Baby Care

4 Quick Questions About Toddler Development with Dr. Alan Greene

January 28, 2023

By Guest Blogger, Dr. Alane Greene, Founder of and KidGlyphs iPhone App and Healthy Child Board Member

Q: As a pediatrician and father you’ve had a lot of first-hand experience with toddlers. In your opinion, what are the most important developmental tasks for this stage?

Dr. Greene: I’d say communication is the most important because fundamentally it helps facilitate all the other developments that occur during this time period - potty-training, playing with others, being able to process all of the new sensory experiences, and so much more. Many of the emotional meltdowns children experience between about 9 and 30 months old bubble up from the frustration of not being able to communicate. The “terrible twos” are less terrible the more children learn how to get across their intense and conflicting thoughts.

Q: You are so well known for your work in nutrition, when did you become interested in kid communication?

Dr. Greene: I became fascinated about – and began writing about – communication more than a decade ago, first on and then in my book From First Kicks to First Steps. The new insight that kids understand at least 100 words more than they can say, even when they utter their first word, has grabbed my attention. It’s a powerful truth that can help us better understand our kids and it’s why I founded KidGlyphs – a tool that helps parents and children communicate. And, by facilitating the lines of communication, you are not only better armed to manage all of the other developments I mention above, but you are also better equipped to help foster better eating habits. So, increased communication promotes better nutrition during this time period and beyond.

Q: If a toddler is in the middle of a melt-down, what should a parent do?

Dr. Greene: First, take a deep breath.

Next, while you are taking a deep breath, consciously relax. Kids play off your emotions. It’s so hard to relax in this situation, but just let your muscles go. The more uptight you are, the more energy is available for their tantrums. Kids thrive on attention, even negative attention.

Where you go from here depends on your child. Some children will calm down if you pick them up and hold them. My first son was like that. His storm would dissolve if you just gave him a big hug and told him it would be all right. If you picked up my second son during a storm, he would hit you — there were different ways to get him to calm down. Each child is unique.

One thing that often works very well is to try to voice to the child what he is going through. “You must really want to get this, don’t you?” Then he may melt and say, “Uh huh.”

Handle tantrums with a light touch. Seasoning the interaction with understanding, humor, and distractions can save the day.

You will have to experiment with your child to see what it is that can help him understand that everything is okay, these bad feelings will pass, and that it’s all a normal part of growing up.

Q: Do you have any nutrition tips for parents of kids in this stage?

Dr. Greene: Of course! The five greatest motivators for preschool children to eat healthy foods are:

1. Imitation. If the foods in the house are healthy, kids will pick their favorites from among healthy choices.

2. Mastery. The more kids are involved in meal prep, the more likely they are to enjoy the food. Just helping to slice a tomato helps increase its appeal. For young toddlers learning language, just learning the names of foods can make them seem tastier.

3. Tasty choices. Often kids’ fruit alternatives are restricted to apples and bananas, and maybe grapes or oranges. Many kids love peaches, tangerines, cherries, blueberries, raspberries, and pineapple. Whole-grain pancakes can be a hit. The younger you start, the quicker they will develop their tastes in these directions. Kids can grow to love new foods with repeated small tastes.

4. Fun presentation. Try a whole-grain pancake with a strawberry for a nose, kiwi slices for eyes, and banana for the mouth. Brush its teeth with the fork before eating (since after eating it won’t have any teeth left!). Try corn on the cob served standing up (it’s a rocket ship). Use your imagination and let your child use hers.

5. When all else fails, sneak it in. Make zucchini bread, carrot muffins. Add shaved vegetables or pieces of fruit to virtually any baked good. Two recently published cookbooks, The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious, offer more ideas on how to hide the healthy stuff. Kids can get repeated exposures to food, increasing the chance they’ll like it later, without even knowing it.

I’ve heard it said that the ancient Greeks defined children as short humans who don’t like vegetables. :^) Now that we have mass advertising, children’s fun meals, and peer pressure, the battle is all the harder. But the battle is worthwhile, and it can certainly be fun. The battle should never be with your kids. Never push. Entice them, persuade them, teach them. Battle bad nutrition.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of Healthy Child Healthy World.