Focus on the Family


by Lynne Thompson

It feels like only yesterday when you came home from the hospital with your precious baby. You were tired and a bit overwhelmed, yet determined to capture and enjoy those fleeting moments of babyhood. Then it happened: sometime in the middle of the night, someone switched out your tiny, compliant infant for a much larger and strongly opinionated toddler! Now you realize that your previous circumstance with sleepless nights and numerous feedings were a walk in the park compared to this. Who is this little person yearning for independence and leaping from dangerously large structures while gulping down fistfuls of Arrowroot cookies? Don't worry — it's not all terrible twos.

Toddlers, aged 18-36 months, are busy people. During this stage they will hit many developmental milestones:

For a toddler, each day is an opportunity to learn and grow. As parents we have to opportunity to teach our children and help them reach these milestones. But they aren't the only ones learning. Parents must discover how to foster the delicate balance between encouraging autonomy without succumbing to anarchy.

Dr. Kevin Leman, internationally known psychologist and award winning author, says that children as young as 18 months have determined that their behavior has tremendous impact on the adults in their life. Since children tend to be egocentric (meaning it's all about them) during this stage, parents should guide decision-making opportunities. Leman suggests limiting choices to two or three, but at times explaining that they don't have a choice due to the needs of the family or society. Still, Leman warns against stifling all personal opinions, since these will become important later in life when children need to take a stand against negative peer pressure.

Encourage toddlers to ask their many questions as they attempt to understand their world. In Proverbs 22:6 parents are encouraged to train up their child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Conveniently, children are designed by God to look toward their mothers and fathers for answers. In fact, according to Dr. John Townsend, co-author of Raising Great Kids, God often teaches children about Himself through the love and nurturing of the parents: "The physical act of being around mom (and dad) is teaching the child to relate to God and to see Him as a good source of information, just like mother (and father) are a good source.", Dr. Townsend encourages parents to hang in there on days when they feel more like human encyclopedias than moms and dads: "Remember that those little questions that seem so trivial at the time might be God providing that moment to say to your child, 'I'm going to show you what I'm like through your mom's answer.'"

Finally, don't forget the fun. As the parent of a toddler you have a free pass to slip down a slide, run in the park or snuggle up with your little one and read a picture book. And if anyone rolls their eyes when you tell them your child is two, don't forget to remind them that you hold a very important job. After all, who else gets to mold and encourage a future leader — not to mention potty train them?

It's all Fun and Games

Is your child Bob the Builder or Dora the Explorer? Here's your chance to find out your toddler's play style.

by Lynne Thompson

It's no secret. Toddlers love to play – with friends, with family members, and with toys. Lots of toys. But before you fill out a credit application for ToysRUs, you may want to save yourself some money and time, by finding out exactly what your child deems fun. While some can't seem to get enough Lego's, others are drawn to books. I've categorized activities by the cartoon characters your child loves. See which style fits and personalize your child's playtime.

Bob the Builder

These toddlers love to build. But before investing in Thomas or Brio train sets start small. Begin with Duplo blocks or cardboard bricks for stacking. Help your toddler set up a fort with chairs and a blanket. Be sure to join in the fun by crawling inside with a flashlight and a picture book to share. You may want to drive by a nearby house under construction each day and watch its progress. Have dad help your little builder set up a tent in the backyard and then camp together under the stars… or streetlights.

Dora the Explorer

This toddler wants out! Be sure to take your little explorer to the park, on a hike, or down a bike trail. It's also fun to create maps leading to hidden treasures in the house or backyard. You may want to purchase a bug terrarium or butterfly net for backyard exploration. Try visiting the local pet store, zoo, aquarium or space observatory. A family camping trip is a must.

Elmo's World

This tot loves to learn new things, and games are an easy way to teach. Purchase a box of Old Maid cards and place them face down on the floor. Have your child flip over two at a time in search for the match. Another fun game is to purchase plastic Easter eggs and fill them with treats. Each egg should be coupled with another filled with the same item. Have your little one find the match by shaking the eggs and matching the sound. Sometimes toddlers like to learn from other children. Invite an older sibling or friend to teach your toddler how to write his or her name. Also, it's always fun to bring home a plastic horn or musical recorder and let your toddler blow out a tune… in the backyard.


It's a make believe world for this toddler. Try to encourage an active imagination with plenty of dress up costumes, found at garage sales or in the grocery store clearance section after Halloween. Children who enjoy the arts might like listening to stories on CDs, or watching DVDs that can be imitated later. Host a dress up tea party with friends, real or stuffed. Or grab the video recorder and act out Bible stories as a family. Then breakout the popcorn and enjoy the performance.

