Curiosity and dawdling over small things is typical 21 month behavior. Instead of being frustrated by it, plan extra time to get where you need to go and spend the extra time teaching your toddler about the things that stop him in his tracks and fascinate him.
What Your Toddler is Learning
Getting around using wheels is intensely interesting to 21 month olds. Many have been using little “trikes” without pedals for a while now. He is using his legs alternately to push his trike fast and with a little encouragement from you, he will be able to ride his trike while you take a short walk with him around your neighborhood. He loves being pulled in a wagon too.
He is not just aware of a wet or dirty diaper, he is now aware that he is urinating or having a bowel movement. Some 21 month olds will use one word for both urinating and bowel movements. It is common to notice an increase in frequency of urination at this age. You may be able to recognize that he is about to eliminate when he crouches down or hides somewhere. He is probably not yet able to wait to get on a toilet, even if he realizes what is happening. Don’t push potty training. When he is ready, he will potty train very quickly.
He should be able to take off his clothes by himself now and put on loose clothing. It will probably be another few months before he can put on a T-shirt by himself, though. He should be able to brush his teeth with help. It is time to help him learn to wash his hands—an important skill to have by the time he is potty trained.
He is gaining the whole arm coordination that allows him to roll or throw a ball. This skill starts with rolling and catching a ball. Bouncing a ball comes next, then throwing underhand. Start with rolling a ball which is far less threatening than having something fly at his face or body. Use soft, spongy balls or beanbags. He may begin showing a preference for being right or left handed. Do not try to change his natural preference. Don’t worry, though, if he still doesn’t show a preference, some children don’t seem to prefer one hand over the other until much later.
He is making spontaneous word combinations combined with gestures for emphasis. His language is still very self-centered.
Everything involves himself, what he wants, what he needs, and what he sees. He can probably name most of his body parts and even point to the same parts on a doll. He still isn’t using the word “my” or “I.” Instead he may use his name or even “you.” He is now using the word “yes” correctly. Until now, “no” seemed to be the only word he used.
His vocabulary is growing so rapidly, that it may be difficult to understand many of his new words. He will probably be switching or substituting consonants or even syllables. Do not insist that he repeat a word correctly since it is rarely effective anyway. Many of these new words will straighten out soon without your prompting.
Hearing has much to do with speech. If your child has had many ear infections, he may not have been hearing well enough to learn to speak clearly. When the ears are blocked with fluid, they hear one way, and when their ears are healthy, they hear the same words another way. This is confusing and will slow language learning. Since the period between 21 and 24 months is one of rapid language learning, take special care to prevent or treat ear infections. Call your doctor immediately if you suspect an ear infection.
At 21 months toddlers are beginning to use deductive reasoning. Until recently, he has only been using inductive reasoning. He had to try something over and over to form a general concept. Now, without testing he can combine two concepts and come to a conclusion. For example: when he wants to climb up, he will move a chair to help him climb higher. He has had to combine the idea of climbing and bringing a chair from another location to aid his climb. The more opportunities he has had to test his concepts, the easier it is for him to combine them and generalize from them in new situations.
His concept of cause and effect is much keener now too. He can link a cause and effect that happens at a later time. He can also look at something that happened and guess the cause. After bread is put in the toaster, it is too hot to eat for a few minutes. He cannot see Daddy, but he hears water splashing and guesses, “Daddy bath.”
As he develops his self identity, he will express more feelings. Sometimes he will have words, but many times he will use negative behavior. Help him deal with these feelings. Let him know you understand why he is feeling angry or sad or afraid and give him words he can use in the future. When a friend hits him and he comes crying. Tell him, “You are angry because Jimmy hit you.” Cuddle him a moment and he will be back playing with his friend quickly. Learning how to acknowledge and deal with emotions is a major step toward building healthy relationships.
When shown pictures of familiar people, such as grandparents and close friends, he should recognize their faces and may even say their names. As he becomes more aware of others, he will be more willing to share toys better.
Ways You Can Help
He wants things just the way he wants them. Having a set routine and times for getting up, napping, eating, and bedtime will help minimize meltdowns. If he knows what to expect, he will probably resist less often because he feels secure and in control. As much as possible, respect his preferences and give in on things that really don’t matter. When there is a behavior that is serious, it will be easier to make him understand that for this he has no choice. Holding your hand when walking across the street is a non-negotiable.
Attention to details
Tiny things are the objects of his attention these days. Play I Spy with My Little Eye to call his attention to things around him. Play the simplest version of this game. “I spy with my little eye, a black kitty cat. Can you find the black kitty cat?” Let him take you for a walk and let him show you things he finds interesting.
He will especially enjoy books with many small items in the pictures. Ask him to find increasingly small details on the pages. Multi-sensory books with plenty of opportunities to see, feel and talk about things are also good choices now.
This is a wonderful game to play to help your toddler see relationships between separate ideas. When you lay out his clothes for the day, omit one garment. See if he can figure out what is missing. If he doesn’t know just by looking, lay the clothes out just as they would be worn. He should then be able to see what is missing. Try this with the table setting or parts of favorite toys. When you run out of toilet paper, does he know where to find more?
Show him a coin in your palm. Cover your hand and slip the coin between your fingers. Show him your empty palms. Can he find the coin? He is now ready for big wooden puzzles with two or three pieces.
