Your little one is really learning to focus… or is she? At this age, toddlers can really get absorbed in what they’re doing as their ability to concentrate on one task improves. But if it seems like they’re ignoring you, that might be the case, too — toddlers aren’t exactly well known for being great listeners. They also forget to listen to their bodies, which means when they’re playing intently you’ll want to remind them to use the potty or else you’ll end up with the dreaded “Uh-Oh.”
• Your toddler might have an imaginary friend, which is a normal part of forming attachments to others and is actually a sign of a highly creative mind! There’s no harm in it; in fact, conversations with imaginary friends could boost vocabulary and social skills, so go ahead and set an extra plate at dinner.
• Your toddler might be building real-life friendships too, which means dealing with sharing, agreeing on the rules of make-believe games, and potentially bossy buddies. Be prepared for the possibility that your very own little cherub is the bossy one — after all, any toddler can be, ahem, difficult. In either case be ready to step in if they don’t seem to be able to resolve things themselves. A simple reminder (“Emma probably wants to paint her own picture, don’t you think?”) and continued education about manners and empathy work wonders.
• All this imagination is great… except when it isn’t. Toddlers can invent make-believe worlds and imaginary friends, but they can also invent dangers that aren’t really there. That’s why fears — of the dark, haircuts, the dentist, you name it — are so common. Reassure them without dismissing their fears as silly, and find creative ways to make them feel safe, like misting the closet with Anti Monster Spray (water in a spray bottle) before bed.
• Toddlers should be pretty comfortable feeding themselves at this age, though they can still be messy (a trait you can expect to enjoy through the teen years). With food, as with all things (toys, clothes, activities, etc) toddlers appreciate being given options — don’t panic if you still have a fussy eater or your toddler will only eat nuggets and ketchup. Try offering two appropriate choices and letting them decide. You might not get them to try steamed broccoli, but eventually they’ll eat something other than mac and cheese!
Scary Mommy tip: Many kids are shy at this age, clinging to your leg around unfamiliar peers or adults (or both). There’s no way to know if it’s just a phase or a permanent part of their personality, but either way be respectful of your toddler’s boundaries, be encouraging but don’t force things, and don’t use labels like “shy” or you run the risk of your child internalizing the trait and hanging on to it. If he’s so bashful that it’s interfering with his life when he turns three, discuss it with his doctor; until then, keep play dates small or one-on-one, pair him up with familiar friends or younger kids, and share basic details about upcoming events so he knows what to expect.