As your child leaves his baby ways behind and heads into toddlerhood, it can be a real rollercoaster ride of emotions for you as a parent. “These really are milestones for the parent as much as for the baby,” says Dr Carol Cooper, a family GP and author of Baby Milestones (Hamlyn), “But it’s important to let your child develop without holding back his progress.”
It might seem like a bumpy ride from baby to toddlerhood, but each stage brings its own joys. No matter how grown up and confident your toddler appears as she stride off to nursery, or dashes fearlessly across the playground with her friends, we all know it’s mum and dad she’ll run to for a kiss on grazed knees, or to show off her latest art masterpiece!
Knowing when your baby has become a toddler
For me, the moment I knew my son, William, was turning from a baby into a little boy was when he refused to breastfeed and weaned himself. He was nearly 2, and breastfeeding had been one of the strongest bonds between us. Even though we were down to just one guzzle before bed, it was still our special time. Then, completely out of the blue, he no longer wanted it – or the cot in our room. The night-time routine suddenly became a beaker of milk and a ‘big boy’s bed’. For William, it was as cut and dried as that.
It heralded a huge change for me, as I’d expected the end of breastfeeding to be emotional, even depressing. But as I watched in amazement at my son’s sudden confidence and excitement in everything around him, I really didn’t have time to be too sad.
Your toddler’s behaviour
One thing I wasn’t prepared for with William’s growing independence was the multi-personality disorder he seemed to develop at the same time! He could go from passive to a red-faced bundle of anger within seconds, usually over something as trivial as what colour beaker I gave him.
He also became obsessed with being allowed to put the cleaning tablet in the dishwasher – woe betide me if I sneaked off, loaded the machine and put the tablet in without him. He’d hear the packet being opened and appear, an angry flush on his cheeks, shouting until I took it out and let him put it back in!
“It was during the transition from babyhood to toddlerhood that Nathan’s mild interest in anything with wheels turned into a complete obsession with trains,” says Fran, 41, mum to Nathan, 3, and Freya, 4 months.
“A trip to our local supermarket, which is right next to a train line, suddenly took two hours because Nathan had to sit and watch the trains. This obsession coincided with an explosion of new words. He suddenly started saying, ‘Train coming, train going,’ and ‘red train’ – basically any sentence as long as it included the word ‘train’.”
What the expert says about toddler obsessions
“A new interest, which may seem to border on obsession, can be an important sign of a child’s emerging personality. Some will just be phases, but some will persist into adulthood,” says Dr Carol Cooper, family GP and author of Baby Milestones (Hamlyn)
You no longer feel needed
“I realised my child wasn’t a baby any more when she started to walk,” says Kaddy, 33, mum to Libby, now 2.
“She’d totter away from me with such glee in her eyes, while I’d be running about waiting to catch her and feeling very panicky.
“It happened around the time I started trying to get pregnant again, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘As long as I get pregnant soon, it doesn’t matter if Libby needs me less as I’ll have a new baby to look after.’ For a few months, that was a reality, but then I miscarried.
“Of course, the older Libby gets, the more redundant I feel. All I want to do is cling on to her and hold her close to me forever. It’s something I fight against nearly every day.”
What the expert says about your feelings
Dr Cooper says that feeling redundant is normal, but letting your child get on and explore is important.
“Just because she’s no longer a baby doesn’t mean you’re any less important to her,” she says.
“Your child needs to find out about the world, but you’re still the centre of her universe. Even as your toddler toddles off to explore, she needs to know where you are. In this way she uses you as a secure base from which to launch herself. But whatever your toddler does, she needs your love and feedback to go on developing.’”
Toddler fears and phobias
Rebecca, 34, mum to Jake, 22 months, has found that fears can turn into phobias. “My little boy has recently developed a fear of the vacuum cleaner,” she explains. “Now that he’s found out it ‘lives’ under the stairs, he needs an escort every time he walks past the cupboard.
“We’ve tried to show him that we’re not scared, but he seems convinced it’s a monster. He calls it the ‘Noo-Noo’ (from Teletubbies) and he’s equally scared of the TV character. For me, it’s just a great excuse not to do the housework!”
What the expert says about toddler fears and phobias
As Karen Sullivan explains: “Fears are usual in small children, and they’re part of normal development so it’s not something to worry about too much. They only start to become abnormal if they keep a child overly preoccupied for a long time and the fear cannot be dealt with by reassurance or distraction.”
Learning to let go of your baby
Even if you’re confident that your child’s love for you is unwavering, that ‘letting go’ can still be traumatic.
Childcare expert Karen Sullivan agrees that while parents may unwittingly encourage fears in their children by their own responses to risk, it is also the parents’ job to instil a ‘healthy’ sense of wariness of things that present a threat.
“Children aren’t born with any fears,” Karen explains. “We condition them to find things frightening or unsafe. It’s perfectly valid to ensure your child doesn’t run up to dogs or wander off with strangers.
“Try to see things from your toddler’s point of view and think about whether or not something is a real threat before you take him to task. Instead of over-reacting to things you think are frightening, use the chance to explain that dogs are lovely, but they can also bite.”
“Isaac recently announced that he’ll no longer wear anything with baby characters on it, such as Bob the Builder or Postman Pat, as he’s very grown up now and goes to pre-school one morning a week! According to him, grown-up boys like Power Rangers and Spiderman,” says Dawn, 33, mum to Isaac.
“I feel a bit sad about it as he’s our only child and that baby stage has gone forever, but on the plus side he’s so much fun now.”