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Babies who were born shortly before or after the COVID-19 pandemic are now wild little toddlers! But while completely wild at home, some of them exhibit some social apprehensions. People often use the term “COVID babies” or “pandemic babies” for these kiddos who hide behind their parents and cling to them for dear life in unfamiliar social scenarios. My son was born just shortly before the pandemic started, so he has essentially only known pandemic life and certainly fits the “covid baby” persona.
As an anxious first time mom, I definitely took COVID precautions seriously: we did not attend many social gatherings, generally avoided crowds and I didn’t even take my son to the grocery store with me until after he was a year old. I still take precautions, but am far more relaxed about it than I used to be. I am also a stay at home mom during the week, so my toddler has never been in daycare and regularly around other toddlers and adults. More on pandemic parenting life in my post, Pandemic Parenting Fatigue.
So now, with my son being 2 years old and with the world slowly starting to feel a bit more “normal”, I am exposing him to a lot more people and places. Plus, all the snow has melted for the season and we are spending most of our days out and about!
I take my tot to the park, on nature walks, to the grocery store, the gymnastics center, the library, the coffee shop and we visit close friends and family. When we first started diving into all these outings, my toddler would literally run in the opposite direction from any kid that approached him or walked by him. He also would start crying if I stepped more than a foot away from him in an unfamiliar, or even a not so unfamiliar setting.
As he was exhibiting this separation anxiety, I started to question my parenting. Had I inadvertently sheltered my child to the point that it was detrimental to his social development? By choosing to be a stay at home parent, was I selfishly depriving him of regular interactions with his peers in daycare?
After a deep dive into the matter of toddler socialization though, I am confident that my son is doing just fine! So if you are a parent with a pandemic baby turned toddler, let me share some information and thoughts that may offer some comfort.
Toddler Social Development and Separation Anxiety
First, we need to understand and acknowledge what is considered developmentally appropriate when it comes to toddlers and issues like separation anxiety. In the “Parenting Beyond Discipline” podcast, Erin Royer explains that separation anxiety is fairly normal for young toddlers.
She explains that separation anxiety often comes and goes up until the age of 5 or even 7 sometimes. And separation anxiety is not necessarily a bad thing, but oftentimes a sign of a strong and healthy attachment with a parent or caregiver. Children who have formed a healthy attachment trust that their parent or caregiver is going to consistently be there for them. They feel that they have a safe and secure base. So this is a good thing!
Further explaining healthy attachment, Gene Oullette in the Kindergarten Ready: What Really Matters in Child Development podcast explains that toddlers with healthy attachment have caregivers who are in tune with their child. They know when to provide comfort and safety for their children, but also know when to back off and let their child explore and develop their independence.
So when separation anxiety is related to a child’s healthy attachment to a caregiver, perhaps starting to focus on this element of gently encouraging exploration and independence is especially relevant. I say gently though, because we have to remember that a 2 year old is still going through an incredible amount of growth and development. And they are experiencing many things for the very first time! So we have to remember this and allow them to be little.
In the My New Life podcast by Lovevery, Jessica Rolph explains that it is “important to keep in mind that a lot of that socialization with other children doesn’t typically happen until much older than we think. So a 1 or 2 year old isn’t doing the same socialization as a 3, 4 and 5 year old.”
It’s so easy to forget that babies and young toddlers live in totally different worlds than we do. Their brains are still rapidly developing, and they simply see and experience the world differently than adults do or even kids do who are just a little bit older.
For example, Rolph and episode guest Nekole Eaton go on to discuss how a 1 year old simply isn’t ready to sit with other children and socialize in the way we think of socialization as adults. And even at 2 years old, those toddlers are engaging in what is referred to as “parallel play”. That is, they may play alongside each other, but they aren’t having direct interactive play. So if your 2 year old pandemic baby is still only interested in mostly doing his own thing when it comes to play, this is totally normal!
