17 month olds are combining several skills together to accomplish a task and learning words for sensations and feelings. Watching him do more and more complex tasks reminds us our child is really learning and growing up fast.
What Your Toddler is Learning
He is now able to combine skills like climbing up on a chair, turning around, and facing forward. Squatting down, playing with a toy for a minute or so, popping up and running to the next toy is a complex series of skills he does successfully many times a day now.
17 months olds love to climb: climb steps, climb on chairs and tables, climb out of the crib, and even climb up on kitchen counters. Your challenge is to give him lots of opportunities to practice and yet to keep him from danger. Things that were out of reach just a few weeks ago are no longer safe from your toddler’s reach.
Another skill he will be honing is balancing. Walking on the edge of the curb or balancing on a log will help him become even steadier on his feet. He may enjoy hopping, but will probably need to hold your hand while he tries to hop on one foot.
He is no longer just doing single actions over and over, like pushing a button or throwing food off his tray. He is combining several actions to accomplish a goal. Fine motor skills involve precise thumb and finger motions, hand and wrist actions, and hand-eye co-ordination. These are vital skills necessary to developing mentally as well as physically. Knowing what can be done with blocks, planning the action, and stacking them develop mental skills along with fine motor skills. Scribbling and coloring help develop the fingers, thumb, and wrists for writing.
Many 17 month olds have stopped taking a morning nap. They usually sleep about 11 hours at night and take a day time nap of about 2– 2 1/2 hours. You’ll know that he is getting enough sleep if you do not have to wake him in the morning. If he always falls asleep in his car seat or become overly cranky and irritable during the day, he may not be getting enough sleep.
Although his vocabulary is still quite limited and he gets frustrated when he tries to let you know what he wants, he is getting easier to understand as he combines a word or two with pointing.
He is combining words with actions, feelings, and the senses. Call his attention to the sounds that accompany the sights he sees and give him the vocabulary necessary to express these events. The crib rail squeaks and thuds, the telephone rings, and footsteps announced Daddy’s arrival.
Label sensations as well as actions or sounds. The cat is soft, the dog’s bark is loud, the apple is sweet, the snow is cold, and a kiss is tender. Use correct pronunciations, don’t copy and repeat his infant attempts at speech.
He loves imitating the people around him. He wants to help you vacuum or shop or fold clothes or cook. He learns by imitating, but he is too small to do many of the things you do. Finding some part of the job that he can learn to do, or giving him child-size toys of the things you use helps him learn new skills. Letting him “help” you and thanking him for his help will go a long way to his co-operating by doing chores later on.
Independence is his goal. He wants to be able to dress and undress himself. Undressing is easier and by the end of this month he should be able to do it all by himself. It will be a while longer before he can dress all by himself. Tell him, “You pull it off.” When he succeeds, be ready to say, “Give it to Mommy. Thank you.” He is learning about his clothes, on and off, balance while doing another task, and about neatness and politeness.
Self-assertion is increasing. He has a mind of his own and he tries hard to communicate just how he wants things to go. Frustration at not being able to communicate his desires or not getting what he wants may take the form of negative behavior or resistance to what you want. Desiring to do a job by himself can lead to tantrums too. When it is safe, let him try a task, even if you are quite sure he cannot do it alone, then be ready to help when he needs and wants help.
His new self-assertion may lead him to begin some new rituals. He may start some bedtime or bath time rituals all his own. He may want his toys arranged in a certain way before he will fall asleep, or his food served only in a certain bowl. Self-assertion is normal, he is not being rebellious.
Ways You Can Help
Independence and Eating
He should be able to feed himself finger foods and use a spoon. Now is the time to encourage him to do it all by himself. He will still make quite a mess and still be quite opinionated about what food he wants to eat, but don’t let mealtime become a battle of wills. Some toddlers enjoy feeding themselves foods they like to eat. They may tolerate parents feeding them foods they don’t prefer.
Don’t allow this, though, since this will cause trouble when he suddenly decides he won’t eat any food you are feeding him. It is better for him to feed himself all he is eating. Then he can choose to eat new foods without it being a tug-or-war with mom.
