HomeJean Marzollo, author of I SPY

Fathers & Toddlers

Chapter Two


Click below to skip to individual topics:

Up and Down the Stairs ... Parental Competition ... Ball Play ... Kicking a Ball ... Climbing on Furniture

How Do I Get Down? ... Sorting Objects & Shapes ... Simple Sorting Games ... Coloring with Crayons

Children's First Drawings ... Friends ... And Enemies ... Food Play-Bad ... Food Play-Good

"Whazzat?" ... The Toddler Interrogator ... Saying Short Sentences ... Listen to Your Child

My Vocabulary Grows To ... 20 Words ... Feelings ... And Words for Them ... Hassles and Mess

A Hassle-Free Glue Project ... The Value of Water Play ... Educational Water Play Toys

What Kinds of Toys ... Are Best for My Child ... Instant Games ... Instant Toys ... Puppets ... Pets

Making Scrapbooks Together & Reading Scrapbooks as Books

Toddlers Love Books! ... Books & Bedtime Routines


Love and language.

Two of the most important gifts you give your child are love and language. These gifts are intricately intertwined. Most parents who love their children talk to them, and most children whose parents talk to them grow up adept with language.

Find it difficult to talk to toddlers?

If you find it difficult to talk to young children, you may not be focusing on them and their interests. Stop thinking about you and your interests. See what your child is interested in, and talk about that. You don't have to talk nonstop. Some fathers (and mothers and baby-sitters) are naturally taciturn. That's okay. If you are loving, the way you talk to your child will be sufficient. You may not be as lively as your child's other caregivers, but with a twinkle of the eye and a shy smile you convey extra meaning to your child.

Some fathers (and mothers and baby-sitters) are taciturn - and cold, as well. There is no heart in the few words they speak. If you suspect you are one of these, consider your child's needs. Knowing that your child needs you for both language and love can help you warm up; such a thaw can be one of the many gifts your child gives to you. If you feel that you've talked too little to your child, don't fret about it; just start now. You still have many years ahead in which to establish a caring, verbal environment.

Don't compare your child with other children.

Accept the way your child talks. Children have individual rates of growth in all areas: physical, emotional, intellectual, and verbal. Pronunciation skills that come easily to one child may not come easily to another. A noncritical approach to your child's language skills will make your child more likely to want to talk to you.

Up and Down the Stairsillustration

Up and down, down and up - toddlers continue to want to meet the challenge of stairs. Be there for them because stairs are not safe yet. Teach toddlers to hold on to the railing if they can reach it. They may want you to hold their other hand, too, but often they don't want their hand held. They want to work things out for themselves. Let them go and stand just below to catch them if they fall. If you need a rest and your child is very good at going up and down, sit on the third stair and let your child go up and down - but only that far.


Parental Competition

You're sitting in the park with other parents and watching your child in the sandbox. You notice that your child can't handle the shovel as well as another child, or can't talk as well, or can't instigate projects as well. So: not good with the hands, not articulate, not a leader. These kinds of musings are natural. Most parents have them because they care so much for their children and because they are their children's advocates. Don't feel guilty for wishing your child was better or even the best. The time to worry is when you obsess about your child's shortcomings, push your child to do more than your child is capable of doing, and, should your child be the best at something, start bragging obnoxiously. If you do the latter, don't be surprised if other parents move to another bench.





Ball Play

Toddlers are now developing some rudimentary ball skills. If you give them balls that are big and light, they are able to squat down, grasp the ball, and stand up with the ball in their hands. That's a complicated sequence, worthy of admiration! The next step is for the children to throw the ball to you. Stand close by because toddlers can't throw far. They like to throw big light balls and also little ones, such as tennis balls.

Kicking a Ball

Children this age also like to kick balls around. The ball should be big and light enough for them to move around. Toddlers will try to make the ball go in the right direction, for example, toward you. If you have a group of children at your home, you can have them stand in a circle and try to kick the ball back and forth to one another. This is a good game to play at family gatherings. Children are thrilled to play such "real" games with older kids and grown-ups.

Climbing on Furnitureillustration

Toddlers are programmed to climb on furniture. What they are doing is fulfilling their innate desire to exercise their gross motors skills in new and necessary ways. What they aren't doing is trying to wreck your furniture and drive you crazy, though these may seem like inevitable outcomes of their behavior.