While keeping the above in mind, I do still think there are ways we can encourage our slow to warm-up toddlers to get more comfortable in unfamiliar social settings. Here are some of the things we are doing with my toddler to gently encourage his social blossoming.
Supporting Pandemic Babies’ Social Development
Social Exposure Outings
These are outings where you and your toddler are around other people, but there is little pressure to interact with others directly. But, your toddler gets the chance to observe other people and learn that these scenarios are safe. Examples of low pressure outings and activities to start out with include the following;
- Trips to the grocery store
- Local parks (usually there are high traffic park times that can be good for more exposure to other kids – around noon and early evening in our area)
- Quiet coffee shops
- Libraries (You can check out my post on local children’s libraries and all they have to offer)
Ideas for more demanding social outings and experiences to work up to include the following;
- Local toddler classes (We are about to check out “Tinkergarten” and local toddler gymnastics classes)
- Playdates with one or two other toddlers
- Leaving your toddler with a babysitter, friend or family member for a short period of time (starting out with even just 20 minutes)
Baby Steps Towards Social Experiences and Behaviors
Some toddlers need a little more support, time and encouragement than others when it comes to social mingling, and this is perfectly ok! If the world were filled with all the exact same types of people, that would be so dull! We need all the different types of little toddlers with all their different little personalities.
So for my toddler who has a slow to warm-up temperament, I often remind myself that taking baby steps when it comes to his social development is helpful. I encourage him, but don’t push him. For example, I will comment on how much fun it looks like kids are having at the park and let him know he can play too if he wants. If he wants to keep observing for awhile though, I don’t push it.
And since adopting this baby steps mindset, I have actually been blown away by how fast he is taking those baby steps! For example, within a week, he went from running away from kids who were close to him at the park, to sharing his toy cars with a couple of little boys.
Building Social Life into a Routine
Babies and toddlers thrive off of routine. Routines help them feel like the world is safe and predictable. They know what to expect and so they can use their energy and attention on other matters.
So when it comes to helping my toddler feel more comfortable in social settings, I am talking to him a lot about where we are going, who will be there and what it will be like before we actually get to those places. I also try to take him to the same places every week, so that he gets more comfortable in those settings.
While I think the above steps are important to help my toddler feel more confident in social settings, I also am starting to think about preschool or some other way to get him spending time with a regular group of his peers once he gets a little older.
In her podcast “Parenting Beyond Discipline”, Erin Royer explains that from around age 3 to 3.5 is a really important period for social development and growth. This is when kids start wanting more direct and regular interaction with their peers.
Learning About Social Relationships at Home and Through Books
I have often caught myself thinking that the only way my son is going to learn to be social is through interacting with his peers. I forget though, that parents are actually the first people who are usually teaching their babies and toddlers about social behavior.
For example, we can teach our toddlers how to be kind, take turns and play games at home. We teach them about basic behaviors that are and are not socially acceptable. And we create a healthy relationship with them, so that they know what that looks like and how it works.
In addition to teaching them these things through our everyday interactions, we can also read them books with stories about prosocial behaviors. Young children can pick up on so much through simple story books and illustrations!
For more ideas on supporting toddlers’ social development, see my post on Shy Toddlers and 5 Ways to Support Their Social Development.
Pandemic Parenting Support
Especially during these strange pandemic times, I think we all need a little extra encouragement and kindness as parents. For our own wellbeing, and also so that we can extend that same love and support to our children. So I hope we can all give ourselves a little encouraging pat on the back and celebrate our little tots!
If you have any comments, experiences or additional ideas on ways to support young toddlers and their social development, please say hi and leave a comment below!
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Pumpkin Yogurt Parfait
This week’s recipe is inspired by my toddler’s love for pumpkin pie! On more than one occasion, he has woken up in the middle of the night screaming, “pumpkin pie!”. He just loves it so much. So while we intermittently make a pumpkin pie to satisfy his cravings, I wanted to find an alternative pumpkin recipe for toddlers.
So we have now introduced this easy to make and healthy pumpkin yogurt parfait into our meal and snack repertoire! Delicious for toddlers and adults alike!
