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 her in her tracks and fascinate her.
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. She is using her legs alternately to push her trike fast and with a little encouragement from you, she will be able to ride her trike while you take a short walk with her around your neighborhood. She loves being pulled in a wagon too.
She is not just aware of a wet or dirty diaper, she is now aware that she 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 she is about to eliminate when she crouches down or hides somewhere. She is probably not yet able to wait to get on a toilet, even if she realizes what is happening. Don’t push potty training. When she is ready, she will potty train very quickly.
She should be able to take off her clothes by herself now and put on loose clothing. It will probably be another few months before she can put on a T-shirt by herself, though. She should be able to brush her teeth with help. It is time to help her learn to wash her hands—an important skill to have by the time she is potty trained.
She is gaining the whole arm coordination that allows her 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 her face or body. Use soft, spongy balls or beanbags. She may begin showing a preference for being right or left handed. Do not try to change her natural preference. Don’t worry, though, if she still doesn’t show a preference, some children don’t seem to prefer one hand over the other until much later.
She is making spontaneous word combinations combined with gestures for emphasis. Her language is still very self-centered.
Everything involves herself, what she wants, what she needs, and what she sees. She can probably name most of her body parts and even point to the same parts on a doll. She still isn’t using the word “my” or “I.” Instead she may use her name or even “you.” She is now using the word “yes” correctly. Until now, “no” seemed to be the only word she used.
Her vocabulary is growing so rapidly, that it may be difficult to understand many of her new words. She will probably be switching or substituting consonants or even syllables. Do not insist that she 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, she 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, she has only been using inductive reasoning. She had to try something over and over to form a general concept. Now, without testing she can combine two concepts and come to a conclusion. For example: when she wants to climb up, she will move a chair to help her climb higher. She has had to combine the idea of climbing and bringing a chair from another location to aid her climb. The more opportunities she has had to test her concepts, the easier it is for her to combine them and generalize from them in new situations.
Her concept of cause and effect is much keener now too. She can link a cause and effect that happens at a later time. She 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. She cannot see Daddy, but she hears water splashing and guesses, “Daddy bath.”
As she develops her self identity, she will express more feelings. Sometimes she will have words, but many times she will use negative behavior. Help her deal with these feelings. Let her know you understand why she is feeling angry or sad or afraid and give her words she can use in the future. When a friend hits her and she comes crying. Tell her, “You are angry because Jimmy hit you.” Cuddle her a moment and she will be back playing with her 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, she should recognize their faces and may even say their names. As she becomes more aware of others, she will be more willing to share toys better.
Ways You Can Help
She wants things just the way she wants them. Having a set routine and times for getting up, napping, eating, and bedtime will help minimize meltdowns. If she knows what to expect, she will probably resist less often because she feels secure and in control. As much as possible, respect her 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 her understand that for this she has no choice. Holding your hand when walking across the street is a non-negotiable.
Attention to details
Tiny things are the objects of her attention these days. Play I Spy with My Little Eye to call her attention to things around her. 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 her take you for a walk and let her show you things she finds interesting.
She will especially enjoy books with many small items in the pictures. Ask her 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 her clothes for the day, omit one garment. See if she can figure out what is missing. If she doesn’t know just by looking, lay the clothes out just as they would be worn. She 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 she know where to find more?
Show her a coin in your palm. Cover your hand and slip the coin between your fingers. Show her your empty palms. Can she find the coin? She is now ready for big wooden puzzles with two or three pieces.
Silly Rhymes and Finger Plays:
It is time to teach her Itsy Bitsy Spider. She 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 she can explore. You need to know you have the authority and you have the right to have her stop when you say so. If you are convinced, she 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 she makes. Patience, a loving pat, and a proud look on your face when she tries will urge her to try again and to try other new things. Giving her time to gain confidence will go a long way to preparing her to strike out on her own.
Crib to Bed
Moving your growing toddler from her 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 her 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 her sooner than later. At 21 months, she 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 her crib may have scared you into thinking about making the change. Before you make a panic move, lower her mattress as far as possible and remove anything from inside that she can use to climb on to help her escape. Consider a crib tent if she continues to attempt to climb out. Remember, if she is climbing out of her crib, she will likely climb out of her big kid bed too.
When you decide to move her to a bed, here are some ideas to ease the transition:
- Put the bed where her crib used to be and let her sleep with her old blanket or toys.
- Talk up the big move for a week or so to help her see it as a good thing.
- Be sure to use guard rails on the new bed to help her adjust to the idea that it has boundaries, even if they are quite different from her 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 her to have her blanket in her bed and in the car, but not in the store where it could get lost. Tell her the bear or blanket will be right there whenever she comes back. Knowing the rules, she will get used to following them. This allows her to have the comfort this attachment brings without the possibility of sudden loss.
She may regress to wanting a bottle or your undivided attention. She may need some extra reassurance if she has experienced something frightening or with the arrival of a new baby. Allow her a time of extra pampering and she will probably be quick to decide being a big girl 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 she had before
- Your child shows no interest in doing things for herself
- 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 her mind, like remembering what Grandma looks like. She can imagine what is happening even if it is hidden from her, like that the cat is playing in another room. She cannot tell the difference between real and imaginary at this age, and so she can also imagine all kinds of things that might hurt her.
When your little one screams in terror or holds you in a death grip, the way you handle her fear will make all the difference. If you see what she’s afraid of, like a spider, and start screaming and running away, you can be sure she will be convinced that spiders are really terrifying.
The best thing you can do is to stay calm and use words to let her 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 her fear by saying, “Oh that’s nothing, bugs can’t hurt you.” On the other extreme, don’t ever force her to touch what she’s afraid of.
Keep her exposure to the things she’s afraid of as positive as possible. You can use her natural curiosity to teach her things about whatever she’s afraid of. Cuddling with her 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 her 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 her for. Let her know when you see her 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 her. You can teach her 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.