemicals
Sensitive skin shouldn’t be subjected to irritating substances, such as strong soaps, scented skin care products, perfumed laundry detergents and fabric softeners, and wool. Since irritation can set off symptoms, give your child’s skin the kid glove treatment.
Soothe immune cells
Sometimes flare-ups happen despite your best efforts. Several effective treatments, including corticosteroid creams and new topical immune-modulating medications like Elidel and Protopic, calm down immune cells in the skin, easing symptoms — and everyone’s peace of mind.
Editor’s Note: Since we originally published this article in the April 2005 issue, The Food and Drug Administration in the United States has issued an advisory to doctors urging caution in prescribing Elidel and Protopic because of the possibility of cancer. Health Canada says that the current labelling does include a warning about cancer but they are looking at stronger labelling in light of the new information. If your child uses these drugs, talk to your doctor.
Yes, travelling with toddlers can be a wild ride. Some parents may choose to stay close to home for fear that travel will interfere with the schedule of a tot who is finally sleeping through the night. But with the travel gear now available to Generation Alpha,parents can lose the jitters— the only requisitions nowadays are a portable toddler bed and the proverbial road. Here are a few of our favourite toddler travel beds.
1. PeaPod Travel Bed
Weighing only 1.1 kilograms, the PeaPod is lighter, both in weight and on your wallet, than some of the other travel beds. This innovative sleep solution by KidCo is suitable for children aged one to three, giving toddlers a head start on the glamping trend and large enough (18 x 28 x 46 inches) to keep them rested well into the big-kid years. Essentially a pop-up tent with an inflatable mattress, the PeaPod comes equipped with its own nylon carrying case, is compact enough for travel and can be used indoors as a crib replacement in a hotel room or an Airbnb. And, because it zips fully closed (see you later, bugs!), it’s ideal for outdoor use, too—take it camping or bring it to the park for a picnic and a nap. $100, well.ca
Photo: JetKids by Stokke
2. JetKids BedBox
How to travel with a potty-training toddler
The prospect of a long flight with a toddler is so daunting to even the most seasoned travellers that they give up on the pipe dream of their child (who isn’t the best sleeper to begin with) ever sleeping soundly in an upright position on a cramped airplane. Visions of a screaming toddler sprawled out over a neighbouring passenger, kicking the seat in front of them or tangled up in a frayed seatbelt, could turn any wanderluster into a homebody. Enter the conveniently light (3.7 kilograms) and carry-on-sized BedBox by the clever team at Stokke. This option is best for toddlers aged two and up. The ride-on suitcase allows bigger kids to barrel through the airport long enough to tucker themselves out for the ride. Once on board the plane, unpack said ride-on, equipped with a mattress and protective side cushions, and attach it to the seat and it becomes a bed. Once they’re fast asleep, grab the flight attendant for a drink and relax—it’s going to be a long flight after all. $260,westcoastkids.ca
Photo: The Shrunks
3. The Shrunks Indoor Tuckaire Toddler Travel Bed
When playpens no longer do the trick and you’re too nervous to tuck your jerky little sleeper into a hotel bed, this inflatable number, by the family-run operation The Shrunks, is a smart solution for tots aged two and up. Boasting a 30-second set-up (pump included), this clever design mimics the construction of a full toddler bed, allowing for the mattress and guard rails to separate and making the whole travel bed cleanable. Though the bed is easy to pack (three kilograms and 7 x 7 x 16 inches when deflated), once inflated, standard-sized sheets tuck right into the inner air mattress for your little one to stretch out and sleep comfortably. Now that’s a holiday! $120, well.ca
4. Milliard Portable Toddler Bumper Bed
Though slightly bulkier (at 4.7 kilograms) than an inflatable mattress, this solution from Milliard is a practical choice for parents who put a premium on their toddler’s comfort. Plush and cozy and raised on all sides, this foam travel bed measures 7 x 26 x 55 inches when open and folds up into a convenient suitcase that measures 14.5 x 25 x 27 inches when closed and even has room to stuff in your child’s favourite pillow and blankie. Lullaby not included. $205, amazon.ca
5. BumpZZZ Travel Bed
Essentially a sleeping bag but with firm, cushioned side bumpers and a padded bottom, the BumpZZZ Travel Bed byLeachco is a lightweight (2.7 kilograms) and portable bed in a bag suitable for kids aged two and up. By day, fold over the cushions and use it as a toddler lounge chair so that your little one can do their doll’s hairwhile you blow-dry yours. By night, lay it flat and extend. At 7 x 39 x 58 inches, there’s plenty of room to tuck in dolly, too. Nighty-night! $160, amazon.ca
