Is my toddler ready?

Get expert answers on your toddler’s readiness for potty training, playing with other kids, discipline, learning and more.

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You asked us: Is my toddler ready…

…to start potty-training
…to play with other kids
…to start talking
…to be disciplined when naughty
…to start learning ABCs and 123s
…to start learning responsibility
…to ditch his pacifier
…to throw or kick a ball
…to name pictures of animals or items
…to go to preschool
…to brush his teeth
…to have a pet in the house

Expert: Umberto Cellupica is a paediatrician with a community practice in Maple, Ont. He is also a staff paediatrician at York Central Hospital in Richmond Hill.

…to start potty-training
After a couple years of poopy diapers you’re probably eager for your tot to start using the toilet, but it’s best to have a good idea that she’s ready before you start training. “The first sign that your child is ready is usually when she can tell you that she is urinating or has a dirty diaper,” says Cellupica. You might notice that your child is showing an interest in the potty. “The best approach is to introduce it in a very casual manner and encourage her to sit on the potty for short periods of time without any other expectation. If your toddler puts up a fight, she’s not ready and persisting in attempts to toilet-train could actually be counterproductive,” he says.

…to play with other kids
“Children play in parallel to one another until about two years of age. Prior to age two, pretend play involves imitating adults and other children. Between two and three, pretend play becomes more involved and more social.” It’s around this age when you’ll notice that your child is truly showing an interest in other kids his age. If your toddler doesn’t have a sibling or other kids around him, get him involved in a play group or music class so he can interact with his peers. “Giving your toddler a chance to play with other children is really important for his social and language development,” Cellupica says.
…to start talking
You’ve likely heard a lot of unrecognizable babble coming from your tot. “Most toddlers begin attempting words around their first birthday, says Cellupica. Words like “Dada” and “Hi!” are typical first words. The best way to encourage your child to expand her vocabulary is to spend lots of time talking to her. “Word-based play like nursery rhymes and singing are also important. Encourage your child to flip through books and begin reading to her as soon as she shows enough patience to sit and listen for a few minutes.”

…to be disciplined when naughty
If you catch your tot in the act doing something she’s not supposed to, it’s your job to teach her how to behave rather than punish her, Cellupica says. “Keep your expectations for her behaviour realistic and your requests short and clear, since your toddler is still learning language.” Children in this age group usually don’t respond well to your attempts at reasoning. “Use the idea of natural consequences to teach your child. For example, if she writes with crayon on the wall, have her help with cleaning up the mess.”

…to start learning ABCs and 123s
You can start exposing your child to numbers and letters as early as you want. Most kids start learning to count and say the alphabet around two to three years old. Cellupica suggests using wooden puzzles to introduce these concepts.

…to start learning responsibility (cleaning up toys, for example)
Kids love imitating Mom and Dad so include them in household tasks, such as tidying up their toys. “Build tidy-up time into your toddler’s daily routine and encourage her to clean up her toys when playtime is done. Your best chance of success is to do it together, rather than having your toddler clean up on her own,” Cellupica says.
…to ditch his pacifier
If you’re not met with too much resistance, start weaning your tot as early as possible. Most doctors recommend taking suckies away between 18 and 24 months; use of the pacifier beyond age two can result in problems with tooth and jaw alignment. “Soothers can also discourage children from experimenting with words and sounds,” Cellupica says, “Also, they often become contaminated with germs when kids place their soother down on unclean surfaces.” If she hasn’t shown signs of weaning by 18 months, slowly try to take it away (don’t let her have it as much as you did before) and she’ll eventually stop depending on it.

…to throw or kick a ball
Most kids learn to throw overhead and kick a ball between two and three years old. Before you start planning your little guy’s career as a pro soccer player, he has to feel comfortable running and with his balance before he can kick a ball well. “Practising with throwing and kicking is a great way to encourage motor development and it also gives kids incentive to play interactively with others,” says Cellupica.

…to name pictures of animals or items
Ask your child to point to a picture of a cow in her favourite board book at 12 to 24 months and she’ll do it; They learn the names of many common objects, shapes and animals between one and two years of age, Cellupica says. Encourage her to look at books and pictures with you and tell her the names of things she points to. Be sure to shower her with praise when she tries to say new words. (Even if “cow” sounds like “ow.”)
…to go to preschool
Whether your decision to send your tot to preschool (either a daycare centre or Montessori school) stems from your need to go back to work or because you want to get them ready for school nice and early, there isn’t a specific time for kids to start school. “There are many benefits to starting daycare or preschool earlier such as exposure to other children, which will improve language development and social skills, as well as teaching children about routines, discipline and early academic skills,” Cellupica says.

For those who don’t send their children to preschool, parents can still offer their kids lots of opportunities to socialize and learn by taking them to programs at community centres, libraries and government-sponsored classes or groups.

…to brush his teeth
Cellupica says the right time to start brushing your child’s teeth and gums is when his teeth errupt, which is often before 12 months. If you haven’t been brushing as much as you should (at least once each day), remember to give them a good cleaning at least once each day (preferably after his nighttime bottle, drink or snack).

…to have a pet in the house
There are no medical reasons why you shouldn’t introduce a pet to your toddler. If your child isn’t used to dogs or cats, for example, don’t leave him unattended and teach him how to be gentle. (If you have a new pet or one that isn’t used to kids, you might want to think about obedience classes.) Be sure to read up on reptiles; some carry salmonella.

*Please note that the information provided should be used a guideline. If you’re concerned about a something specific always consult your family doctor or paediatrician.

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