So, instead of trying to prevent your child from climbing on furniture, you may as well give in to this impulse and let your child go full steam ahead. You can set limits and say that certain chairs and sofas may not be climbed on. Include in the list furniture that is too precious and too rickety.

Then stay back (but close) and let your child climb.

If your child doesn't want to climb chairs, you might even gently encourage the activity by saying it's okay on certain chairs.


How Do I Get Down?

Not being able to get down from a chair is a typical toddler problem. They can't handle what they get themselves into. And overreacting and saying, "Why did you climb up there in the first place?" is a typical parent problem. Toddlers can't get down because they haven't learned that skill - yet. But they will, and you can help by showing them how. Children this age can usually get down from a table or chair that is waist-high. Higher than that gets a little dicey.

Sorting Objects & Shapes

Sorting objects is an intriguing activity for children at this stage. If you serve them a dish of peas and carrots, for example, you might see them carefully set the peas aside and eat only the carrots. If they have a collection of little cars, you might see them sort the cars into groups, perhaps by color, even before they actually know the names for colors. When you see a child performing sorting operations, you don't need to comment, but you might casually enrich the experience with comments such as: "The peas are green and round, and the carrots are orange and square."

illustrationBut beware of interfering and ruining the experience for your child. If your child is absorbed in some sort of self-motivated and rather intellectual sorting activity, leave him or her alone. These kinds of activities are their own reward for children.

Mailbox-type toys.

Mailbox-type toys have holes in them of varying shapes that correspond to colorful little blocks of varying shapes. The child "posts" the shapes into the box through the correct holes. Observing your child play with such a toy will tell you if your child is able to perform the shape-matching task. If not, you can demonstrate it yourself and help your child, but don't push your child. In time, your child will be able to do it.


Even the simplest puzzles may be too hard for your child to do alone at this age. Give help freely, and be patient. When your child is two, he or she
will be more successful.

Simple Sorting Games

Sorting things is a common household task that your child can "help" you with, if you are willing. For example, children with clean hands can help you put the silverware away. Or they can help you put the lids to pots and pans away. Sorting toys in a messy room is a headache. With your child's help it can turn into a learning activity - if you're in the right mood and if you have the time. If you don't have the right mood and enough time, don't try it. You may prefer to sort silverware or pick up your child's room quietly all by yourself after your child goes to bed.


Coloring With Crayons

Provide your child with fat crayons and paper to draw on. Observe what happens. When children first start to color, they usually make light strokes on paper. They grasp the crayon in their fist because they can't yet grasp it the way you do. Later, they'll be able to hold it in the more conventional way. Children are amazed by the simple lines they draw.

illustrationAnticipate problems in order to prevent them, and set limits from the start. When you give your child crayons, teach your child what is appropriate drawing behavior and what is not. Explain that crayons are for drawing on paper and not on walls or in books. If your child disobeys, take the crayons away until the child is willing to abide by your rules for coloring.

Sometimes paper slips around too much for children to draw upon it. You can solve this problem by using masking tape to hold the paper down. If you like, put on some music and draw with your child. Children often like to share a drawing with you. You make a few lines on paper, then your child makes a few more lines, and so on.

When your child is finished coloring, he or she should put the crayons away. Demonstrate this process enthusiastically, making the task seem like an interesting challenge. You may want to put the crayons away on a high shelf so that they can only be taken out by a grown-up.


Children's First Drawings

Your child's first drawings may not look so great to the rest of the world, but to you and your child, they are spectacular. Refrigerators make perfect galleries for children's art. Use nonstick masking tape or big magnets, and post the drawings where you and your child can peruse them. Talk about them together. You may soon have more drawings than your refrigerator can hold. Other uses? Wrapping paper, stationery for grandparents, framed pictures for presents for grandparents and friends.


Friends ...

Young children like to play with other children, especially familiar children. They are fascinated by them. Sometimes all they do is stare at one another. Toddlers sometimes may not look like they are playing, but they are enjoying themselves. They also like to investigate one another's toys.

Sometimes the most successful pairings are of children of slightly different ages. The younger child enjoys observing the older one, and the older one enjoys being the more capable one.


