25 Milestones of the First 5 Years
Parenting is not as black-and-white as, say, assembling a crib (not that that's so easy!). Although there's no shortage of information about when most babies take their first step or babble their first "mama," there's a myriad of other achievements that get little press. When is baby ready to blow his nose, or ride a trike? Here's a guide to help take the guesswork out of some of these less heralded milestones. Remember that every child is different and we're only offering guidelines. If you opt to do something earlier or later, no points will be deducted from your parenting score!
Cribs, Pacifiers, and Play Dates
Get baby out of your bed and into a crib when he is 3 months old. If you wait too much longer, you might have a difficult time getting him accustomed to sleeping in his own space. (This does not apply, of course, to parents who opt for a family bed.)
Get baby a big-kid bed around the age of 2. To be more precise, when your baby is standing in the crib with the mattress on the lowest setting and the top of the rail hits just below his nipple, it's time to make the move, according to Mark Widome, MD, professor of pediatrics at Penn State Children's Hospital and author of Ask Dr. Mark: Answers for Parents (National Safety Council). At that point, most babies can get a leg over the rail and climb out -- a safety hazard. If your baby isn't a climber, you may opt to let him stay in his crib awhile longer, but be prepared for an eventual jailbreak!
Take baby's pacifier away around 2 to 3 months of age, says Dr. Widome. Of course, there's no reason you have to take the pacifier away at all. While children who are still using a pacifier at 3 or 4 are at risk for speech problems, it's considered harmless in babies. Still, some parents can't stand the sight of an older baby sucking on a binky. If you're in this camp, waiting to take it away may bring on a struggle, so it's best to remove it in early infancy.
Start teaching ABCs, numbers, colors, and shapes when baby is 6 months old. While comprehension won't come for some time, there is no downside to introducing these concepts to very young children. Keep the learning fun and meaningful -- use books, real-life examples (the banana is yellow, the ball is round), and forget the flash cards! "Rather than grill them on letters, sing songs, read books, and say rhymes," says Linda Acredolo, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis and the author of Baby Minds (Bantam Books).
Have a one-on-one play date once your baby can sit up and get a good view of his buddy. "Babies are much more interested in each other than people realize," says Acredolo. "Even at 2 to 3 months, they notice each other. By 9 to 12 months, they are offering each other toys and imitating each other." To encourage friendly interaction and to minimize fighting, have doubles of toys on hand.
Pets, Teeth, and Chores
Get a pet no earlier than age 2. A 2-year-old can look with interest at a fish and will have minimal problems (a few hands in the fishbowl won't hurt anybody), says George Scarlett, PhD, a contributor to Proactive Parenting: Guiding Your Child from Two to Six (Berkley). For pets such as cats and dogs, it's best to wait until a child can be gentle and considerate, probably not until he's at least 3 or 4. Don't expect him to be able to take on much in the way of responsibility, like feeding or walking -- especially without your prompting and guidance -- until he's around 7 or 8, or even older.
Have drop-off play dates by age 3. However, your child's maturity, temperament, and familiarity with the other child are important factors. If your preschooler doesn't seem comfortable playing without your being there, suggest that the play date take place at your house next time.
Start chores when baby is 18 months old. Putting away toys, dropping clothes in the hamper, or bringing napkins to the table are all good first chores for toddlers. While a toddler will need help at first, you'll be surprised at how capable your child will become as she does more. As she gets older, add more chores, such as watering plants, wiping up spills, making her bed, and carrying plastic dishes to the sink.
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