Ingredients for Pumpkin Yogurt Parfait
- 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 1/4 cup whole plain yogurt
- Small handful of granola (no large clumps or nuts)
- Drizzle of maple syrup
- Sprinkle of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
- A small handful of dried fruit (minced as needed)
You can use canned or homemade pumpkin puree. Just be sure you are getting ‘100% pumpkin puree’ and not ‘pumpkin pie mix puree’ if you are using canned. I like to use O Organics Pumpkin Puree.
Taste of Home explains that canned pumpkin has been steamed and is safe to eat without further prep. Additionally, it can be kept in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days after you have opened a can.
Whole Plain Yogurt
Or any ‘plain’ yogurt will do! Plain greek yogurt, low fat plain yogurt etc. Greek yogurt especially gives the parfait a nice thick creamy texture.
Watch out for granola mixes that have large chunks of nuts as they are choking hazards for young toddlers. Just be sure to chop the granola and any nuts up finely if this is the case and also be aware of any potential allergies. Also note, babies under 12 months aren’t supposed to eat honey, which is often an ingredient in granola mixes.
Optional – my toddler will eat this parfait just as well with or without maple syrup. If I’m eating it too though, I like to add a bit of maple syrup for extra sweetness!
Dried Fruit & Cinnamon or Pumpkin Pie Spice
My toddler loves sprinkling some cinnamon onto his parfait along with some raisins, dried cranberries or dried apricots.
Depending on how old your child is and how they do with chewing, you may want to mince any dried fruit toppings as a choking hazard precaution.
Add equal parts pumpkin and yogurt (about 1/4 cup of yogurt and 1/4 cup of pumpkin puree) to a bowl and mix it all up.
Next, add a thin layer of granola over the top, sprinkle on some cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice and throw on some raisins. And a drizzle of maple syrup if you want to sweeten it. My toddler will eat this with or without the maple syrup.
I often end up making my toddler a second bowl after he finishes the first, because he loves it so much!
Pumpkin: Nutrition & Benefits
Pumpkin is a nutritious fruit (yes, it’s technically a fruit not a vegetable!) and offers some great health benefits.
Nutrients in O Organics Pure Pumpkin puree (1/2 cup serving size);
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Vitamin A: 930 mcg
- Iron 1.7 mg
- Vitamin C: 5mg
- Potassium: 250 mg
- Protein: 1 g
- Total Sugars: 4g
- Sodium: 5mg
- Low in sugar and sodium
Preformed Vitamin A Vs Pro-Vitamin A
There is pre-formed vitamin A and then there is pro-vitamin A.
- Preformed vitamin A is found in animal products like meats and dairy products. It is also often the type found in supplements.
- Pro-vitamin A on the other hand is found in fruits and vegetables.
Pumpkins have pro-vitamin A. That is they have carotenoids (antioxidants like beta-carotene) that the body converts into vitamin A. It is also why they are orange!
This can be a bit confusing when it comes to nutrition labels though, because preformed vitamin A and pro-vitamin A are lumped together on nutrition labels, as explained by Natural Grocers.
Understanding the difference between preformed vitamin A and pro-vitamin A is important though, because preformed vitamin A can cause vitamin A toxicity (hypervitaminosis A), which Medical News Today explains manifests as symptoms of skin problems, organ problems, high cholesterol and nervous system issues. This is usually from eating a lot of animal based foods in addition to taking vitamin A supplements.
In good news though, scientific journal Cureus explains that the body regulates how much pro-vitamin A is converted from carotenoids, so toxicity is highly unlikely. If someone consumes a lot of carotenoids, they may just turn orange! So, Harvard T.H. Chan states that there is no need to worry about consuming too much beta-carotene (the pro-vitamin A precursor).
Does your toddler love this pumpkin yogurt parfait? Do you have another favorite pumpkin recipe for toddlers? Say hi and let me know in the comments!