Lionel (Between the Lions)

Make sure you have your library card ready, ‘cuz books are candy for this little one. Check out story time opportunities in your town at the public library or bookstores. Start a toddler book swap, by asking moms to bring over any used picture books to trade. Take in a theatrical performance of your child's favorite book. Host a literature party where children dress up as their favorite storybook character. Then invite a parent in costume to read some of the books aloud.


This is a toddler in motion. You may want to purchase some music from your local Christian bookstore for this little one to exercise and dance to. Purchase a Twister mat and call out colors as jumping spots. You may want to invite other parents with toddlers to join you in starting your own fitness program at a nearby park or in your backyard. Some athletic gyms offer toddler classes or you may want to visit to locate your nearest activity center.

Feel free to try some or all of these play styles with your growing toddler. Most importantly, as you discover your child's play interests, don't forget to play too. That's the best part of raising a toddler. It's a fun time to laugh and build lasting memories together.

Here are some rules for successful play:

Potty Training

How do you get your toddler over this frustrating step?

by Lynne Thompson

Many parents dream about the day when their children will go to college, find true love, and start their own family. But first… they hope to get them potty trained! As one of the major milestones in childhood, right up there with learning how to walk and talk, potty training can at times seem overwhelming.

Most children in the United States are potty trained by age two, though some begin much earlier and others much later. The common practice for potty train instruction is for a parent to purchase a portable plastic potty chair that has a removable waste bowl. The child is encouraged to sit on the chair to go potty, as opposed to relieving himself into a diaper. Eventually the detachable seat is moved onto a conventional toilet for the child to sit on. Sounds easy right? Unfortunately there can be barriers that can delay a toddler from successful potty training. Here are a few:

Not Ready

Earlier is not always better. Your child must be old enough to understand the training process. According to Author and Pediatric Physician, Dr. James Sears, a toddler must be aware of what is happening. "If you see him make a funny face right before he goes, or try to imitate daddy standing at the toilet, those may be signs of readiness," says Dr. Sears. "Also, if he's able to verbally communicate other sensations such as, 'I'm hungry' or 'I'm tired,' then he should be able to communicate when he needs to go potty."


Your latest bathroom accessory might be frightening your toddler. Try to alleviate fears by making the potty chair fun and familiar. Invite your toddler to paint or decorate the chair with stickers. Also, use the potty chair for other things like sitting on it while watching cartoons. Dr. Sears reminds parents to make sure your toddler's feet can touch the floor, or rest on a stool. Dangling feet can seem scary and uncomfortable, not to mention deter the bowels from moving.

Change Resistant

Some toddlers don't like change, and some behaviors, like going in a diaper, are difficult to unlearn. Dr. Sears suggests encouraging a resistant child by using an incremental potty training technique. "The first step is to tell the child that he can go in his diaper, but the act must occur in the bathroom. The next step is to allow him to go into his diaper, but he has to sit on the potty chair while going. Then a 'magic diaper' is put on. It is a diaper cut with a giant hole in it, allowing waste to go into the potty chair. Finally, the diaper is removed and the child uses the potty chair."

Not Motivated

Some toddlers require an incentive to potty train. Sticker charts or candy treats may be the carrot your child needs to move forward to becoming potty trained. Another suggestion is to place a packaged prize on the back of the toilet, to be opened only after the child has reached the milestone of using the toilet.


Many times parents feel compelled to potty train due to peer pressure or preschool compliance, but forcing a child before he or she is ready can prove to be counterproductive. "What often happens when you put pressure on the child," says Dr. Sears, "is that he doesn't want to go, so he starts holding it. Then as a result he becomes constipated. You go from someone who goes in the diapers all the time to someone who doesn't want to go ever, because it's going to hurt. That problem can take many months to a year to fix." Rather, parents need to exemplify patience, and may need to find a different preschool that allows diapers. Of course a child that is having difficulties going to the bathroom needs to be checked out by the family's pediatrician.

The overall goal of potty training your toddler can be achieved by knowing when to seek medical assistance or help, dispensing a great deal of patience and understanding, and staying attuned to the needs of your child. Most importantly, try to keep the big picture in mind.

Some parents, realizing the environmental impact that diapers place upon the environment, have decided to "go green." For some that means purchasing biodegradable diapers that are more "earth friendly," like those advertised on the website, while others have begun to entertain a less conventional potty training method referred to as "Infant Potty Training" or IPT. You are welcome use your web browser for more information on this method.

Getting Toddlers to Sleep

Having trouble getting your toddler down to sleep? Here are some ideas for making the bedtime experience less stressful.

by Lynne Thompson

"Go to sleep!"

What parent hasn't uttered those words? But where exactly is the land of sleep? For some toddlers it takes a lot more than the sandman to help them find the way. The average toddler, defined as 18 months up to age three, requires about 12-14 hours of sleep each day, although some get by on much less. Most toddlers start with two naps, one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. By age 2 ½ most have given up the morning nap.

