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Frequently Asked Questions: 18 Months

How can I get my toddler to eat more?

Knowing your toddler is very energetic, it's logical to think that he'll need to eat more than when he was a baby to fuel all this activity. Surprisingly, just the opposite is true. In the first year of life, your baby grew rapidly (for example, tripling his birth weight by 1 year of age) and needed to eat a lot to keep up. Now, your toddler is actually growing at a slower rate and it's common to even notice a decrease in appetite starting around his first birthday.

Remember that most children eat enough to grow and stay healthy as long as food calories are available to them. Your job is to provide a variety of nutritious food choices. At meal times, put a toddler-sized portion of what's being served on his plate. (A toddler's portion is usually about one-quarter of an adult-sized portion.) Let him pick and choose what and how much he wants to eat from his plate. If he refuses to eat anything, that's OK — he'll be hungry for his next meal or snack. Avoid bargaining ("If you eat your vegetables, you'll get a cookie.") or insisting ("Just one more bite."). Studies have shown that these techniques can actually backfire and make your toddler eat even less. When your toddler says he's done with his meal, let him leave the table, but don't offer his favorite treats to make up for what he didn't eat of his meal.

In addition, introducing new foods can be a challenge. Try serving a very small portion of the new food next to something you know your toddler likes. Let him see you enjoying the new food. Don't get discouraged — you may need to introduce a new food as many as 10 or more times before your child will accept it.

Get your toddler involved with grocery shopping and meal preparations. Let him pick which cup or plate he'd like to use. He also can help you decide what to make for dinner; give him a few suggestions and let him choose one. For example, do NOT ask if he wants a vegetable with dinner (he'd probably say no). Instead, ask specifically if he would like peas or green beans for dinner. This way he gets to choose and even has some control about the meal, but he also gets the message that green vegetables are going to be a part of the upcoming meal. Remember, you are still in charge of the menu — don't change the menu just because your toddler turns up his nose at the choices being offered.

Toddlers need about 1,000 calories per day. You may find that one day your toddler eats more than you expect, while the next day he seems to eat next to nothing. You don't need to count calories. Your toddler has a good sense of his own energy needs, and he will eat enough to keep himself healthy and active.

Be flexible, be patient, and above all, try not to turn mealtime into wartime. For more information, see Toddler, Preschooler Nutrition.

How do I discipline my 18 month old? When can I start using time-outs?

Discipline does not mean punishment. Discipline is important for all children, including babies and toddlers. Young children are curious and want to explore everything around them. Therefore, they can get into lots of dangerous situations. When you discipline your child, your goal is to teach her right from wrong, while keeping her safe.

Although discipline involves setting and enforcing limits of acceptable behavior, it also involves preventing problems in the first place. Remember that one of the best ways to keep your child safe is to thoroughly childproof your house.

There are various methods for disciplining a toddler and you may need to use all of them at some time or another. You can simply ignore harmless behaviors (such as temper tantrums or interrupting), or you can shift your toddler's attention to a different, safer activity. You can go over to your child, look him straight in the eyes, and say "no" but you also may need to move him away from the tempting situation. You also need to explain in brief, simple terms why what was done should not be repeated and what the consequences of doing it would be. Time-out is another discipline technique that involves taking a break away from a difficult situation. Time-out can be used on children as young as 1 year old.

When setting limits, it's important to be consistent. Rules should be the same for every caregiver of your child (grandparents included), and stay the same from one day to the next. When enforcing rules, keep a straight face. Laughing when your toddler is doing something naughty doesn't send a message of disapproval; your toddler might not take you seriously then or the next time.

When can I begin toilet training?

As every toddler is unique, so is her readiness for toilet training. You may be anxious for your toddler to use the toilet, perhaps so he can enter into day care or preschool. This usually does not work. Let your child choose his own timetable for potty training, so as not to rush things. Be encouraging, but realize that although many children start showing signs of readiness between 18 months and 24 months, it can be perfectly normal not to be ready until 3 years old or older.

Look for the following signs that your toddler is ready to toilet train. He should be dry for two to three hours at a time during the day and have a relatively predictable pattern of bowel movements (for example, shortly after meals). Also, he should be able to recognize when he has to go and be able to let you know in some way that he needs to. Having a dirty diaper may make him uncomfortable. He may be interested in using a potty seat or the toilet, or ask to use training pants or "big-boy" underwear. He should be willing and able to follow directions, and be able to undress himself.

When you begin to see these signs, start potty training, but be patient. It typically can take several weeks or months for a child to learn to use the toilet correctly and regularly. Be prepared for a few setbacks. Some toddlers use the potty for a while and can then seem to lose all interest. Do not worry. She will regain interest when she is ready.

Last updated December 3, 2009




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