Looking after an 18-month-old is a full-time job… and then some. Between the sleepless nights, hectic day-time routines and never-ending cleaning up, you may start to doubt your parenting abilities. However, the truth is you’re doing an incredible job.
Boosting your little one’s development doesn’t have to take a massive overhaul on your part. Instead, you can help them through ordinary routines (that you’re probably already doing right now!). Let’s take a look at some of the tips you can use along the way.
When your baby wakes up, the first few moments are crucial. These set the tone for the rest of the day, and so it’s important to give your child some attention and show them that they are supported. Kick things off by getting them up, hugging them and talking to them.
At 18 months, most children will have some basic vocabulary skills, which means that you can engage with your little one. You might want to ask them how they slept, or whether they are hungry yet. Don’t press too hard with these questions and don’t worry if you don’t get a reply. The point is that you’re placing the emphasis on your child and their needs.
The next big task of the day is feeding. Your little one will be hungry after a night of sleep, which means that you’ll want to get on cooking as soon as possible. It’s likely that your child has grown out of baby food now, which means you can experiment with foods.
Why not try out a range of flavours and subtle ingredients with your 18-month old. For example, you could whip up some scrambled eggs, porridge, mashed avocado, toast and butter, or even yogurt and fruit. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
If your child has already learnt to use a spoon or fork, you can let them eat by themselves (with supervision, of course!). Ensure that you are ready to step in and clean up any mess that they make. And, yes, they will make a lot of mess!
It may also be time to ditch the trusty bottle. “It’s a good idea to stop using bottles at this stage and to let your baby drink out of a cup,” says the New Parent’s Support (NCT) website. “They might find the habit harder to break later on.”
Top tip: Avoid ‘low-fat’ products, such as skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. Your baby needs healthy fats to support their growth so opt for full-fat, where possible.
Let’s run off some energy. By 18 months, most children have started to walk. That means play time just got a whole lot more fun! Your little one will naturally start to explore their environment, which means climbing on furniture, throwing things, and toddling around.
It’s your job to help them along the way and find activities that suit them. “Toddlers at this age are constantly on the move, so try and channel some of that energy into kicking around a soft ball or climbing onto a ride-on toy car or horse,” says NCT. Try to mix things up and play different games on a regular basis. It’s important to interact with your child and help support their learning and development.
To get you started, here are some play time tips and ideas you can try:
Create a (soft play!) obstacle course
Sort pom-poms by colour
Have a supervised painting session
Play musical statues together
Throw soft balls in a bucket
Play ‘Simon says’ together
Try counting on your fingers
Sing an easy song for your child
Go wild with some building blocks
Needless to say, play time is a chance for your baby to start learning new things. Before deciding on a game to play, consider how it will help your child’s development. For instance, counting on your fingers will start to introduce your little one to basic numbers. On the other hand, throwing soft balls will start to develop their hand-eye coordination.
Your baby will need to refuel after all that running around and playing. Naturally, lunch time is early for an 18-month-old, since they will likely need a nap at around noon. That works out well for you as you can have your meal while they are sleeping later.
Again, you can experiment with a variety of ingredients and dishes. Now that your child can manage solid foods, it’s time to start sharing some interesting flavours with them. The NHS suggests the following meals for babies and toddlers:
Beans (reduced salt and sugar, if possible) on toast
Lamb curry with rice
Cauliflower cheese and cooked pasta
Scrambled egg with toast
Of course, these are just ideas. If you’re a whiz in the kitchen, there are plenty of baby-friendly dishes you can make. Simply make sure that you don’t add salt or sugar when you’re cooking. You should also create soft meals that are easy to chew.
As your baby’s language skills are developing, why not take the time to play some word games. “Some toddlers begin putting two words together at this age and making simple sentences like ‘new shoes’ or ‘teddy gone’,” says the advice from NCT.
Lean into the phrases that your child has already learnt. For example, you could play a quick game with their teddy bear, hiding it and then bring it back into sight. When you move the teddy behind your back, say ‘teddy gone’ and as you bring it back, say ‘teddy here’. Encourage your child to say the words with you.
Alternatively, you could start introducing some new words into your baby’s vocabulary. Why not get some animal picture cards and play with them? When you show them each animal, say what it is and ask them to repeat it. Your baby may not get the hang of it right away, but you should never underestimate the power of this type of listen-and-repeat activity.
Sleep is important for your little one. After the age of 18 months, babies sleep for between 12 and 10 hours per day. Chances are, aside from sleeping better throughout the night, your baby will still need to have a long nap during the day. This is the perfect opportunity for you to get some much-needed rest and have a quick break. After lunch, set them down for a nap in a quiet room. You should ensure that this sleep is no longer than two hours, or it may interrupt their nighttime sleep.
Of course, if your baby is resisting naps completely (and even struggling to sleep at night), they may be experiencing sleep regressions. There are plenty of reasons that these occur so don’t panic. Read our guide to understanding sleep regressions here.
When the day is over, it’s time to set your baby down for a night of (hopefully) rested sleep. After you have bathed your little one and got them into bed for the night, take 5-10 minutes to read to them. Spending quality time with your child will promote bonding.
It doesn’t end there. The more you read to your baby in these early years, the better their vocabulary will be. Research from Ohio State University suggests that toddlers who are read to at home have a much-wider vocabulary than those who are not. Getting into this habit sooner rather than later is a savvy move for your child’s development.
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