6. Joovy Foocot Child Cot
Though not recommended for toddlers who still tend to roll in their beds, Joovy’s foldable kids’ cot, made of a stretchy nylon and steel bar construction and available in an array of bright colours, is the most transportable sleep option of them all. Though the cot is a comfortable size (at 9.5 x 25 x 48 inches) for a luxurious sleep, it folds up easily and fits into most suitcases. That said, with its simple set-up and light weight (three kilograms), your child can probably carry it and put it together all by themselves. Montessori diploma not required. $65, bedbathandbeyond.ca
My three-year-old daughter fiddles with her belly button. She has been doing it since she was two and a half. It would happen randomly—she would reach for her navel, just casually poking around, while she was getting dressed, playing or chatting. While it’s not quite as gross as, say, nose picking or hair chewing, I began to worry that it was becoming a habit and some kind of response to stress or discomfort.
Turns out, there’s no shortage of other bothersome self-soothing habits among toddlers and young kids. Thumb sucking and nail biting are biggies, of course, along with skin picking, hair pulling, teeth grinding and chewing on just about anything.
So, what’s going on?
Most of the time, these repetitive behaviours are a perfectly normal developmental phase and arise from a need to self-regulate. “They’re very common because kids at this age don’t understand what emotions are and try to do anything they can to soothe themselves,” says Jennifer Kolari, a child and family therapist and author of Connected Parenting: How to Raise a Great Kid.
Sometimes it’s obvious why a child might have picked up a new self-soothing technique. Looking back at my daughter’s belly button quirk, I realized that it began around the same time that she started potty training and transitioning to a new preschool room at daycare. Though she didn’t seem stressed by either event, it’s possible that this helped her deal with these new situations.
The origin of a particular habit itself may also be traceable. Kolari says many kids (including her own daughter when she was younger) touch their eyebrows obsessively, sometimes to the point of rubbing off the edges completely because it reminds them of stroking the hair on their mother’s arm when they were being fed as babies.
Miranda, a mother of three, has a four-year-old son who, as a toddler, used to like putting his hand in her armpit. It reminded him of that cozy skin-to-skin contact when he was a baby.
“The brain likes comfort and associates comfortable things with whatever was happening in the moment,” says Kolari. Toddlers look for comforting sensations that were familiar to them as babies—sucking, touching, skin-to-skin contact—and find a way to repeat them. Kolari explains that these behaviours repeat themselves as a result of forming neural pathways. “A habit is basically formed when you’ve laid down enough track, or neural hardware, and then you just can’t help it,” she says.
How should parents handle self-soothing?
Why toddlers put stuff up their nose“Don’t shame your kids when you notice these behaviours,” says Kolari. “Distraction is probably better.” You can also try casually redirecting a habit to a more socially acceptable behaviour. Kolari recommended that I try putting some Play-Doh in a thimble or small container for my daughter. “Find something that feels the same but is one step removed from what she is doing,” she says. “You can change that, and eventually it will just go away. Be casual about it by saying something like ‘Hey, let’s not bug your belly button today and try this instead.’”
For behaviours that may cause harm, such as hair pulling, try gently redirecting their hands. If they’re older, use a reduction technique or a substitute, such as a doll. “They can pull at the doll’s hair and then slowly change that,” says Kolari. “Usually, it’s about giving them something else that’s almost as satisfying but not as detrimental.”
The CALM technique
Kolari teaches parents the “CALM technique” to deal with a range of behavioural issues, including signs of anxiety. CALM is an acronym: C is for connecting by dropping whatever you’re doing, such as putting down your phone, and using your face and body to show your child that you are fully engaged with them; A is for affect matching by matching the look on your face to the expression on theirs when they’re reacting to something; L is for listening by paraphrasing, summarizing, clarifying and wondering out loud with your child about why they might be feeling the way they do; and M is for mirroring by showing your child that you’re feeling what they’re feeling in that moment. You’re empathizing and not trying to fix it.
