By 13 months most children are starting to take their first steps alone, and even late starters should be on their way not much later than 18 months. But from whatever time the child acquires the ability to move about in an upright position, she is likely to be in almost perpetual motion … it is an intensely physical stage. She needs the opportunity to move in space, to climb, to manipulate. Changing a nappy requires a contortionists skill as she wriggles and kicks and rolls away…
You will have to out-manoeuvre her by using tactical ploys. Keep a few tempting toys or even a bell near her nappy pile and whisk one out as you start changing her – it should keep her relatively immobile for a few minutes – then put the toy away until next time.
Pent-up physical energy, especially in boys, needs to be expended. If you do not have the space at home, take a trip to the park and let your child run loose. It is also a chance for you to get to know other mothers in your position, exchange ideas and make sympathetic noises. Informal meetings like these have been the start of successful groups that have given housebound mothers the opportunity to enjoy adult company and get a break from the demands of motherhood.
During the first half of the second year your baby will still spend a lot of time examining things although she will not always automatically put them into her mouth as she did in the first year.
For healthy development at this stage a child needs the opportunity to explore her environment. She needs to touch and take apart and manipulate. She needs as free a rein as possible and should not be trapped in a playpen or other confined space. To keep her occupied while you work in the kitchen, empty a low cupboard and stock it with the kind of play materials children relish: plastic containers of various sizes, to stack into each other, boxes to pile up in towers, beans to rattle in a tightly closed tin or plastic jar, a bunch of old keys, a tin with shapes cut out of the lid and things to drop through – anything and everything as long as it is not dangerous. Expensive equipment is the last thing your baby needs. Pots and pans are far more informative and fun. But you are still her best educational toy. Talk to your baby.
Give her things to feel: a piece of ice, a ball of wool, the roughness of sandpaper. Describe what they are, then play a game asking her to show you what is soft, or blue, or cold or whatever you have been explaining.
Remember it is a game and that your baby will have an attention span of only a few minutes. It is not a test and if you cannot do it in a relaxed way, leave it alone.
You can buy her a cloth book or one with stiff cardboard s and clear pictures. Or you can make a book out of felt, sewing brightly coloured shapes such as circles, triangles, squares, fruit or anything simple onto the s: join them by stitching down one side.
Water play is always a great favourite, especially from a year onwards. Even if you do not have a garden you can probably find a suitable place to put a basin of water with a few kitchen utensils for pouring.
For outings with your child when you will have to spend time waiting, for instance, a visit to the doctors surgery or hospital clinic, a doll, a car, a few blocks, a light ball, a book or any other plaything your child enjoys, can be a boon.
Besides her newly acquired mobility and her physical discovery of the world around her, the toddler has to learn to cope with the social structure of civilised living.
She is no longer the helpless centre of her universe; she has become a separate entity, a transition that is both fascinating and frightening. How she finds her place in the new world depends a good deal on her inner resources and on the guidance she gets.
Her mother, or her primary caretaker, has the task of helping her find the order of things in her new situation, as she alternates between asserting independence and clinging to the security of babyhood. Sadly, some children never resolve the conflicts of this stage adequately but carry them into adulthood, with unhappy consequences for themselves and others. To help bring order into this state of flux she needs a steady, unambiguous source of security and guidance.
A crisis point in this period usually arises when the child starts to assert her will. Suddenly she seems to want her own way all the time, no matter how unreasonable her desire. Tantrums and negative behaviour could shake your confidence and confuse you.
If you take the heavy-handed Im the boss and youll do as I say approach at this stage, backing it up with force whenever you have a clash of wills you may eventually get your child to submit through fear. But one of the things wrong with this approach is that she will eventually grow too big for you to exert your physical influence over her to any effect; and more importantly, she will not develop a healthy self-image, or believe that she can control her own behaviour without fear of punishment. After all, it is self-control you are trying to teach her, not merely that she can be controlled by someone else.
Should your child then be allowed to do as she pleases in the hope that she will eventually resolve her conflicts and learn acceptable behaviour? Certainly not; this would be an abdication of your moral duty and a grave disservice to her.
Whatever happens, you are the final authority in her life, and she should know that no matter how the skirmishes go, you are ultimately in control.
Her behaviour may appear to contradict it, but a little child is terribly afraid that the whole world will go out of control when she does. She needs to know that your are there to put it all together again – that you may reject her behaviour but you are not rejecting her and never will.
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