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Around the time my toddler turned 2 years old, his nap schedule went a little haywire. Just before turning 2, he had a nap regression that lasted a couple of weeks. And now at 25 months old, he is again having trouble settling down for naps.
So I started wondering, do 2 year olds need naps? How important are naps for 2 years old in terms of cognitive development? Has my toddler outgrown naps?
Table of Contents
Research Studies on How Naps Impact Toddler Cognitive Development
So the studies I reference here are mostly with 3-5 year olds, but it seems fair to reason that if a 3 year old still benefits from a nap, then a 2 year old would as well.
Another disclaimer is that I summarize the research studies’ findings in very simple terms in order to make them useful and digestible here. I have linked to the original research articles though, if you would like to get into the nitty gritty details.
Effects of Napping on Toddler Memory Consolidation
A number of research studies have looked at the effects of napping on memory consolidation in toddlers. Squire et.al (2015) describes memory consolidation as the following;
Memory consolidation refers to the process by which a temporary, labile memory is transformed into a more stable, long-lasting form.
Memory consolidation then, is an important aspect of learning for toddlers as they integrate new learned information.
|Research Article||Authors||Date Published, Journal, Published Date, Volume Number||Findings in a Nutshell|
|Goodnight book: sleep consolidation improves word learning via storybooks||Sophie E. Williams & Jessica S. Horst||2014, Frontiers in Psychology, 5(184)||* Napping improved memory consolidation in 3 year olds. |
Napping improved word learning in habitual 3 year old nappers significantly more than it did for non habitual nappers who did not nap after learning new words.
|Sleep spindles in midday naps enhance learning in preschool children||Laura Kurdziel, Kasey Duclos & Rebecca M.C. Spencer||2013, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science; 110 (43)||* Napping improved memory consolidation in 3-5 year olds (whether they were habitual nappers or not)|
The habitual nappers however, benefited the most.
Conversely, non habitual nappers performed better on consolidation measures compared to habitual nappers when both groups skipped napping.
|The Role of Sleep in Retention of New Words in Habitually and Non-Habitually Napping Children||Katherine Esterline & Rebecca L. Gomez||2021, Brain Sciences, 11(10)||* 3.5-4.5 year old non habitual nappers who have transitioned out of naps do not rely on naps to recall learned information. Habitual nappers however, do. |
Children who have transitioned out of naps are able to recall information after a 4 hour delay whether they have napped or not. Children who still habitually nap though, need a nap to recall the information after a 4 hour delay.
The cited studies above show that napping helps toddlers retain and recall information. And it seems that habitual nappers especially benefit from a nap. Additionally, non habitual nappers who have transitioned out of naps may not rely on naps in the same way that habitual nappers do. While both nappers and non nappers may benefit from naps when it comes to memory recall, non habitual nappers seem to perform better than nappers when both groups skip naps.
So for preschools that have kids ranging in ages from 3-5, this presents an interesting topic regarding whether they implement naps or not during the day. While some kids may not necessarily need a nap to retain new information, other kids may need a nap to do so.
Effects of Napping on Toddler Generalization
Generalization is how kids learn to apply information and skills in different contexts. They are able to transfer what they learn in one particular instance, to another similar context. The following studies shed some light on how napping impacts generalization in toddlers.
|Research Article||Authors||Date Published, Journal, Volume #||Findings in a Nutshell|
|A Daytime Nap Facilitates Generalization of Word Meanings in Young Toddlers||Klara Horvath, Siying Liu & Kim Plunkett||2016, Sleep, 39(1)||Napping improves generalization in 16 month olds.|
|Wakefulness (not sleep) promotes generalization of word learning in 2.5-year-old children||Denise M. Werchan & Rebecca L. Gomez||2014, Child Development, 85(2)||2.5 year olds who did not nap tested better on generalization than 2.5 year olds who napped.|
|Words to sleep on: Naps facilitate verb generalization in habitually and non-habitually napping preschoolers||Michelle Sandoval, Julia A. Leclerc & Rebecca L. Gómez||2017, Child Development, 88(5)||Napping helps 3 year olds generalize new verbs (whether they regularly nap or not). Without a nap, the 3 year olds were not able to generalize.|
A couple of the studies cited above contradict each other. While the Horvath and the Sandoval studies show that napping benefits generalization, the Werchan and Gomez study show that NOT napping benefits generalization. So what gives?