... And Enemies

Young children can get mad, jealous, embarrassed, hurt, and just plain nasty. Sometimes they fight because their angry feelings overwhelm them. Sometimes they fight just for the experience of it. They've seen other kids hit each other, and they want to try that behavior themselves. And sometimes they fight because they are tired. The first thing to do when children fight is to separate them. Say, "No fighting," and offer an alternative: a snack, a different toy for each, a story, or possibly even a nap.


Food Play - Bad

The enduring conundrum for parents of toddlers is how to set limits for those children who freely act out their ideas and emotions. Take mealtime. Feeding a toddler can go smoothly one day and be a nightmare the next. A child who knows how to eat now makes a complete mess of things, laughing and spitting and refusing to eat and even throwing food on the floor. What do you do when you are faced with a toddler who is losing it? Number one: Don't laugh. Number two: Take the food away, explaining simply that "food is not for playing; food is for eating." Don't overreact. Both yelling and spanking scare and hurt toddlers.


Food Play - Good

Because children do like to touch food and prepare things with it, they enjoy "cooking" on their level. Toddlers can make these recipes, if you help them.





At some point your toddler makes the brilliant discovery that absolutely everything has a name. And being a curious soul, your toddler now decides to learn all these names, or at least to ask about them. Not every name will be remembered, but your toddler loves to point at things and ask, "Whazzat?" illustration

Answer, of course, briefly. You don't need to go into long explanations.
A simple name will do. If you get the feeling, as you undoubtedly will at times, that your child is less interested in learning a name and more interested in getting you to respond, you might consider giving your child what he or she really needs, which probably is a little more attention.

If your child is tormenting you with Whazzats, try distracting him or her with another activity.


The Toddler Interrogator

The same goes for the other favorite question that toddlers like to ask, "Why?" Does your child really want a full explanation of a particular phenomenon or parental directive, or is your child just saying a new and exciting word to get a response from you?

Because I said so.

"Because I said so" is a parent's last response to children demanding to know why they have to put on a hat, take a bath, or go to bed. After you have given the honest reason clearly several times (because it's cold, because you're dirty, because people need to sleep), you may find yourself saying what you hated to hear your parents say, "Because
I said so." When you think about it, it's not a bad answer, but your child has you beat anyway by now saying, "Why?" In other words, why did you say so? Don't bother to explain. Give up, smile, hug your child, and start the water for the bath. In general, answer toddlers' questions about everyday events as simply as possible. Long-winded explanations go over their heads. Children will continue to ask why as they grow. When they are older, they will understand explanations better.



Saying Short Sentences

Many toddlers this age use three- or four-word sentences. They seem to grasp the idea of subject and verb. Exactly how this happens, no one knows; but all experts say that children need to hear language in order to learn how to use it. The more children hear, the more they begin to understand how language works. If you keep a tape recorder or video camera handy, you can record your child's words and sentences. If you record your child every month or so, you'll have a wonderful record of how your child learned to talk. If you do make a tape or video of your child's developing language skills, consider sending a copy of it to grandparents and other relatives far away.

Listen to Your Child

Communication is a two-way street; it involves talking and listening. Don't tune out your child. Whether your child is an early talker, a late talker, or somewhere in the middle, pay attention and show that you care. If you want your child to listen to you, you have to listen to your child.


My Vocabulary Grows

Your toddler may be able to say as many as twenty words now. The words may not be pronounced correctly, but they are real words that stand for people and things your child knows. Not all children say what they know out loud. A certain few seem to wait until they can speak well before they say a word. If you are worried about your child's progress, consult your pediatrician. Otherwise, enjoy your child's vocabulary, and, if you like, keep a pad handy to list the words your child is learning. In the coming months the list will grow longer and longer.



20 Words

Make sure your child is immersed in a language-rich environment. You don't want your child to be bombarded with boring words all day long, but you do want your child to perceive the pleasures and intimacy of language. When you chat and play with your child, you provide exactly the right kind of language stimulation. TV, on the other hand, does not do the trick. It's too impersonal. Toddlers need you and other caring people to talk with them.

Toddlers love chants.