Kolari highly recommends upping the baby play and told me to try it with my daughter. For 10 to 20 minutes a day, she suggested declaring “Who cares if you’re three?” and wrapping my daughter up in a blanket, giving her a bottle of water, rubbing her nose and just letting her be a baby. “She is three, so at this age she is becoming aware that she isn’t a baby anymore and it’s a bigger world out there,” says Kolari. “It’s not unusual at two, three and certainly four to feel an increase in anxiety, which can sometimes come out in little behaviours.”
“Ignoring the behaviour can work, too,” says Kolari, “because it may just go away.”
When should you get it checked?
If you’re starting to worry about your kid, talk to a doctor or child therapist. Jenny, a mom of two, was concerned about her four-year-old son’s habit of pulling his top lip and stroking his Cupid’s bow. “After several months of him doing it at least five times a day, we began to wonder whether this habit might be related to a learning or developmental issue that we should explore further with his paediatrician,” she says.
Jenny was worried about the possibility of autism. While most weird toddler behaviours are nothing to worry about, occasionally these habits can be a sign of something bigger going on neurodevelopmentally. “We would look at autism if your child has poor social interaction, language delays and those repetitive behaviours tied together,” says Joanne Vaughan, a paediatrician in Toronto. “It’s not just the repetitive behaviours or self-soothing; it’s in the context of other things, particularly the social piece. For kids with milder autism, their language may not be affected, but the social piece, like talking back and forth, is. They can talk, but they might be talking about something that isn’t what you’re asking them about.” For Jenny’s son, both his teachers and paediatrician didn’t notice anything concerning about his behaviour, which put her more at ease with the habit. “As he grows, he is developing other, less visible self-soothing techniques and becoming more comfortable and confident in situations that previously made him anxious or nervous,” she says.
When will they grow out them?
Kids usually grow out of these behaviours by age four or five, when they become more aware of their emotions and don’t need these physical crutches anymore, says Kolari. “Young kids are repetitive and have many bizarre little rituals,” she says. “There are some adults who walk around with weird behaviours, but most people don’t do the things they did as babies anymore.”
My daughter was amused by my attempts to divert her belly button habit by giving her a thimbleful of Play-Doh or an extra-squishy squeeze ball as a substitute, but I think what’s had the biggest impact on her behaviour is the extra babying. For a few minutes a day, if she wants to sit on my lap while I spoon-feed her breakfast, I’m game, and then she’s more willing to let go and be a “big girl” when we’re all done. She is even giving her cute little belly button a break.
Let’s face it, dealing with kids and their poop is never a fun experience, and it can be particularly tricky with toddlers, whether they’re in diapers or potty training. However, if your toddler is not pooping, that’s especially challenging for both you and your kiddo. Here’s what you need to know about toddler constipation, including how to deal with it so that you’ll all feel better.
Everyone’s body is different, so missing a daily poop is not likely a sign of constipation. However, if your child has fewer than three dirty diapers or trips to the potty in a week or the poop is hard, dry, difficult to pass or so big that it nearly clogs the toilet, your toddler may be constipated. Other signs and symptoms may include pain with a bowel movement, a tummy ache, traces of liquid poop in underwear (this may mean that poop is backed up in the rectum) and blood when wiping or on the surface of hard stool (due to small tears in the rectum from trying to pass hard poop). Because your toddler thinks pooping will hurt, they may cross their legs, make faces, clench their butt, rock their body, walk stiffly on their tiptoes or sit with their heels pressed against their perineum to try to avoid having to go.
Why do toddlers get constipated?
Toddlers, in particular, can get constipated from a number of different factors in their wild and crazy toddler lives. Kids this age often get fixated on certain foods and, chances are, the “all-beige diet” (like crackers, cereals and toast) may not have a lot of fibre. If your toddler drinks a lot of milk, that can be constipating, too, says Roxanne MacKnight, a family physician in Miramichi, NB.