Sandoval et al. explain that the difference between their study and the Werchan and Gomez study might be explained by the difference in how each study measured generalization. Sandoval et al. used verbs as part of the learning measure, whereas Werchan and Gomez used nouns. And Sandoval et al. explain that nouns are more easily generalized than verbs.
So, the children in the Sandoval study were presumably unable to encode the verbs as well as the children in the Werchan and Gomez study encoded nouns. They were only able to make “fragile representations” of the learned information. So sleeping then helped “stabilize” those “fragile representations”. And since the representations they encoded weren’t super specific, this led to greater ability to generalize the information to other contexts.
In the Werchen & Gomez study on the other hand, Sandoval et al explain that the learned information was not considered “fragile”. The children formed specific and “robust representations” of learned information, and sleep further stabilized those representations. So when those “robust representations” became more solidified during a nap, it led to decreased ability to generalize. The information encoded was so specific, that the children couldn’t generalize it to other contexts as well.
So, in both studies, sleep strengthened encoded representations, but the differences in types of information encoded led to differences in generalization performance.
Contradicting Studies on Napping Effects on Toddler Learning
|Research Article||Authors||Date Published, Journal & Volume #||Findings in a Nutshell|
|The Effects of Napping on Cognitive Function in Preschoolers||Janet C. Lam, E. Mark Mahone, Thornton B.A. Mason & Steven M. Scharf||2011, Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, 32(2)||For 3-5 year olds, consolidated nighttime sleep is more important when it comes to learning than naps with shorter nighttime sleep are. |
Increased napping time was correlated with decreased cognitive performance.
I initially did not know how to make sense of this article cited above, since it contradicts many of the previous articles I read on napping and toddler cognitive development. As it turns out though, there may be a good explanations for this.
Esterline & Gomez explain that children in the above study (Lam et al.) were getting 2 hours less sleep than is recommended (and 2 hours less than children were getting in other studies). This was true for both the nappers and non nappers in the Lam study, as both groups slept about the same amount in a 24 hour period. The non nappers just got all their hours in at nighttime.
So the correlation between nappers performing worse on cognitive tests, may only indicate that consolidated sleep at night is more important than napping. This doesn’t mean though, that kids who are getting adequate consolidated nighttime sleep and additionally taking naps don’t benefit from naps.
It is also important to note that the findings in the above article are correlational. That is, researchers observed a relationship between napping and cognitive performance. But that relationship isn’t necessarily a cause and effect relationship.
A Review of the Studies on Napping and Toddler Learning
|Research Article||Authors||Date Published, Journal, Volume #||Findings in a Nutshell|
|Spotlight on daytime napping during early childhood||Klara Horvath & Kim Plunkett||2018, Nature and Science of Sleep, 10||A review of studies showing the importance of napping for both generalization and retention on infants, toddlers, and preschoolers under 5 years old. The authors do however acknowledge that there are contradicting studies. |
More research is needed to determine if there is a specific time period that naps should be stopped.
The article cited above reviews a number of studies regarding napping and learning in toddlers. The authors conclude that overall, the evidence seems to point to the fact that napping indeed supports learning in toddlers. They do point out though, that there are contradicting studies. So continued research is needed to work out the specifics of how different types of learning may be impacted differently by napping or not napping.
My Takeaways from the Research
- Young toddlers benefit from naps when it comes to learning and memory (as long as they are getting consolidated nighttime sleep as well).
- Toddlers who are naturally transitioning out of naps don’t seem to rely on naps when it comes to learning in the same way that habitual nappers do. This doesn’t mean though, that those toddlers who have transitioned out of naps don’t still benefit from naps when it comes to consolidating new information and learning.
