Photography by Nicole Duplantis/Clothing provided by babyGap and Joe Fresh
Thud! Shriek! And then a pause. Wait, why is it so quiet over there? Whoa, that is a lot of unrolled toilet paper in the hall. Toddler life is noisy, busy and jam-packed—all good things when you have a 20-month-old. They are living large, trying everything out and exploring whatever they can reach. For parents, it’s a simultaneously cool and exhausting stage as you both see the world through your toddler’s eyes (it’s totally fun to drop rocks in puddles) and try to keep them in one piece and out of harm’s way (is that a rock in their mouth?). When downtime rolls around, the snuggles are all the sweeter for it.
At this age, your toddler continues to explore all their very interesting new abilities, with lots of walking and running (wide open spaces and hallways are special faves), climbing, dancing and more. They can start to climb both up and down stairs, although going up might be a little smoother. Standing on one foot for a second or two is another killer new skill.
As they become more self-aware, they can now recognize themselves in the mirror or in pictures. You’ll start to notice more imaginative play as your toddler creates their own little world, whipping up a meal of watermelon and crayons at the play kitchen, banging away with a plastic hammer to build a castle or pretending to talk on the phone. Chores can morph into playtime, too, so put your little helper to work by handing them some spoons to put in the dishwasher or making a game of chucking laundry in the basket. Shape-sorter toys are often a big hit as your toddler figures out how to match and sort objects. Big, chunky crayons and large paintbrushes are good ways to help them explore their artistic side.
Sometimes it will feel like your toddler is adding a new word to their vocabulary every day and other times they will suddenly leap forward with a bunch of stuff you’ve never heard before, but they will still use body language, like pointing and nodding, to get their point across, too. When you hang out together, pay attention to naming what you see around you or providing a bit of running commentary (“That’s our blue car,” “Now we put soap on the washcloth,” “What’s in the box?”). This helps your babe continue to develop those mad language skills. They have an increasingly vivid memory, too, and will start to realize that this is dad’s hat or remember that the stove is hot (but it doesn’t hurt to repeat that last one over and over again!).
Occasional anxiety about, hey, you name it is totally normal in toddlers. Maybe they don’t like the sound of the toilet flushing at a particular restaurant, or they’re scared of dogs, or they’ve had a bad dream about a snake. This anxiety is a developmental sign that they’re becoming more aware of their surroundings and their place in the world. You can help settle them down by acknowledging how they feel (“That big noise surprised you, didn’t it?”) and then using play to work through their fears (“What kinds of noises should we make?”).
Your toddler’s “no” phase may be just kicking in or still going strong. Even when you know that this is the job description for toddlers and part of learning about limits, it can be completely frustrating to hear a screeched “No, no, no!” when it’s time to leave the playground. Try pausing to de-escalate the situation, not bargaining or arguing. Just let them say no and, a few minutes later, get ready to head out—that small break may be all you both need.
Another way that your toddler messes with you—unintentionally, of course—is by behaving one way at daycare or at a caregiver’s house (usually like a helpful cooperative angel) and acting another way, like a wailing, flailing hurricane, at home. This is actually good news because it means they feel totally secure in your love and are comfortable letting loose. Think of it from their point of view: It can be so, so hard to follow all the expectations and deal with those other little people and such a relief to get to the safe haven of home. Plus, daycare environments are 100 percent designed for them and almost everything is accessible and hands-on, which isn’t the case at home, stores or other places in the world. You get to walk the line between not putting up with bad behaviour (kicking and hitting you in a tantrum is not OK) and finding a way to help them transition to home, whether that’s letting off steam by running up and down the hallway or taking some time for quiet play together before you launch into the dinnertime routine.
Meals continue to be a kind of choose-your-own-adventure. Sometimes your toddler will want everything the same and other times be randomly open to trying something new. Or their appetite will be 10 one day and minus two the next. Remember to keep offering different foods and textures regularly so you won’t get in a rut, even if 90 percent of that food ends up on their shirt or the floor. Baked beans, small pieces of melon and papaya, casseroles and rice cakes are good toddler foods to try out. Finger foods, which let them feed themselves, are still the way to go. If there’s a particular category of food your kid isn’t down with, get them involved in the prep—they can stir the dip for their veggies or use a little fork to choose which cubes of chicken go on their plate. And, though it may be messy, kids this age can drink from a small cup at meals rather than a sippy cup, which doesn’t encourage the right combo of tongue, lip and mouth movements that kids need to learn to drink. (Drinking from a regular cup is also better for their teeth and they’re less likely to overdrink, which allows more room for nutritious foods.) A cup with a built-in, fold-down straw works well when you’re on the go.
Sleep is still a super-important element of your life these days. (Consider the toddler who misses their nap. Not. Good.) Sleeping 11 to 14 hours a day, including daytime naps, is pretty standard. If your toddler is still heading to bed with a bottle, well, it’s definitely time to get brave and change that habit. Snacking on milk before bed (after brushing their teeth) and during the night can add up to dental issues, like tooth decay or an overbite where the front teeth won’t come together properly. Plus, kids who need a bottle to sleep are likely to demand it when they wake up at night. You have a few options: Gradually dilute the milk with water, replace the bottle with a sippy cup and water or (eek) go cold turkey and toss all the bottles in your house.
You and your BFF have been through a lot together (that tequila bar, bad breakups, YOLO road trips), but will you survive different parenting styles? The choices we make about food, health, sleep, discipline and more are really personal at times, and the blowback that comes when the ones we love don’t agree can be intense. Plus, it can be hard spending time with a family whose vibe doesn’t complement yours. Mutual respect is key, of course, and silently chanting “her choices are not my choices” can go a long way, too. Or, try skipping the playdates and instead get together for a kid-free movie or meal so you can reconnect and remember why you were friends in the first place.
Your toddler speaks their own language at times, right? (Remember when you discovered what a “gunky” was?!) Have you thought about having your toddler learn an actual other language? Since kids this age have such incredible, fast-growing literacy and speech skills, many parents find that it’s the perfect time to add another language to the mix. Sometimes that means speaking to your babe in a language you or your partner already know, right from day one; other times, it’s more formal, like having a bilingual caregiver or opting for a daycare that offers early second-language education in Mandarin or French.
Every family has an easy go-to meal that everyone will eat. If yours happens to be mac-and-cheese (or you want it to be), here are three yummy versions to break away from the box and boost the nutrition with kale, chickpeas, chicken or squash.