Toddler afraid to poop? How to handle potty training poo anxietySometimes, anxiety over pooping in the potty or on the toilet rather than in a diaper can make a toddler try to skip the whole thing. Other times, toddlers are so busy playing that they may ignore the urge to go. Starting preschool or changing rooms can also throw them off—maybe the routine or bathroom is different. “Ninety-five percent of the time, constipation isn’t related to a medical issue,” says MacKnight. (Constipation can also be linked to a metabolic or digestive issue, but that’s rare in kids.)
What are some non-medical ways to help?
First and foremost, many health professionals suggest changes to their foods and drinks. “One of the things that can help most is extra water,” says Jennifer House, a registered dietitian in Calgary who specializes in kids and families. “Water helps move things along and soften stool.” Pick out a favourite water bottle and bring it with you, or add some frozen berries to make it look a little more fun, she says. House also recommends giving your toddler up to half a cup of pear, prune or apple juice once a day (all at once), not watered down. “These juices contain a type of sugar called sorbitol that helps draw water into the bowel and soften stool,” she says.
Next, try to get somefibre-rich foods into their diets. Offer fruit with the skin on or try whole wheat macaroni or bread. “The best dietary sources of fibre are beans and legumes, so see if your kid will dip veggies in hummus or eat bean chili,” says House. “When my kids were toddlers, I would put a few canned black beans on their trays as finger foods.” Smoothies are a good option, too, as they provide fluids and fruit and you can blend in ground flax for fibre. MacKnight also recommends dried apricots and prunes (they may be sticky and hard to chew, so be sure to cut them up into raisin-size pieces so that they won’t be a choking hazard), broccoli and peas.
Quite often, toddlers aren’t down with new foods, so try using their “me-me-me” independence as a tool. “Get them involved as much as they can,” says House. “They can pick out foods at the store or rinse produce. They like to take control and ownership rather than just being presented with something to eat.”
House also suggests looking into probiotics. “They certainly won’t cause any harm, and research shows that some probiotic strains, like Lactobacillus casei, might help with constipation,” she says. Look for a paediatric powder that you can mix into applesauce or yogurt. Or try paediatric drops, which you can place on their tongues or add to a spoonful of food, or chewable paediatric tablets.
Try not to get into a power struggle over the potty, but gently encourage your toddler to go at the same time every day. If they’re using the toilet, a little step stool can help support their feet and create the right position for pooping.
When should you see a doctor?
If you’ve noticed that your toddler is constipated or having trouble with bowel movements, try the recommended food and drink options for a week to give them time to work. But if they’re not doing the trick, see your healthcare provider. “Sometimes you don’t see children until the situation is quite severe and they’ve reached the point where they’re extremely constipated and withholding stool,” says MacKnight. Your doctor will gently feel your toddler’s belly to check if there are any particular areas of tenderness or bumps that are abnormal. “We often spend a lot of time talking about non-medical treatment,” she says. “Sometimes we need to prescribe a laxative first [to help soften and push out the backed-up poop] and then get into the routine of improving their diet to prevent this from happening in the future.”
What medications can my toddler take for constipation?
MacKnight says that there are several common approaches. Your healthcare provider may recommend mineral oil mixed into yogurt or other soft foods. Other recommendations may include Lactulose, a liquid laxative that’s added to food and drinks, and PEG 3350 (usually sold under the brand name Pegalax), a flavourless powder that can be mixed into water or juice.
Remember that constipation may be an uncomfortable part of toddlerhood, but it will be OK. “Parents have to be persistent with a healthy diet and sometimes medications as well,” says MacKnight. “This is generally a temporary situation and solvable.”
My twins are 17 months old and they can’t walk. I’ll give you a moment to judge. I don’t blame you. Most babies walk around the one-year mark. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s normal to walk between nine months and 15 months. But here are my boys, at 17 months, blissfully crawling around without a single attempt to take a step.
At their one-year check-up, I casually asked our pediatrician about it, expecting her to tell me that there was nothing to worry about. “Do they stand?” she asked. “No,” I replied. “Pull up on furniture?” No. “Take steps with a walker?” No. Her brow furrowed as she wrote all of this down. “And are you showing them how to walk at home?” “No,” I wanted to say, “I’m crawling around the house.”
