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New this month: Ready for toilet training?
Many experts say that 18 months is too young to start toilet training; many grandparents say, "We potty trained you at 1!" Who's right? Of course it depends on the child, and some are in fact ready to begin the process now. But before you start trying to make this enormous transition, look for some signs of readiness. The sensory awareness that allows a toddler to recognize the need to empty his bladder and bowels and then "hold it" until he gets to the bathroom is sophisticated. And the concept that everything has its place — including pee and poop — and the desire for orderliness usually begins around age 2 (though some children don't potty train until much later).
What you can do
At this age, a low-key approach is best. Toddlers learn by imitation, so start by letting your child copy what you do in the bathroom. Let him sit fully clothed on an adult or toddler toilet seat so he can get used to the idea of sitting on the potty. If your toddler has a favorite doll or stuffed animal, you can pretend that it's going the bathroom, too, a tactic that may entice your child to try it out for himself. Keep your expectations in check, however. It may be another year before he's ready to get down to business.
Other developments: Solving puzzles, increasing dexterity
Your toddler wants to know what is behind, under, and inside of everything. But unlike a few months ago, he doesn't want to just empty closets and cupboards of their contents. Now after he clears out your kitchen cabinets, your toddler will probably try to put everything back to see how it fits (though it won't look like it did before).
For now, gross motor development outpaces fine-motor development, but that's only because a typical 18-month-old doesn't want to sit still long enough to do many activities that require significant dexterity. There are, however, a few that will hold his interest: scribbling with crayons or finger painting, stacking blocks, turning knobs on doors and cupboards, and pushing buttons on telephones, televisions, and stereo equipment.
A toy telephone, or a real one with cords removed, will keep his fingers engaged (but you'll probably want to keep him away from your pricey audio-video gear!). He may also enjoy trying to slide large wooden beads onto a length of string. An 18-month-old is very interested in fitting things inside of other things. Shape sorters, nesting boxes, and even some simple wooden puzzles (puzzles where a whole object fits inside a matching slot, not jigsaw puzzles) will absorb him. One sign of his increasing dexterity is the ability to hold a cup and drink from it without spilling.
Keep a few toys handy in the back of your car to make trips to the park even more fun. An extra-large beach ball (or an ever bigger ball, like those used in exercise classes) is fun to roll across grass, and roll on. (At this stage, toddlers can't quite kick balls. They attempt to, but they don't have the coordination to do it and end up sort of walking into the ball.) He may also have the skills to push or pull a small wagon or similar toy, and to pedal a tricycle or "big wheel." If it's winter, channel some energy by stomping in puddles, or have a snowball fight, throwing the snowballs at trees or telephones poles instead of each other.
See all our articles on toddler development.