They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Indulge your little mini-me and let him be a mini-you. Your little one will love copying all that you do. You push him in his stroller; he wants to push Bear in his toy pushchair. You put on his shoes in the morning; he wants to help you with yours! Getting out of the house may take longer but he’s never happier than when he can ‘help’ and try things for himself.
Toddlers gain confidence by learning about the world around them and role-play toys really come into their own now. Buy him a toy phone, washing machine or tea-set to encourage his curiosity, not to mention ease the tantrums when you steer him away from your precious china! Their faves needn’t be shop-bought either. ‘If I left Annabelle alone for five minutes, she’d have pulled all the photo albums off
the shelf and mangled them,’ says Deirdre, whose daughter Annabelle is 17 months. ‘So I thought it was a good idea to buy her a Winnie the Pooh album and stick some few photos in it. We point out Nan and Granddad, friends from nursery and places we’ve been. She loves being able to recognise them all and point them out. She even takes it to bed!’
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- Jo Frost on how to raise a happy toddler
It’s play time
Swimming, music groups and Tumble Tots are all a good way to start introducing structure into your toddler’s life. But your child’s happiness isn’t going to revolve around having a packed schedule. ‘Don’t think that if they’re not doing ballet at 2 they’ll get behind. It may be quite the opposite,’ says Annette.
Liz Hoggard, author of How To Be Happy, agrees: ‘Research has shown that children who go to less academic nurseries, where they spend more time playing, tend to have better social skills and job success as adults. There’s a myth about “quality time”,’ she says. ‘The periods you spend just being together can make a huge difference to their happiness.’ So, sing nursery rhymes together, grab a book, cuddle up on the sofa and leave GCSE French until later!
Rest and routine
‘Boundaries and routine are very important for a toddler’s happiness and wellbeing,’ says Annette. ‘Aim for a balance between activity and rest. Go out at least once a day and run around, but have some down time, too. Say, “This is our quiet time,” and turn off the TV and radio. In households where there’s always noise, children don’t learn to cope with it. When they go to nursery, they shut off because they can’t listen to instructions in a noisy environment.’
Want a happy child? Get a dog, cat or rabbit. The latest research is an animal-lover’s dream – a little Fido or Fluffy will help make your child happier and healthier. But be warned, it has to be a ‘proper pet’, something to cuddle such as a dog or rabbit. Youngsters with pets are less stressed and tend to live in households that exercise more. As well as being a real-life walking, barking ‘teddy bear’, pets teach children responsibility and respect for living creatures.
No longer babies, but not yet ready for the big wide world, this age can be fraught with lots of insecurities and fears. A happy, confident child is one who values himself and his achievements. Praise, praise and praise again. But experts are divided as to how we should do this and just how much is too much. Most recommend praising the behaviour (‘Sharing your train was a nice thing to do’) rather than your child (‘You’re the cleverest boy in the world’). Telling your child he’s the best all the time can actually make him stressed and so terrified of failing to be ‘perfect’ that he stops trying. Be specific, too, so he knows what he’s being praised for – ie, ‘Thank you for putting all your toys in the box’ rather than just ‘Thank you’.
‘The key to a happy child is a happy parent,’ says Lorraine Thomas, author of The 7-Day Parent Coach . She works with families to help them make positive parenting changes. ‘Smile at your children, give them cuddles and tell them what you love about being a mum. You’re the most powerful role model they have.’