“Yes,” I answered instead, “I believe I am.” She looked at my happy little one-year-olds with grave concern, then gave me a referral for physical therapy.
The therapist studied my guys from head to toe as they wiggled and writhed. She rotated their tiny legs in and out, pulled them to sit, lifted them to stand, then shook her head as their wobbly legs flopped under them like ramen noodles. “It’s their abs,” she concluded.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“They have low tone in their abdomens.”
“OK…” I replied, “and how did they get that?”
She shrugged: “It’s usually genetic.”
Got it. Thanks, I thought, sucking in my stomach.
Photo: Courtesy Jessi Cruickshank
We were prescribed immediate physical therapy sessions, two hours a week, for 16 weeks. During each session, my babies would scream, cry and occasionally complete an “abdominal exercise.” But they didn’t walk. Not. Even. Close.
I would stare at my little caterpillars and wonder, What is WRONG with you? Then I’d scroll through Facebook and marvel at my friends’ much younger babies walking all over their feeds. At the park, I’d feign interest in other kids, then casually ask, “How old is he?” just so I could see how my boys stacked up. When I’d meet a baby more advanced than mine, I’d get resentful and envious—just a grown adult woman feeling viciously competitive with an infant. Not to mention, deeply jealous of their parents. What were they doing that I wasn’t?
I was worried, I was embarrassed, I was making every excuse I could for my boys; “They were preemies,” I’d tell strangers at the park. “They say twins walk later!” I’d explain to moms in our gym class. “They are VERY verbal,” I’d assure the grandparents.
I even got defensive with a stranger on Instagram:
Photo: Courtesy of Jessi Cruickshank
The only people who weren’t concerned about my babies were my babies. They could crawl faster than I could walk, climb up every structure at the gym and weren’t phased when a 10-month-old stepped over them at the park. That’s when I realized—if they were perfectly fine with their state of being, why couldn’t I be? Why was I constantly comparing them to other babies?
Children develop and grow at different rates, I know that. I also know that when my twins were born, I was immediately informed that they were in the third percentile for size. The very first thing I knew about my babies was how they compared to other babies.
Photo: Courtesy of Jessi Cruickshank
We’re conditioned to measure our children against others because that’s what our doctors do from the moment they arrive. They tell us where our kid falls on the “pediatric growth chart” and if they are hitting their “developmental milestones.” They use these tools because they’re an effective way to measure growth and development, I appreciate that. They show us these charts and give us these timelines to ensure that we have healthy kids, but I think sometimes they can be interpreted in ways that breed unhealthy parents. Parents who judge and scrutinize. Parents whose own self-worth hinges on their child meeting each milestone on time. Parents who become so caught up in what other kids are doing, they miss out on the joy that comes from accepting their individual child for who they are.
What to do when your toddler is a late walker
I was one of those parents. I went from no babies to TWO babies overnight. I didn’t know what I was doing—I barely knew which twin was which—and I was looking for anything to reassure me that my babies were on the right path. When I was told they weren’t hitting certain milestones, or falling behind other kids, I would take it personally, and worse, I would take it out on them. I was so worried about what my babies couldn’t do, I had forgotten to celebrate what they COULD do.
So instead of judging and comparing, getting defensive and making excuses, allow me to brag. My babies can say “Mamma” and “Dada,” “dog” and “duck,” and when they say “frog” it sounds suspiciously like “f*ck.” They can dunk a mini basketball, play a toy piano with their feet and pick each other’s noses with finesse.
Sure they can’t walk, but I have a feeling they won’t crawl into their first college class, or wriggle down the aisle on their wedding day. Eventually, when they’re ready, they WILL walk and then they’ll be off and running, leaving babyhood behind. So, for now, I’ve vowed to start embracing this extended phase of infancy and to trust that my perfectly healthy boys will develop on their own time. I’ve stopped our physical therapy, I found a new pediatrician and I even made up with the stranger on Instagram.
Photo: Courtesy of Jessi Cruickshank
I’d like to say my newfound enlightenment is because I’ve become more confident as a parent, or because I’ve learned to embrace my twins for who they are. But, let’s be honest: It’s because the moment they can walk I know I’m screwed.