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Talking is teaching

Learning about your child’s development

Here are some basic age-appropriate ways that you can set limits for your child:

Birth to 9 months old

  • Consistency is important. When parents respond consistently to their babies’ cries for loving attention or care, babies learn about the consequences of their actions and that when they need help, they’ll get it. Respond consistently to your baby’s cries, and make sure other caregivers are just as responsive.
  • Spend quality time with your baby. Talking, reading and singing with your baby every day helps build a trusting relationship with you, and promotes healthy brain growth.
  • Follow their lead. By watching your baby closely, you will learn what they are trying to tell you, and how to make them feel happy and secure.

9 months to 18 months old

  • Set consistent limits. Help your baby enter toddlerhood by encouraging their natural curiosity and providing safe objects and places they can explore. Routine is important for older babies, too, so provide consistent meal times and bedtimes.
  • Encourage independence. Older babies are interested in feeding themselves, and in crawling or walking around their environments. Be ready for them to make a mess with their food—these messes help them learn! Give them small bits of food they can play with and that clean up easily.

18 months to 24 months

  • Pick your battles. Toddlers at this age may want to do more things on their own, but may still need your help for some activities. Encourage them to try more things on their own, and reserve a firm but calm “no” for things that may be harmful.
  • Let them make safe choices. As toddlers learn how to communicate, they may be more interested in picking out their own clothes or food. Offer them “either/or” choices, so they feel more in control.
  • Tantrums are typical! Routines can help you avoid tantrums, but not all of them. Use diver- sion and play to distract toddlers from tantrums, or remove them quickly and calmly from the sit- uation until they can calm down. If possible, stay with your child during a tantrum and stay away from punishment—young toddlers learn how to manage their emotions better if you use the time after a tantrum to talk briefly about what hap- pened and how to calm down in the future.

24 months to 36 months

  • Encourage words to express feelings. Older toddlers are beginning to use more words, so you can take this opportunity to help your child find the words to express what they’re feeling and thinking.
  • Explain consequences. As your child gets older, you can help them think about the consequences of their actions so they can make better choices.
  • Keep meal times stress-free. Toddlers can be picky, and this can cause a lot of stress at meal times. Set simple rules about appropriate ways to act during meals, but let your child choose how much to eat.

Special thanks to Dr. Joshua Sparrow and the Brazelton Touchpoints Center for their guidance on these materials, and inspiring work on children’s development.

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