You can make up chants about anything. Just say the same sentence over and over with slight variations each time. Clap or bounce your child on your lap as you chant. Eventually your child will be able to chant with you.



Feelings ...

Learning how you feel about something is important to young children, who experience a full range of emotions before they are able to identify them. Learning that others, especially you, share the same kinds of comfortable and not-so-comfortable feelings is helpful. Your child copies you. If your child hears you talk about your feelings and watches you handle your feelings without hurting others, your child will learn that a variety of feelings are normal and that there are interesting words for describing them. Your child will learn that talking about feelings can help to alleviate them.

Kicking, biting, hair pulling, and punching:

Help your child understand that it's okay to feel angry, but that it's not okay to hurt others. Don't make the mistake of condoning harmful activities just because you understand your child's feelings. Hurtful behaviors are not allowed. Offer harmless alternatives, such as punching a pillow.


... And Words for Them

Don't forget to share your feelings of love and contentment as well as your feelings of frustration and anger. Sometimes fathers who love their children very much forget to convey their love to their children.

Hassles and Messillustration

For some reason, some toddlers are fascinated with messes. They don't mind getting their hands all sticky and gooey. And they don't mind putting their sticky, gooey hands on the walls and on you. Because you often have to wipe their hands and faces, it's good to be prepared to do so, and not to be lacking a handkerchief or wipes just when you need them most.

Be prepared:

When you are out with your toddler for the afternoon, have what you need. You never know what's going to happen, and, as they say, it's better to be safe than sorry.

What to pack for toddler outings:

Clothing Diaper(s)

A Hassle-Free Glue Project

Toddlers can do this gluing project quite neatly. Perhaps the reason they like it so much is that they get to use something sticky in a proper way.

Materials needed:

• White glue, such as Elmer's

• A little dish to put the glue in

• Paper plates, cardboard, or big junk-mail envelopes

• Little things, such as pine cones and little Styrofoam packing material peanuts. Start collecting these things now for future projects.

• Newspapers (optional)


1. Tape newspaper to the table to protect the surface, if necessary.

2. Set out two paper plates (one for your child and one for you), a little dish with a little glue in it, and a pile of little things.

3. Demonstrate how to pick up a little thing, dip it gently in a little glue, and stick it to the paper plate. Your child will copy you and feel quite proud. The finished "sculpture" can be a present for someone. Your child may be happy to do your plate for you, if you stay close by.


The Value of Water Play

Water play is both fun and educational. When children play with water and water toys, they not only enjoy themselves, but they also learn about the physical qualities of water and concepts such as full and empty, floating and sinking, heavy and light, wet and dry. These concepts are strengthened in children if you provide interesting water toys and talk about them playfully.

Water play also vents feelings. Children can slap water, squish it, pour it quickly, and act out stories with it. Try putting your child with figure toys in the bath after watching TV cartoons. What the children have repressed may come out. Water play is also an excellent way to get clean.

Warning: Water play can be dangerous. Toddlers have drowned in inches of water. Supervise them closely. Also, watch that little toys don't go down the bathtub drain.


Educational Water Play Toys



What Kinds of Toys ...


... Are Best for My Child?

A toddler toy checklist:

The best toys for your child are those that meet the following criteria:

• They are developmentally appropriate for your child.

• They are too large to be swallowed.

• They have no detachable parts that can be swallowed.

• They have no little parts that can break off and be swallowed.

• They have no sharp edges or points.

• They are well made.

• They are not made of glass or brittle plastic.

• They are nontoxic.

• They have no parts that can pinch fingers or catch hair.

• They have no long cords that could accidentally strangle a young child.

If a toy does not meet the above criteria, it should be used by the child only under very close supervision.

Toys for one-and-a-half-year-olds:

Snap-lock beads & big wooden beads

Little figures & animals

Shape toys

Teddy bear

Big, simple dump truck

Small alphabet or number blocks

Push & pull toys

Toys for two-year-olds:

Safe riding toy

Cobbler's bench

House & barn for figures & animals

Paper & fat crayons


Small cars & trucks

Single shape puzzles

Toys for two-and-a-half-year-olds:

Big wooden blocks

Tea set

Punching toy

Easy puzzles

Small nonelectric toy train

Toys for three-year-olds:

Construction trucks

Toy wheelbarrow



Toy tool bench

Simple lotto games


Instant Games

Here are two games you can play with toddlers anywhere, anytime, no equipment needed, just a little space.

