The Baby Whisperer – advice on toddlers: part one

New Shoots works closely with Dorothy, hosting workshops throughout the year where our parents can learn about her holistic approach to raising young children.

Dorothy Waide – aka The Baby Whisperer – is New Zealand’s leading baby sleep consultant. She is a Karitane Mothercraft nurse with over 30 years’ experience. She’s worked with some of Hollywood’s elite, is OHbaby!’s expert on sleep, and the author of two popular parenting books.

 She now runs BabyHelp, a consultancy service setting up new mums with the essential parenting skills they need.

New Shoots works closely with Dorothy, hosting workshops throughout the year where our parents can learn about her holistic approach to raising young children. Here, Dorothy explains all things toddlers to help you understand what your child is facing during this period of constant change.

Everything you need to know about toddlers during the day - The definition of toddler is derived from “to toddle,” which means to walk unsteadily, and is from around 12 months to three years. At this age, their social development is moving along in leaps and bounds and their cognitive development is amazing.

Twelve to 18 months is a great time. Your toddler will most likely be cruising upright, holding onto furniture and learning to walk. One moment they will be attached to you, wanting closeness, the next they will be off to play with something that caught their eye.

Around 18 months all of a sudden your great little eater may no longer be interested in their food, but do keep reintroducing different foods as their interest will return. They may also become independent in their eating habits; this is normal. Daytime naps may start to become an issue and it is probably time to either look at dropping one nap or, for some 18-month-olds, to drop naps altogether. In this case, I transition by cutting back by 15 to 30 minutes at a time and then eventually having quiet time for half an hour where they sit on their bed, snuggle with you and read books, or just chill out.

Two years is a fantastic age – I call it the “testy and territorial” age. It is often referred to as the terrible twos and we wonder, “How did we get here?” For a lot of two-year-olds this is a very frustrating time as they may not have the communication skills to voice what they want. This often results in your toddler biting, hitting and punching. It is important to remember to use positive parenting instead of negative parenting as we want to reward good behaviour not behaviour that is unacceptable.

Three years is the “threenager.” Yes, you thought it was all sorted then here comes the three-year-old. They are fiercely independent and anything you can do they can do better. They may start to mimic your comments back to you, so think about how you are parenting as they are not shy about telling you how it is.

Their verbal skills may enable them to string three to four words together and you will be able to understand about 80 percent of what they are telling you. Three-year-olds love to do things themselves, such as washing their hands or dressing themselves. And, yes, the colour co-ordination and choices will not match what you think is right but remember that this is only short lived. 

Safety is vitally important - I try to keep “no” and “stop” for safety issues. Overuse of the word “no” may cause behaviour issues as it is constantly used by adults and hardly ever carried through. In my eyes, it is better to ignore some of the behavioural issues that encourage us to use these words and to distract or change the subject instead. 

Daytime routines - A well-balanced routine will have a far better effect on the night-time routine than one that does not exist at all. In my experience, when working with toddlers regarding sleep patterns, I always start with their daytime routine and work forwards. A lot of sleep issues are about how we parent during the day, so until you carefully assess your toddler’s daytime routine, I would encourage parents not to embark on any night-time changes.

Consequences - It is essential you carry out your actions and follow through with the consequences. For example, when you say to your toddler, “if you do not do this, then we will not do that,” you can expect that nine out of 10 times the child will go ahead and do it anyway. It is at this point that the majority of parents fail to follow through, when in fact it is important to enforce the consequences associated with the child’s action. Otherwise, how else can you expect your child to understand the boundaries set by you, the parent?

Diet - A good daytime routine will ideally ensure that your child has the opportunity to eat healthy foods at regular intervals, no matter where you are or what you are doing. Diet plays an important role in establishing good sleep habits and it is essential to remember that toddlers need food before milk. If your toddler wakes during the night and their first meal of the day is milk, I suggest you remove the milk feed and replace it with breakfast. Yes, in the beginning breakfast may be a little early but over time you will be able to push this out to a more reasonable time.

Exercise - Exercise is important, so plan that into your day as well. How often do you hear a parent say, “They will sleep well tonight” after an afternoon spent running around in the park? Toddlers in particular can spend a significant part of the day in buggies and car seats. It is a good idea to be conscious of the exercise they get during the day and build in some active time. Activities for the whole family is a great way to get yourself and your toddler moving.

Nap routines - It is important to remember that no two toddlers are identical so naps will vary considerably, both in age and time frames. Toddlers between 15 and 18 months are often ready to go from two naps to one. From 18 months, some toddlers are ready to drop naps altogether and they may have been on one nap for some time. In my experience some can do this a little earlier – remember, they are all different. 

How do you know when your toddler is ready to transition? Some of the things I look for are a change in how they go down for naps: they tend to take longer and protest more, or they may take longer to fall asleep at night or start to wake earlier in the mornings. Yet others are content to stay on two naps and sleep all night.

Manipulation - Toddlers can manipulate you and will if they see manipulation being role modelled by adults. They like to push those boundaries and you should give them the room to do this but at the same time you pull in the boundaries when necessary. You are the parent, just like a teacher or CEO of a company – remember, someone needs to be at the head of the family unit.  

Want more help from the nation’s most renowned childhood experts?

Head over to Dorothy Waide’s website for helpful videos, tutorials and books all designed to support parents of babies and toddlers.

Or visit her Instagram and Facebook pages for positive parenting tips.

New Shoots and Dorothy regularly team up to host informative events for free with our community of parents and whanau. If you want to head along to our next event, let us know.