Between the ages of 1 and 3, a toddler develops at an amazing rate. Physically, she will go from crawling to walking without support to running and even jumping. She may gain four times her birth weight and grow noticeably taller. She will begin to speak in sentences and become increasingly independent. All of these changes can be affected by nutrition, stimulation, sleep, interaction with other people and medical conditions.
Although many toddlers are picky eaters at times, basic nutrition is very important. Malnutrition can cause anemia and increase susceptibility to infections. A toddler should eat three meals a day and two snacks, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Meals should include protein, carbohydrates and fat from foods such as meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Lack of nutrients can affect brain development, while inadequate minerals -- such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus -- may result in weak bones. Sugar adds empty calories and may promote tooth decay; an occasional treat is not harmful, but avoid daily intake of sweets.
Stimulation and Interaction
Children need stimulation for brain development and active play to strengthen their muscles. Colorful toys, picture books and loving interactions with their caregivers promote physical, emotional and intellectual development. A study reported July 2012 on the website “Live Science” found institutionalized children had fewer brain cells and lower quality brain activity; teachers reported these children also had poor social skills. A study of children in Romanian orphanages, in which children received minimal stimulation and had regimented interactions with caregivers due to overcrowding and lack of training, found physical changes in the children’s brains.
Sleep is vitally important for toddlers. Inadequate sleep can cause problems ranging from crankiness or temper tantrums to lack of energy. One study reported January 2012 on “Science Daily” found missing a daytime nap caused cognition difficulties in 2-year-olds as well as behavior problems. Most toddlers need at least 12 hours of sleep at night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. A daytime nap of one to two hours is also helpful. Some children, especially younger toddlers, do better with two naps -- one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Bedtime routines and a cool, quiet, dark room help promote good sleep habits.
Medical problems can affect a child’s normal growth and development. Chronic diseases in toddlers such as Cystic Fibrosis or Cerebral Palsy may be genetic and lifelong; both affect physical development. Asthma may be severe enough to require multiple hospitalizations, which can impair social development. Ear infections can cause hearing problems that may affect social development and learning. Obesity in children has become a major public health problem and can increase the risk of related diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes later in life.
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Optimizing Nutrition for Toddlers
- Live Science: Early Neglect Alters Kids' Brains
- Science Daily: Nap-Deprived Tots May Be Missing out On More Than Sleep
- National Sleep Foundation: Children and Sleep
- Journal of the American Medical Association: Chronic Diseases of Children
- Drugs.com: Normal Growth and Development of Toddlers
- Medline Plus: Toddler Development
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images