Silly Rhymes and Finger Plays:
It is time to teach him Itsy Bitsy Spider. He will be able to do the actions for lots of rhymes now. For lots of suggested rhymes and finger plays, visit: Songs for Teaching
Personality is the key
Your child’s personality is showing itself more all the time. Your brave, fearless adventurer needs to know there are limits and you have the final word on how far he can explore. You need to know you have the authority and you have the right to have him stop when you say so. If you are convinced, he will obey you much more easily.
But if your child is the more timid type, you need to be ready with words of encouragement for any effort he makes. Patience, a loving pat, and a proud look on your face when he tries will urge him to try again and to try other new things. Giving him time to gain confidence will go a long way to preparing him to strike out on his own.
Crib to Bed
Moving your growing toddler from his crib to a bed is an important transition. So many factors can play a role in deciding when to make the switch. The timing should be based on your child’s readiness, not your need to get him out of the crib. A new baby’s arrival is often the reason parents think about making the switch. Since most children make the change between 18 months and three years, you may be considering moving him sooner than later. At 21 months, he still may not be ready for the big move. Your new baby will probably use a bassinet for the first few months. You may find it better to wait until the newness of having a little brother or sister has worn off and you really need the crib for your new baby.
Finding your toddler climbing out of his crib may have scared you into thinking about making the change. Before you make a panic move, lower his mattress as far as possible and remove anything from inside that he can use to climb on to help his escape. Consider a crib tent if he continues to attempt to climb out. Remember, if he is climbing out of his crib, he will likely climb out of his big kid bed too.
When you decide to move him to a bed, here are some ideas to ease the transition:
- Put the bed where his crib used to be and let him sleep with his old blanket or toys.
- Talk up the big move for a week or so to help him see it as a good thing.
- Be sure to use guard rails on the new bed to help him adjust to the idea that it has boundaries, even if they are quite different from his crib sides.
Hanging onto Babyhood
Some toddlers are inseparable from their blanket or teddy bear. This is not a bad thing. They have bonded with their comforter. Forming attachments is essential for emotional development as they are providing a safe base from which to explore their world.
You may allow him to have his blanket in his bed and in the car, but not in the store where it could get lost. Tell him the bear or blanket will be right there whenever he comes back. Knowing the rules, he will get used to following them. This allows him to have the comfort this attachment brings without the possibility of sudden loss.
He may regress to wanting a bottle or your undivided attention. He may need some extra reassurance if he has experienced something frightening or with the arrival of a new baby. Allow him a time of extra pampering and he will probably be quick to decide being a big boy is more fun. It shouldn’t persist very long.
Talk to your Pediatrician if:
- Your child does not use at least 5 words or has seemed to lose speech he had before
- Your child shows no interest in doing things for himself
- Your child has a ferocious attachment to baby behaviors
What to Expect Next
- Can walk down stairs
- Follows a two-step request like, “pick up your book and bring it to me.”
- Kicks a ball forward
Dealing with Fears
Your 21 month old can hold images in his mind, like remembering what Grandma looks like. He can imagine what is happening even if it is hidden from him, like that the cat is playing in another room. He cannot tell the difference between real and imaginary at this age, and so he can also imagine all kinds of things that might hurt him.
When your little one screams in terror or holds you in a death grip, the way you handle his fear will make all the difference. If you see what he’s afraid of, like a spider, and start screaming and running away, you can be sure he will be convinced that spiders are really terrifying.
The best thing you can do is to stay calm and use words to let him know you understand. “I know you don’t like spiders. I’ll get this one away.” Some bugs really can hurt, so don’t belittle his fear by saying, “Oh that’s nothing, bugs can’t hurt you.” On the other extreme, don’t ever force him to touch what he’s afraid of.
Keep his exposure to the things he’s afraid of as positive as possible. You can use his natural curiosity to teach him things about whatever he’s afraid of. Cuddling with him while you read a book about spiders that shows their ability to make webs and that their diet is other bugs, may go a long way to alleviate his fears. Don’t expect fears to be overcome in a day, it may take up to a year to get over.
Dealing with Play Group Bullies
There are real bullies, not just awkward kids that play rough, but those who intend to hurt another child. Children need to learn to play together and getting bumped and knocked over is part of it at this age. But no child should have to endure a bully. So what can you do?
There are two basic rules about other people’s children: Never tell another parent how to raise their child and never discipline a child that is not your own. As frustrating as it may be to have a bully in the midst, don’t take your frustration out on the child
There are things you can do, however. When you see potential trouble, use a diversion tactic. Start a new activity or break out the snacks. Even bullies love to be praised, so find something to praise him for. Let him know when you see him being nice. You can suggest a different location for future play dates that has more space or more toys or better atmosphere.
If a bully pushes your child down, make sure your child is not seriously hurt and comfort him. You can teach him to say, “Be nice, that hurt.” Hearing a child stick up for themselves will cause some bullies to back off.
If these tactics don’t work, don’t let your child suffer repeatedly. Take your cue from your toddler and say it is time for you to go. You may need to take a break from that play group or start a different one if that parent won’t teach their own child how to play nicely.
Heavenly Father, as our little one enjoys seeing the tiny things in Your creation, renew my wonder in Your care for details and Your care for us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.