He will probably reject certain foods. When he rejects a food or milk, don’t force it on him, just take it away. Because every time he says “no” his determination becomes stronger. Your pushing foods he rejects, may turn a temporary rejection into a permanent dislike. Accept his preferences and then in a few weeks try again. When looked at over a week or so, his choices will be a well-balanced diet.
He may drink less milk, but a pint a day in any form is adequate. Cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt all count toward his total milk intake. If he should take less than a pint of milk or milk products a day for more than a month, report this to his doctor.
Foods that require lots of chewing build the same tongue, lips, and jaw muscles necessary for good speech. Food texture, rather than taste or smell, will more often affect his choices of foods now.
Parent’s Role in Teaching
Your toddler’s struggle for independence and mastery of skills and language can be a confusing time for parents. How much should I help? How much should I make him do himself? What is good enough? If I don’t expect better from him, will he only be average or mediocre? Urge him to do all that you know he can do. Help him do what he is learning, and do for him what he is not yet ready to do. That sounds easy, but the lines marking these steps shift from day-to-day. Sometimes you will help too much and other times you will try to make him do better to the point of frustration. Applaud his success in part of the job until he can do the whole job and then applaud his success in doing the whole job by himself.
With speech, he needs to be learning to ask for what he wants. If you anticipate his needs and wants without him working to express himself, he will be lazy about learning to speak. On the other hand, if you expect him to pronounce the words perfectly before you meet his request, he may feel insecure about even trying or he will have tantrums out of frustration. Let him be his age. Accept less than perfect pronunciation. You will have a happy little talker in no time at all.
There are skills you can be working on now that will help your toddler in preparation for learning to read. He needs to become aware of his body and its relationship to other objects in space. Learning to undress and dress himself is a step in the right direction. Learning to name the parts of his body and pointing to those parts on a picture or other person is another step. Learning up and down also helps. Another part of reading readiness is knowing there is a time order. Teaching the concepts of before, now, and later are also necessary for reading. Being held and read to creates a hunger to learn to read. Keep up the good work you are doing in reading and talking to your toddler!
This is a time to begin getting your toddler to sort things by color, shape, size, and type. You’ve probably already been using a shape sorter toy. Work on color recognition and sorting by color. Talk about the shapes, colors, and sizes of the toys he plays with.
You can extend his sorting ability during clean-up time. He may be able to begin putting his toys away by type. Say, “Pick up the balls.” “Now find all the animals.” “Where are all your trucks.”
Listening is a vital skill for learning. Toddlers need to learn how to listen. It is not a skill that comes automatically. If your toddler doesn’t feel like he has your attention, he may just act like he doesn’t hear you to get your attention. He’s probably learned already that this is one way to get you to notice him. Unfortunately that usually ends in frustration for both of you.
Never use the tactic of counting to get his obedience. Saying, “You better sit down before I count to three, one, two. . .” He will not be trained to listen to you and obey, but to wait until you get to “three” to obey. Other parents don’t count, but they repeat the order several times, increasing in volume or pitch. Toddlers soon learn at what volume or pitch they must obey or suffer consequences.
So how do you teach your child to listen? There are four simple steps to begin.
- First, look him directly in the eye. That means getting on his level. It is very hard for your child not to pay attention and know you mean business when you look directly in their eyes.
- Second, touch him. Touch communicates your personal involvement and adds importance to what you say.
- Third, speak simply. Use as few words as possible to communicate your desires. Make sure they are words he understands. Don’t ask a question or give him a choice about things you want him to do or not to do.
- And finally, gesture. Pointing at the same time you speak makes your words more understandable. Point to these toys then at that box when you say, “Put these toys in that box.” There are lots of other ways to increase the likelihood of his obedience and from time to time, we will return to this topic.
What to Expect Next
- Able to sort toys by color, size, and shape
- Brushes teeth with help
- Stacks four blocks
Heavenly Father, it is so amazing to watch our little one learn to combine skills and find ways to express feelings and sensations. Give me words to thank and worship You. Help me teach my child how to talk to You too. In Jesus’ name, Amen