7 toddler development questions, answered

Our health visitor tackles your queries, from walking and talking to potty training

Toddlers develop at different rates, so don’t worry if your little one isn’t a chatterbox yet

Q. My older daughter does all the talking for my 2 year old, but he seems to understand what I’ve said. Any advice?

A. Understanding what you say is vital for him to learn how to talk. Most toddlers have 100 words and are beginning to link two words together by the age of 2. If he’s not at this stage, seeing a speech therapist will help. In the meantime, keep chatting with him, read books, and get him to mix with other children. Speak to your daughter too, as he’s less likely to try if someone is always on hand to do it for him.


Q. I’m worried as my 16 month old still isn’t walking. Is this normal?

A. All toddlers reach their developmental milestones at different times and it’s not unusual for them to still be bottom shuffling or crawling at 18 months. Give your child plenty of opportunity to play on the floor at home and at playgroups and if she’s still not walking by 18 months, get your doctor to check her over. The vast majority of late walkers are up and running by 2 years so try not to worry.

Our 2 year old seems to be bored with her toys and we’re not sure what games to play with her to keep her entertained. Any ideas?

A. At around the age of 2 children enjoy anything that involves imagination and mess. Think role-play, dressing up, making things and mucking about with water and sand. Try encouraging mixing and play cooking. Measure out some dried foods, such as rice, lentils, and cereals, and let her mix them using plastic bowls and spoons. Stand her at the kitchen sink and let her pour water from one bowl to another, using washing-up liquid for bubbles and food colouring for extra fun. Spread some shaving foam on a tray and encourage her to draw shapes and patterns in it. You could buy some old hats and clothes from a charity shop for dressing up. Also, your local children’s centre might offer messy playtimes – the bonus being someone else will be clearing up and you might make new friends!

Q. I’ve been trying to potty train my 3 year old for six months now – she tells me when she needs to go, but demands I put her nappy on to wee in. I’m not sure what to do next. Any advice?

A. When a child can tell you in advance she needs the loo, be assured that she’s ready to move out of nappies. However, she needs lots of reassurance to help her make this next step. Keep a relaxed approach and, as accidents are inevitable when you first take her nappy away, tell her it’s OK to make mistakes, not just with potty training but with other things too. So when you get something wrong, for example when you burn the toast, keep calm and say, “Never mind, we all make mistakes.” Showing her there’s no drama will teach her we’re all allowed to slip up. When accidents do happen, help her clean up with little fuss and start again. Distract her with a new fun activity and when she gets it right give her a clap, a hug, sticker or whatever thrills her. Soon her confidence will increase and she’ll have mastered it.

Q. My 4 year old is finding it hard to settle at nursery and says he’s poorly when it’s time to get ready in the mornings. How can I encourage him to like it?

A. For some children, going to nursery and settling in each day is the hardest part. Once they’re there they often forget any nervousness. So first of all, check with his nursery key worker how he is when he’s there without you. If he’s fine once settled and he just needs encouragement, you could try leaving a little bag or your scarf on his peg, as a reminder that you’ll be back, but short and sweet confident goodbyes are best.

If he starts to say he doesn’t want to go for any reason, acknowledge this by saying: “Sounds like you’re not sure about going today,” and then reassure him that he’ll be OK. Distract him from talking too much about it and keep your voice reassuring and upbeat. Introducing a friend on a playdate can also help build his confidence with other children without overwhelming him.

. I want to get rid of my 4-year-old’s soother, but don’t know where to start as he relies on it so much. Any hints?

A. If he’s very dependent on it, it may be kinder to take a gradual approach to weaning him off it, as opposed to forcing him to go cold turkey. Pick your time to start, for example when there aren’t any other major changes in his life. If you’re returning to work, he’s starting nursery or a new baby is on the way, it’s best to postpone it for a few weeks.

When the time’s right, be firm and tell him when he can have his dummy. Three or four times a day is a good start, only when he really needs it. If he asks for it more often, which he will, offer a substitute cuddly toy, an extra cuddle, a story or a game to play. Be consistent, as he’ll cope better than if the boundaries are wobbly. Try a sticker chart for each part of the day he manages without his dummy, hour by hour if necessary at first, and give plenty of praise for his efforts.


Q: My 22-month-old’s speech seems slower that other tots. Most of the time I know what she wants, but she gets very frustrated when I don’t understand. Is this normal?

A: Between 18 months and 2 years, toddlers understand far more words than they can use. The average 2 year old can say around 50 words and starts to link two words together, such as ‘my drink’. During this phase communication includes lots of gestures, signs and pointing to accompany words. This helps toddlers clarify situations and gain confidence in expressing themselves. A period of frustration during this time is normal and healthy. It means she’s motivated and wants you to understand. Continue encouraging your tot by using lots of positive facial and body language, and giving her your full attention when chatting. Play music and nursery rhymes with lots of actions, and keep talking to her all the time. Speak to your health visitor, too, so she can monitor your toddler’s progress.

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