- More research is needed to determine an ideal age to stop naps.
How Much Sleep Does a 2 Year Old Need?
WebMD also states that is more important for toddlers to get consolidated sleep at night time, than it is to nap. The Lam et al. study cited in Table 3 supports this.
So as long as toddlers are getting a good chunk of consolidated nighttime sleep, perhaps there’s no need to try and force those daily naps. Especially if your toddler isn’t showing any signs of tiredness, or doesn’t sleep well at night if he or she takes a nap during the day. An earlier bedtime in those cases may be a better solution.
How Long Should a 2 Year Old Nap?
WebMD‘s recommended upper limit of 14 hours of sleep for a 2 year old in a 24 hour period provides a good guideline for how long a toddler should nap. As long as you’re keeping tabs of how long they’re sleeping at night, it’s easy to gauge how long an appropriate nap is.
I have rarely had to wake my toddler up from a nap to limit his total sleep time. If he is by some miracle taking a long nap though, I always wake him up by 4. Anytime past 4 is getting too close to bedtime, so may interfere with him being able to fall asleep for the night.
Is it Okay if My 2 Year Old Doesn't Nap?
Because my 2 year old is currently fighting naps periodically (and doesn’t seem to be overly tired) I feel that it’s okay if he doesn’t have a nap those days. This may be a sign that he is in the early phases of naturally transitioning out of naps.
However, if he starts refusing naps and additionally starts having a hard time going to sleep at night, I will try to get back to a more strict nap schedule. Because if he is getting overtired, this is probably a sign he is not actually ready to transition out of naps.
Struggles going to bed at night can ironically be due to being overtired. The Sleep Company explains that as toddler get more and more tired, their bodies start releasing cortisol and adrenaline as a stress response. And these hormones interfere with their ability to sleep.
Toddler Tiredness Signs
So to prevent overtiredness turning into sleep schedule problems, I try to keep an eye out for when my toddler is exhibiting tiredness signs. And when he shows them, I do everything in my power to get him to nap or go to bed early. Even though my toddler often insists he is not tired and does not want to take a nap, sometimes his body language says otherwise. I always watch out for the following signs to gauge how tired my toddler is;
- Rubbing eyes
- Easily frustrated
- Wanting to be picked up
Even if my toddler is going through a nap regression and fighting nap time, I still try and get him to nap if I notice the above tiredness signs. This is when we will go for a car ride or I will try laying down next to him and singing a couple songs. And when he falls asleep in 30 seconds in the car, I have confirmation that he was in fact in need of a nap.
On the other hand, if he is refusing a nap and is not displaying any of the above signs, I say what the hey and let him run around all afternoon. I try to encourage independent quiet playtime in these cases (you can check out my post on How to Encourage Independent Play for more on this topic). And then put him to bed an hour earlier than usual.
2 Year Old Nap Regressions
Just before my toddler turned 2, he started to become a little chatterbox. And this coincided with his first nap regression that lasted a couple of weeks. I do not think this was coincidence. I think his brain was so hyper-activated that it was pretty much impossible for him to settle down enough to fall asleep. Prior to this regression, I usually had little to no problem putting him down in his crib for a nap everyday.
Nap or No Nap, We Raise our Tots like No one Else Can
In any case, I realize that the world is not going to end if I don’t get my toddler’s napping schedule quite right. Reflecting on all of the time I spent trying to pick apart those research articles makes me laugh a bit at myself. Oh to be a first time parent. Worrying about every little detail. Wondering if I’m doing it right.
So the point I’d like to end on, is that if we are wondering how to best take care of our toddlers, we are probably doing just great! We will never know all the answers or how to parent perfectly, but with our love and care, our toddlers should be just fine.
I’d love to hear about any napping tales you have to share! What is your child’s nap schedule like? What tips and tricks do you have to get excited toddlers to settle down for nap? Say hi in the comments and chime in with any thoughts, feelings, comments! Be well ~
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