When’s my toddler ready to…

It can be tricky knowing when the time's right for your toddler to have a go at certain new things. Let our guide steer you in the right direction

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From putting their shoes on to using a big spoon for the first time, toddlers relish the opportunity to try out new things and pretend to be just like you. But if you’re fairly new to parenting, it can be difficult knowing when they’re ready to give certain things a go.

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From age 1 to 3 and beyond, here’s expert and mum advice on what your toddler should be ready to do, and when. But keep in mind that all children develop at a different pace, so it can often be worth letting her take the lead.

Now she’s 1

… use cutlery?
“Start trying out your child with a spoon from age 1. If you find her reaching for yours, the time is right,” says Dr Jo Jones, a consultant paediatrician specialising in behaviour and development. “Stick to plastic versions at first, but it’s fine to switch to metal cutlery by the age of 2 as she should have all her teeth by then so it won’t jam against her gums. By 3 years plus, most tots know how to use a knife and fork correctly.” Lead by example. If your little one doesn’t see you holding a knife and fork properly, how can you ever expect her to do it?

… try spicier food?
“While herbs can be introduced once you’re giving puréed meals, spices are best left
until your child is at least 1, particularly when you’re using something like hot chilli, which should be introduced at very low levels andblended into food with yogurt to keep it mild,” says nutritionist Nicole Berberian. “As with any food for babies, it’s best to start simply. Once you introduce herbs and spices, such as garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, only add one or two at a time so you know if your baby has any reactions to them,” Nicole adds.

… understand ‘no’?
“At around 8 months, your child will be able to understand the tone of your voice when you say ‘no’. By the age of 1 she’ll understand the word,” says Dr Jo Jones. “A child is like a sponge and if you consistently use a word, she’ll learn it. Understanding comes well before speech. Simple repetition of words associated with tone, for example when she throws her juice on the floor and you say ‘no’, will help her to learn,” she says.

… move into a big bed?
“There’s no ideal time, but if your child is somewhere between 14 months (with a bed close to the ground and a safety rail) and 3 years old, then just go with when it feels right for you,” says Wendy Dean, author of The Baby Sleep System. Keep your child’s bedtime routine the same and you should find the transition is pretty smooth.

Now she’s 2

… have playdates?
“Once children start pre-school, it’s good for their friendships and social development to have playdates. It helps them learn to be welcoming and share their house and toys,” says Siobhan Freegard, founder of netmums, and co-author of Toddling to Ten. Choose a selection of toys to start sharing (not too many or it’ll be confusing), and don’t include your tot’s favourite.

… put shoes on?
“At 2½ years of age, children can normally cope with Velcro straps, and once they reach 3 they can do up buckles. Many children are very keen to master these skills, so don’t be too ‘helpful’ or he could get lazy,” says Dr Jo Jones. And remember, your tot’s hands are going to be slower than yours, so if you know you need to leave the house at a certain hour, give your child time to get to grips with his shoes.

Now she’s 3

… go to the cinema?
“To check if your little one is ready for the cinema, try recreating the movies at home,” says Siobhan Freegard. “Hire a DVD, invite a couple of your children’s friends round, pull the sofa in front of the TV and close the curtains. If that proves a success, try one of the cheap Saturday morning screenings at your local cinema so you won’t feel you’ve wasted your money if it doesn’t work out.”

… ditch the buggy?
“There’s no set age when you should stop using a buggy, but most parents start to leave it at home at about 3 years old. When it comes to giving up the buggy, you need to consider how competent your child is at walking and how far you intend to walk when you go out, and then convert it into ‘toddler steps’, ” says paediatrician Deborah Zeitlin. “Remember, ‘little legs equal little steps’. Your toddler will be doing far more steps to cover the same distance as you and will tire much more quickly.”

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…choose her own clothes?
“If your child is running to the drawers and pulling out some clothes, it’s a sure sign that she’d like to pick her own outfit. It’s best to give her a choice of no more than three items,” says child psychologist Ruth Coppard.

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