Naptime, an event celebrated by caretakers needing a break, serves a very important purpose says Dr. Rafael Pelayo, Director of Pediatric Sleep Service at the University of Stanford. "Toddlers physically grow during sleep. Studies show that a human's growth hormone is the highest in the night." In fact, by 30 months toddlers have gained about four times their birth weight, grown an average 2 to 2 ½ inches per year and acquired most of their baby teeth.

Of course the trick is how to get busy toddlers to slow down long enough to sleep before they go ballistic or whiny. Dr. Pelayo says the secret is in the scheduling. "If you think about it, infants get to eat and sleep whenever they want, therefore their sleeping patterns are random. Feeding schedules, social schedules and light (daytime/ nighttime) are what regulate our sleep patterns. When those things are consistent in a toddler's life, so are his sleep time habits. This is why on Saturdays conditioned children don't sleep in." Parents attempting to alter a previous schedule due to a change in preschools, family commitments or even daylight savings need to give toddlers a chance to adjust. "Give it five days to a week before you decide how it's working," says Pelayo. "It takes that long for a toddler to adjust to the new schedule."

Another important element to consider when coaxing a restless child is the sleep environment. Dr. Pelayo believes that children as well as adults require serenity. "You must feel safe in order to sleep. This is why prayer is a good idea. It means everything is okay, and there is nothing to fear. Someone is watching over you."

Unfortunately, even with a cozy bed, several nightlights and a full night sleep, some toddlers are still waking up exhausted. According to Dr. Pelayo, children should wake up refreshed. If that's not happening, there may be a bigger problem. Some children suffer from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing during the sleep cycle. Others struggle due to enlarged tonsils. Both of these issues inhibit sleep, causing the child to arise exhausted. The family pediatrician needs to be notified of any problems with sleep, including snoring.

Remember though, there are times when sleep issues don't stem from the toddler but from family expectations. Parents who are overworked or who face job changes may need the child to sleep so they themselves can get some rest, but children will sleep when they are tired, not when the parent is tired.

In order for your child reach the Land of Nod, try these techniques:

Toddler Misbehavior

Is your little angel having a bad day? It's important to pick the right solution for restoring heavenly peace.

by Lynne Thompson

You've read all the parenting books, watched every episode of Dr. Phil, participated in parenting programs at church and still your child is misbehaving. What's a parent to do? Here are some familiar scenarios along with possible responses. See which solution works best for you.


Loaded down with a cart full of groceries, in fear and trepidation, you slowly make your way to the checkout stand, mindful of the landmines awaiting you. Your toddler snaps to attention, noticing the assorted candies and mints strategically placed at eye level for little people too young to purchase anything. You hold your breath and then... "Mommy, can I have some candy?!" You quickly point out the granola chewy bars in the cart, along with the soy potato chips, but no dice. It's game time! You know your child has reached code red, the highest tantrum level, because the store clerk is processing the contents of your cart at rapid speed, and those behind have begun whispering the mantra of the childless, "if he were mine..."

You decide to:

Solution I: You reach for the nearest chocolate product, rip off the packaging and shove it into your toddler's mouth. You smile at the cashier and hand him the wrapper with bar code intact.

Solution II: Tough it out. Let 'em scream. Someday when your child is Valedictorian of the local high school, everyone will hail you as Mother of the Year.

Solution III: Leave the line, telling the checker you'll be right back. Ask the courtesy clerk to temporarily place your cart in the back in cold storage. Leave the store and then return after your child calms down.

According to Family Psychologist John Rosemond, author of Parenting by the Book (Howard Books), there needs to be a tantrum place in the home. "You are giving permission to have a tantrum. Offer to help him find a place where he can't destroy anything, like the bathroom or guest bedroom. Then explain clearly 'the doctor' says it needs to be in an isolated place. Evoking a third party 'doctor' makes the child more willing to cooperate."


Within the walls of almost every family lives an apparition capable of gross destruction. It leaves fingerprints on perfectly frosted cakes, shatters glass and pottery beyond recognition, and wreaks havoc upon innocent animals with torture tools resembling paint and women's clothing. Its only identification? "Not Me." You're no Judge Judy, but a toddler covered in chocolate frosting, standing on a chair next to the shattered remains of a family heirloom, or toting a paint brush dripping in a hue of red matching the dog's nose gives you enough evidence to convict. The objection? "I didn't do it."

You decide to:

Solution I: Believe your child (then call me, 'cuz I have some lakefront property I'd like to sell to you).

Solution II: Set up court in your home and hear all arguments before convicting. Don't forget the gavel.

Solution III: Don't ask who did it. Why bother? Just clean up the mess, dole out any needed consequences, and move on.

"Toddlers lie," says Rosemond, "but parents already know the answer to the question. When parents ask, they are setting up the toddler to take the opportunity to lie and roll the dice. Don't ask. Tell the child what she did wrong and have the toddler help you clean it up. Make statements that don't invite the lie in the first place."


