Civilizing a Toddler Isn’t for the Faint of Heart

Babies aren’t born civilized, and that means the first few years of life can be fraught with them learning how the world works—and their own limitations. It’s hard work for parents, especially when their formally docile, sweet little one suddenly asserts his rights to be heard. However, love and leadership will put things on the right track, as this mom discovers.

Q: I just want to make sure that I’m on the right track with my 13-month-old. I can’t determine what to do in several situations.

  1. He still is on the bottle and does not like to hold his own bottle. My pediatrician said 15 months was okay to drop the bottle. However, he drinks way too much milk and not enough food. He was sick recently and now his molars are all coming in, so I haven’t pushed the issue. When I try to get him to try a new food, he often just throws it. Recently he has been spitting out even his favorite foods, I believe because his molars hurt. Should I restrict his milk consumption?
  2. Recently since his sickness and teething, he is very clingy. He does not want to be put down at all. I know independent play is very important and he plays perfectly well in his crib by himself for up to 45 minutes. He falls asleep independently. Should I just let him be unhappy on the floor if I need to do the dishes and can’t hold him?
  3. Recently he has begun shrieking and pointing at specific objects and gets mad if he can’t have them. Should I give him the object sometimes? Never? All the time? I do not know whether this behavior is caused by his crankiness due to teething or whether it is just the age.

A: Let me take your questions in order.

  1. I would exchange the bottle for a sippy cup. I would not give him milk with his meal, but after his meal. That way, he’s not filling up on milk and not eating food. Toddlers don’t like change and that goes double for new foods! He needs something like 10-plus exposures before he’ll think about liking the new food. Follow the one-bite rule: Give him a small (very tiny) portion of everything at dinner, and if he eats all of it, he can have seconds of anything on the table. Make sure you have something that he likes with each meal to help facilitate this. Ignore the spitting, etc. It’s just what uncivilized toddlers do:).
  2. It’s okay for our children to have moments throughout the day when they are unhappy. I had a lovely old-fashioned wooden playpen that I used to put my less-than-happy toddlers in while cooking (our open floor plan allowed for them to see me in the kitchen easily). So yes, put him down and let him cry. I recommend earbuds and a good audio book or your favorite music to help you focus on the task at hand and not the crying kid. Reassure him, interact with him throughout the task, but as he’s on the floor with toys.
  3. Toddlers get frustrated very easily. If he calms down (and you can help him calm down), then he can have the object, but don’t give him the object just because he screamed. This behavior is caused by nothing more than his being a toddler. Save yourself lots of trouble by resisting the urge to discover the source of his discomfort.

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