Follow the leader.

Have the kids make a parade with you as the leader. Ask them to do what you do and go where you go. As you parade around, say where you are going, as in, "Okay, here we go by the refrigerator, everyone touch the refrigerator, and now we're going under the table, everyone down on your hands and knees!"

Ring around the Rosie.

Have the children stand in a circle and hold hands. Walk in a circle as you sing, "Ring around the Rosie, Pockets full of posies, Ashes, ashes, All fall down!" The anticipation of and then the actual falling down is the best part for toddlers.


Instant Toys

Be on the alert for household objects that can be turned into instant toys. For example, an empty Band-Aid box with a little toy inside makes an instant shaker. Your child can change the contents to produce different sounds. Watch, though, that your child doesn't put little things in his or her mouth.

Other toys that can be made from common household objects:

• Cardboard toilet paper rolls can become telephones

• Cardboard paper towel rolls can become horns

• Milk cartons can be washed, dried, taped shut, and used for blocks

• Pot lids can become cymbals

• Small plastic detergent bottles with handles can be washed out and used for pouring water in the bathtub and toddler pool

• Old-fashioned, wooden peg clothespins can be little dolls, especially if you add facial features with a marker



illustrationPuppets provide an opportunity for dramatic play and affection. Big but light fuzzy puppets are like dolls and teddy bears; and the nice thing about them is that you can put your hand inside and make the puppet talk to your child. This is fascinating for children. Sometimes they want to try, too, to make the puppet talk to them and to you.

If you don't have a puppet, you can take an old white sock and draw a face on it with a marker. Don't worry if your artistic efforts are not earthshaking; they will be to your child because you have just made a sock come alive!

Children like stories about themselves, so if you're trying to think up a story for the puppet to tell, make your child the main character and include familiar people and happenings from your child's life.



Pets provide children with a variety of learning experiences plus the joy of possession and, depending on the pet, relationship. However, your toddler won't be able to help much in the care of a pet until he or she is older. For now, children can learn from pets that pets are not toys and that animals have certain needs, such as food, sleep, cleanliness, and exercise. When pets give birth, they provide a natural course in sex education. If you want to get a pet, select one that will adapt to your family and home.

illustrationDogs: Certain dogs tolerate toddlers beautifully. Find out which ones these are by consulting pet store operators, veterinarians, and other pet owners.

Cats: Cats that don't scratch and don't mind toddlers are the best. Get advice.

Guppies, turtles, and tropical fish: Children like to watch them, but make sure your child can't reach in.

Parakeets: With patience many of them can be taught to talk. Perhaps you and your child can do this together. The cage should be too high for your toddler to reach.

Gerbils: Toddlers can watch but not touch yet. Make sure they can't get into the cage.


Making Scrapbooks Together & Reading Scrapbooks as Books

illustrationIf you like to take pictures of your child, you might also like to make scrapbooks or photo albums. Instead of storing these albums away on a shelf for relatives and friends to see, why not take them down and "read" them to your toddler?

Include photos of your child's favorite people, pets, and objects. If you like, you can label the photos with words, but don't expect your toddler to read them. Still, it's okay for the words to be there for you to read ... and for your child someday to read.

Sturdy albums with plastic-coated pages will best survive the use of a toddler. If you worry that your child will wreck the photos, have double prints made, and keep one set for posterity.


Toddlers Love Books!

Bookstores and libraries have sections that feature books for toddlers. Many of the books are printed on nearly indestructible materials so that toddlers can handle them freely without inadvertently ripping them. It's nice for kids to have these books around and to have access to them, like toys.



Books & Bedtime Routines

Toddlers thrive on routine. They like to sense the pattern of their day so that they can feel secure within the structure and can anticipate what's coming next. Because children love books as well as routine, a pattern that works well for many children and their families is to have a bath, a story or two, and then good night. At bath time you can discuss what books you'll read together.




Based on the book FATHERS & TODDLERS: How Toddlers Grow and
What They Need From You, From 18 Months to Three Years of Age
Text © Jean Marzollo, Illustrations © Irene Trivas

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