7 toddler development questions, answered by our health visitor

From stuttering to soothers, nursery to new languages, our health visitor discusses your developement questions about your toddler...

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How do you get your toddler to give up his bottle?

1) How can I get my toddler to give up her soother?

Q. How can I encourage my toddler to give up her soother during the day?

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A. While research has proven soothers can help prevent cot death, your problem seems to be happening during the day while she’s awake, and you’d rather your little one was dummy-free. However, you need to take it slowly, as she will be attached to it.

One method is to distract her when she asks for her comforter. This means you’ll have to get used to looking out of the window for a cat/bird/fairy! Or grab a toy or game and start playing that with her.

Reassure her she ‘doesn’t need the soother’ and be confident in your body language and facial expression.

Introduce some boundaries, for example, don’t take the dummy when you go out and about.

2) I don’t want to send my toddler to nursery or pre-school

Q. I don’t want to send my toddler to nursery or pre-school as I think little ones spend long enough in school later on. My friends disagree. Will it harm my child not to?

A. Nurseries and pre-schools offer young children a chance to experience new play, learning, social situations and independence – all of the vital skills needed to help a smooth transition to school. However, resourceful parents can help their child develop these skills in a variety of settings themselves. Taking your child out regularly, including lots of play with his friends, talking and reading daily with him will give plenty of opportunity for these skills to flourish. If you have bags of time and energy you’ll be able to prepare your little one well. Keep an open mind though, as your child’s needs may change.

3) Stuttering tot

Q. Often when he’s talking, my child ends up stuttering. Is there anything I can do to stop it?

A. When developing speech, young children will occasionally stutter and it does often pass. However, if it’s been going on for longer than a month, there are other speech problems, or if there’s a family history of stuttering, you may need to see a speech therapist.

In the meantime, try slowing down your own speech, e.g. pause before answering a question. When you’re chatting together, give him your full attention and maintain eye contact. Build his confidence by focusing on things he does well, tries hard with or just enjoys.

4) Nursery nerves

Q. In September my 3 year old starts pre-school. He has rarely been away from me and I’m worried how he will settle. What can I do to make it easier for him?

A. Is it your toddler you’re worried about, or you? It’s reasonable to feel anxious but you have to be careful you don’t project that onto him. What your son needs from you is a calm and positive attitude to pre-school. Take care to talk about any worries out of his earshot and, when he is around, keep re-enforcing all the nice parts about making new friends, having different toys to play with and so on. Have a chat with your friends and family and ask them not to keep asking him ‘Are you looking forward to going to pre-school?’ as that will only raise his anxiety about something he’s not yet experienced.

5) Is being bilingual confusing him?

Q. Our toddler uses two languages, as my partner and I are both bilingual. I want to continue raising him like this but are we confusing him and delaying his language development?

A. Being raised in a bilingual home has many benefits for children. Some research indicates that they are potentially better at problem solving, more creative, and have the benefit of having their cultural identity re-enforced through language. It’s common for a bilingual child to mix his two languages when talking. It’s more often a way of filling in the gaps he may have in his vocabulary, of either language, and also shows that he’s using the wide range of resources available to him. That’s some skill!

Stick to speaking one language each as parents. Or try using one language in the home, and the other when you’re out and about, if feasible. Use a wide range of nursery rhymes, story telling and music from each culture, to widen the whole experience of communication. If possible let your child mix with other children who speak the languages he does.

6) How can I get my toddler to give up his bottle

Q. My 3 year old still likes to use a bottle when he’s upset as well as before bed. Does it really matter?

A. It’s advisable to look at stopping bottles at one year, encouraging instead the use of beakers and cups as bottles can damage your toddler’s teeth. Anything drunk through a teat forces the liquid to pass over the same few teeth so sugary drinks will lead to problems. Even milk contains sugars that will lead to decay so it’s best to remove a milky bottle from a toddler’s routine altogether.

Although it can be difficult, it is possible to wean him off. Start by introducing a reward chart to gradually reduce bottles in the day and try to find other ways to soothe your child at night – cuddles before bed, stories, a comfort blanket or special toy are ideal. But don’t drag it out too long.

7) How can I get my toddler to speak more?

Q. How can I help my 2 year old open up verbally? He uses few words, which makes him difficult to understand.

A. Development of language skills varies enormously, and is hugely dependent upon hearing, so talk to your health visitor about getting his hearing checked.

In the meantime, encourage regular playtime with his peers at toddler groups and teach him nursery rhymes, which focus on repetition.

Also, try building a quiet time into your day without any background noise as this helps your little one learn how to pick out sounds in his immediate environment, such as cars going by, dogs barking and birds singing.

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Keep chatting about your day, what’s coming next, what you’re doing and give your full attention when your tot talks back and always maintain good eye contact.

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