Are basic self care tasks a battle for you and your toddler?
Does your infant fight you to go to bed, turn their head and cry during tooth brushing, or want you to feed them all the time?
The most important thing to remember for self-care with toddlers is routine. Routine is everything when trying to help your child fall asleep, eat, brush their teeth, etc. Routine is important because it helps toddlers understand what to expect and makes their day more predictable. Routine’s don’t have to be perfect and they don’t have to be at exactly the same time every day. What matters the most is that there is something that cues your child so that they know what to expect next. For example; at bedtime a cue could be turning on a white noise machine or turning off the lights. This let’s your little one know that it is time to wind down and helps set their natural circadian rhythms. If you are having difficulty getting your kiddo to tolerate certain daily tasks make sure first that you have some sort of routine around that task. A visual schedule can also help kids better understand what is coming next. When you have a routine in place, but your child is still struggling with self-care try some of these tips!
Some toddlers HATE tooth brushing and this can be for a variety of reasons, sometimes it is sensory and the feeling of the tooth brush is uncomfortable, sometimes it’s because of the structure of the mouth, or sometimes it’s because it just isn’t fun and it can feel invasive. To address the sensory component, try a vibrating tooth brush. These can help to desensitize the mouth and can be motivating for kids! Give them as much choice in this as possible (i.e have them pick it out online or in the store).
Toddlers respond well to peer models which is why I recommend the Elmo tooth brushing song! It shows Elmo and other kids brushing their teeth. Caution: the song is very catchy and will be stuck in your head! Brushing your teeth with your toddler can help motivate them because they will probably want to imitate you. You can make it a special time that you spend with your child so they learn to cherish it. If you are not having any luck, it might be time to try a pediatric dentist. They can rule out any structural differences like a tongue or lip tie that may be impacting your child’s willingness to participate in tooth brushing. As with all self-care consistency is key so try to stick to your routine and avoid giving in to tantrums.
One of my favorite tooth brushes is also the double sided brush from GrabEz. This gets the job done quickly. Try taking turns with your toddler,(“first you brush your teeth, then it will be my turn to brush your teeth!”
Sleep can be really hard for infants and toddlers. Like previously mentioned above, the first thing to try is a sleep routine. Remember to make sure the routine is calm and relaxing and that your child knows what to expect. Next, make sure your child’s sleep environment is conducive for sleeping. The room should be dark and on the cooler side.
It is also important to remember to limit screen time at least an hour prior to bedtime. The blue light from the screen can keep your child’s brain awake by suppressing the release of melatonin that happens during natural sleep rhythms. Once the environment is set up and the routine is in place, there are some other things you can try to help induce sleep. Bath time is a great activity for the bedtime routine, because as the body cools, it starts to relax. Another thing to try is a sleep sack. Sleep sacks provide calming input especially for kiddos that kick their legs when falling asleep. A bonus is that it makes it more difficult for little monkeys that like to try and climb out of the crib! When talking about bedtime, awake time is important as well. Try and keep consistent wake times and nap times. Letting your infant or toddler compensate for a bad night's sleep at nap time can impact the next bedtime. There are many factors that impact sleep and it can be frustrating when a child is sleep deprived. When in doubt, talk to your pediatrician about your sleep concerns. While you are there, you can ask about checking ferritin levels which is the long term storage of iron. Decreased ferritin levels can impact a kiddos ability to stay asleep at night. As always, do not give your child a supplement without first checking with their pediatrician.
Self feeding is an important self care task that helps to develop sensory processing, oral motor control, visual motor skills, communication, and fine motor skills (among others!). Eating requires every system in our body to work together perfectly. It is a lot more complex than you may think and it is also a self care task that many children struggle with.
A huge part of self feeding is positioning. It is important that your child is supported when eating and not walking around. Try and limit grazing (walking to the food and walking away). The best positioning for feeding toddlers is to have hips bent at 90 degrees, knees bent at 90 degrees and feet supported flat on a foot plate. There should also be a back support and you can use small towel rolls to support hips more if needed.
Toddlers should master a spoon by age 2 and a fork by 3 years old. The best way to help this happen is by introducing them early! There are plenty of great spoon options for infants and toddlers, but one of the best starter spoons is the NumNum baby dip spoon. Some common issues with learning to use a spoon is frustration (kids don’t like when something falls off before it reaches their mouth). Make sure to use stickier foods like yogurt, applesauce, oatmeal, and pudding. Another common issue is flipping the spoon over.
The shallow spoon head of the NumNum helps to decrease this, but you can prevent it by supporting their elbow up with an open palm while they bring the spoon to their mouth. Finger feeding is vital for learning fine motor skills and it is often a great sensory experience for children. Make sure your child has ample opportunities to feed themselves and explore the food with their hands. Family mealtimes are also very important for modeling good eating habits, how to use utensils and even chewing. Last but not least, mealtimes with infants and toddlers should be fun and they should be messy! If you are worried about the mess, try putting a shower curtain under the highchair so you can just shake it out after.
It is an important skill for infants and toddlers to be able to participate in dressing. For infants this sometimes looks like just tolerating getting a diaper change or tolerating a hat/ coat. For toddlers this can look like taking off socks and shoes independently, putting on a hat, etc. Just like all other self care tasks, routine and location are important factors. Here at the BAC we have a shoe station where kids come in and wash their hands then take off their socks and shoes. This is the routine and all of our kiddos start to participate without much cueing after a few visits.
It is important to have a place to take off socks and shoes such as a small rug, bench, or chair where your child’s feet can touch the floor. Removing socks and shoes works on fine/visual motor skills, core strength, balance, and coordination. When working on dressing with toddlers try and break the task down into smaller parts. For example, zip the zipper half way and then have them zip it the rest of the way. It is helpful to use hand over hand at first until your child learns the motor pattern. For shoes, you can encourage them to undo the velcro or pull off their socks by themselves and then you help them do the rest. Your kiddo will start to master the steps and then will be able to do the whole task by themselves! A good rule of thumb is to give them a chance to try, this autonomy makes toddlers feel in control and empowers them which is something every toddler craves!