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New this month: All talk
Observing a child as she learns to talk is one of the most fascinating experiences of parenthood. Some children babble with an occasional recognizable word mixed in. Others learn to say one word clearly and then add another, slowly building up a vocabulary. Others may use one word for days or weeks and then suddenly drop it. Which is normal? Actually, each is.
Labeling objects will help your child learn words. You can label sensations, as in, "The sidewalk feels hot," or objects: "See the airplane?" When you push your child in a stroller or walk with her in a backpack, take time to point out the things you see. You don't have to go on and on – just make her aware of what's around. Try to use normal speech instead of baby talk. Soon she'll take the lead and point out familiar objects without your prompting.
What you can do
When you're cooking dinner, take three measuring cups out of a drawer and show her: "This is the big cup, here's the medium-sized cup ... and the little cup." You can turn any daily activity into a language lesson.
If your child isn't saying much, try to speak in short sentences whenever possible, especially if your child seems confused when you ask her questions or are giving her directions. Just eliminating a word or two might help her understand. For example, say "Eat your toast" instead of "Aren't you hungry? Why don't you eat your toast?" It's possible that too many words are overwhelming her and the basic message is getting lost. Try to use positive instructions ("Eat your toast") instead of negative instructions ("Don't throw your toast on the floor"). Remember that listening is an essential part of language acquisition. (A hearing problem can cause language delays. Talk to your pediatrician if you suspect a problem.)
Other developments: Playing to learn, fascination with textures
For you, play is a way of relaxing – whether that means playing tennis or playing chess. But for children, play is learning. Through play children learn about their senses, and they fine-tune a variety of gross- and fine-motor skills. Whether she's stacking blocks and banging on pots, or digging in sand and throwing balls, a toddler is learning what her body can do, what various objects feel like, and how they smell and taste.
Creating art is one of a toddler's favorite pastimes. Remember when you first showed your child how to use a crayon, and she colored back and forth, making wavy lines willy-nilly all over the page? Now she is capable of controlling the pencil or crayon a little bit, and may start to draw in circles. A few months ago she covered a piece of paper with scribbles; now she will draw more deliberately, decorating different parts of a page with separate blocks of artwork. Your job is to give her plenty of opportunities to do it.
Set your child up with big sheets of thick paper; tape it to the table so it stays put. Offer her a few thick crayons (she'll likely snap the little ones in half) or washable markers. If she's not interested in drawing on paper, see if she'd like to draw outside with sidewalk chalk. Finger painting, or making handprints and footprints with paint, is usually a popular activity with toddlers (who doesn't like having permission to make a huge mess?). Or, next time you go for a walk, encourage her to collect some leaves, pebbles, acorns, and the like. When you get home, make a collage that commemorates your outing, gluing the items to a piece of cardboard that she can then decorate with paint or markers.
Now that your toddler can chew and eat a wide variety of foods – from meat to pasta to spinach – expect her to express strong opinions about her likes and dislikes. Experts say that at this age texture, rather than smell or taste, is the key factor in food preferences. Strawberries, pudding, Jell-O, a banana that is just past its prime – these are all foods that a toddler may turn away from, even if she ate them willingly a few months ago.
Toddlers are becoming aware of other sensations as well. Some balk at walking barefoot on sand, cement, or grass for the same reason they refuse some foods: They don't like the texture. Others don't want to have their hair combed or brushed.
If your child balks at having her teeth brushed, try buying her a special toothbrush with a favorite character on it (i.e., Barney or a Teletubby). If your toddler battles over hair brushing, resist the urge to restrain her, which will just frighten her more. You might try to comb or brush her hair while she's distracted, even offering a snack. A commercial de-tangler may help, even with straight hair. Or take turns with her: Let her comb or brush your hair, and then you comb hers.
See all our articles on toddler development.