It's time to go home, but not for your toddler. He's having way too much fun, and is betting that you won't make an attempt to retrieve him from high atop the indoor playland. You call him 30 times, and threaten to never come back again. He pretends not to hear you.

You decide to:

Solution I: Bribe your child with a large ice cream treat if he comes down.

Solution II: Shinny up the play structure and pray you won't need to make a 911 rescue call after getting stuck in the tunnel.

Solution III: Make future plans to play first and then eat. As soon as junior is done eating, snag him and leave.

At this age toddlers feel they aren't beholden to any authority, especially parental. Rosemond says, "If you know they'll run, grab them. Realize, too, that toddlers should be given consequences for misbehavior, but don’t expect it to sink in until age three." Bummer.


You swore before you had children that you would never in a million years succumb to shouting at your child those horrid words, "Shut up!" Now, a couple of years in, you've discovered your darker side. To your defense, what normal human being is capable of enduring a straight twenty minutes of whiny, high-pitched noises disguised as an attempt to communicate? Especially when said toddler has otherwise mastered the ability to speak clearly and much less annoyingly.

You decide to:

Solution I: Take a cram course in Whining 101 in an attempt to meet your child where he is.

Solution II: Succumb to the "S.U." comeback you swore off, and die of embarrassment later when your child yells that response to another child (probably your pastor's kid).

Solution III: Tell your child that you can't hear whining, and you'll only respond to proper talk.

Rosemond says be persistent and don't respond to whining. Remember also that patience is a Fruit of the Spirit. He also suggests focusing on the positive aspects of toddlerhood by reading his book, Making the Terrible Twos Terrific! (Andrews & McMeel).

Hopefully the solutions you choose will reflect to your little one the love and discipline of our Lord. It might help to remember just how much grace He bestows upon us when we misbehave.

Toddlers and Sexual Discovery

Your little explorer is teeming with curiosity and ready to discover everything, even himself!

by Lynne Thompson

Toddlers are curious people. The quest for more information often leads these little explorers into uncharted territory, from bugs in the backyard, to Mommy's makeup drawer, to examining their own body parts…even the private ones.

This is completely normal says Joyce Penner, author of Sex Facts for the Family, available through her ministry's website at "Toddlerhood is the stage of sexual development that is particularly associated with genital discovery. Just as 18 month to three year olds poke their fingers in their ears and up their noses, they find their genitals and discover that they feel good to touch."

Although a toddler's recent find may force some parents out of their comfort zones, Penner says how a parent responds is crucial for healthy sexual development. "How effectively we master each stage of sexual development has an impact on our adult sexual adjustment. The confident mastery of this stage of sexual development leads to positive acceptance of one's genitals and the ability to affirm our God-given sexual feelings, while making wise decisions about controlling our sexual actions."

Since self-control seems to elude most toddlers, it's up to parents to create an environment with proper safeguards that protect innocence. Here are a few tips on how parents can encourage appropriate physical boundaries:

Avoid Shaming

The most helpful response is to acknowledge that touching his or her own private parts feels good and that God designed it to have those special feelings. If your child becomes too focused on touch, try to redirect to another activity.

Respect your toddler's privacy

Even though your child may be inconsistent with modesty – running naked through the house one moment, and then refusing to undress in front of a sibling the next, respect their wishes anyway. Provide a private place for her to change, go to the bathroom or bathe without an opposite sex sibling (with parental supervision, of course).

Keep the Parents' Door Locked

Be sure to lock your doors when making love with your spouse, even after your child has gone down for the night. Children can become traumatized when they overhear or are exposed to parents' sexual activities. If your child has accidentally walked in on you, make sure he knows it's not his fault. You might explain that Mommy and Daddy were just playing around, having fun and loving each other.

Teach Your Toddler About Inappropriate Touch

Even though your child may not understand well enough or completely enough to entirely protect him from harm, teaching about bad touch is a learning process. After all, we start teaching toddlers not to run into the street long before they can be counted on to follow that instruction. Be sure to communicate the message that because God made our genitals with special feelings, they are private and we have to take very good care of them. And remember, when a parent practices respect toward a child, it will empower him or her to stand up to others when something doesn't feel right. A helpful resource is the Good-Touch/Bad-Touch® Web site.

Teach Positive Image

Delight in your toddler, speaking words of affirmation. Keep your child looking good so that others will respond positively to her also. Everyday, verbalize how much you love your child. Give specifics about what you like about him, even about how he looks. Don't worry about making your child proud. We all get enough negatives in life that we need all the positives we can get.

*Compiled with Joyce Penner, Co-Director Passionate Commitment Ministries

Next Steps and Related Information

Additional information to help you navigate toddlerhood

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