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Toddler Care: Your 17 Month Old Toddler

Feb 28, 2022 | 2 Minutes Read

Expect lots of chatter and talk from your toddler this month as they learn to expand their vocal sounds and say a few simple words. Of course, their language won’t be clear just yet; they’ll still be talking in jumbled up words and sentences, as much to themselves as to anyone. They are likely to become shy when faced with strangers and new situations. It will be at home where they feel most comfortable and relaxed that they will practice their new verbal skills.

This won’t be the case with their physical development. This month it will become even harder to keep your toddler in one place. They will be off in a second and drawn to investigate whatever has captured their attention. This means you’re going to have to watch them constantly, especially when you’re out.

Your toddler is unlikely to want to sit for too long in their stroller and will want to get up and run whenever they can. Make a point of strapping them in and having some food and snacks on hand to occupy them when necessary. Remember that your toddler needs to take at least 2 steps for every one you do. Their legs are still very short, and they will work extra hard to keep up. They’ll tire easily and will still want to be carried at times. If you use a baby or toddler carrier, you’ll notice they’re getting heavier and your own tolerance for carrying them long distances is reduced.

Growth and development at 17 months old

This is the age of exploration, discovery, imagination, and wonder. The simplest things will fascinate your 17-month-old, whether it is water flowing from the tap or an ant hill in the yard. They will have learned how to point with their forefinger, and you’ll see their facial expression reflecting the intrigue they are feeling.

The word “no” will come easily at this age and they will quickly learn how to register their protests and demands. Expect some opposition to your requests, especially when you need to disengage them from an activity they are enjoying. Stiffening in your arms, throwing back their head, and squealing in protest are all common forms of tantrums. These behaviors can come as a surprise to some parents who, until now, may not have seen any indication that their child had a will of their own! Remember that you are the parent, you are in control, and your toddler is learning about boundaries, rules, and self-control. It’s all part of growing up.

Your toddler could be getting a little big for their crib now, but it’s still a little early for them to move into a toddler or twin-size bed. Make sure they can still move freely and aren’t restricted by the crib sides. If the top rail is at their chest height or lower then they will need to start sleeping in a bed. Avoid using lots of bulky bed linen and pillows in their crib at this age. Adventurous toddlers can use these to form a step and hoist themselves up and over the upper crib rail. Scan your toddler’s room for unprotected power points, unsealed toiletries, curtain cords, and potentially harmful substances. Your toddler’s brain is still too immature to know what is safe and what isn’t.

Play and interaction at 17 months old

Make sure you have lots of stackable containers, pouring vessels, and toys of similar shapes and colors to play with. Matching pairs and objects of a similar appearance starts at this early age. Don’t worry if your toddler gets frustrated when their blocks come cascading down and don’t be too quick to help them. It is through practice and repetition that they will learn how to be patient and build on their skills of making things work in an alternative way.

What you can expect at 17 months old

There will be lots of dressing and undressing this month. They are likely to be happier walking around in a pair of your shoes and a tea towel on their head than wearing their own cute clothes. Their imaginations are powerful, so you’ll see them interpreting objects as being all manner of different things. But 17 months is also the age of linking routines and behavior so you will see your toddler “helping” you in the house and copying your habits. This is a funny stage, and you’ll see yourself replicated in miniature.

Sometimes your toddler’s behavior may make you frustrated and even angry as they exert their will and demand their own way. Their behavior may quickly alternate between being delightful and cuddly to demanding and angry. Sometimes it will be necessary for you to take a deep breath and walk away for a few moments. This is OK! Just make sure they are in a safe place such as their crib or playpen. They are still too little to understand logic or for you to provide a long explanation. It is your calm but firm actions that will mean the most to your toddler. Combined with love and affection, giving clear directions, setting boundaries, and being consistent, this basis will provide the best environment to positively shape their behavior.

Try to remember your toddler will not be deliberately setting out to be difficult. Their brain is still developing and being molded by their experiences. Children who grow up in homes where their parents commonly show aggression, chaos, or anger learn that these are normal emotions. If you feel as if your own childhood experiences are having an impact on how you care for your toddler, speak with a counselor. Repeating the patterns of abuse from one generation to the next can only be stopped by acknowledging there are problems and then doing something constructive about them.

Food and nutrition at 17 months old

Eating needs to be a simple process now. Your toddler will eat the same food as the rest of the family. Avoid cooking different foods for them in hopes they’ll eat more. Hungry toddlers tend to eat when they are ready, which means you need to think about how often your toddler is having in-between meal snacks.

They may want to eat more or less at each meal, may favor some foods over others, and take a liking or rejection to some foods. Much like adults, toddlers can change their mind about what they are willing to try or flatly refuse. Sometimes they may want to be more adventurous and at least have a taste of a new food, and other times they may only eat the same foods for days on end.

Avoid giving your toddler juice, tea, or sweetened fluids. You should not be giving them anything other than milk and water at this age. Their teeth are so vulnerable to decay that any substance which contains sugar will increase their risk of cavities. Snacking on sweet foods throughout the day can also increase the risk of dental decay.

If your toddler is still using bottles, consider stopping this month. Expect some emotional turmoil as they adjust to a sippy cup, cup with a straw, or child-sized open cup with handles.

Keeping Your toddler healthy at 17 months old

Try not to limit your toddler’s exposure to other children now. Children are not born social and will only learn from being with others and role modelling. Although you may want to insulate your toddler against other children’s germs, this is not a healthy practice. Your toddler’s immune system is designed to cope with a wide range of potentially harmful bacteria and viruses and needs to be primed to work effectively. Of course, it makes sense to keep them away from people who are clearly sick with infectious diseases, but this is not always possible.

Simple measures can help your toddler stay well. Bathing, frequent diaper changes, hand washing, immunizations, tooth brushing, and limiting their exposure to sick people will all help.

It may not always be obvious when your toddler is becoming sick. It is common for children in this age group to become quiet, show a disinterest in food, fuss, or have other subtle changes in their behavior. Often when they are in the early stage of an illness and before any other symptoms emerge, they can be particularly clingy.

If you sense your toddler may be coming down with an illness, plan for a few days at home. This is often the time when illnesses are the most contagious.

General tips

  • Close doors to rooms that you prefer your toddler doesn’t access. This simplifies family life and will reduce your stress levels by not having to constantly monitor where they are.
  • Get some nursery rhymes and children’s music and play them at home and in the car. Singing and reciting rhymes can be a great way to defuse a building tantrum and helps enormously with language development.
  • If your toddler won’t keep still to have their fingernails or toenails cut, do this when they are asleep.
  • Your toddler will be using both of their hands equally now and it won’t be clear which will be their dominant hand. It will be clearer if they are going to be right or left-handed closer to preschool age.
  • Don’t worry if your toddler looks bow- legged. This is part of the normal leg development, and it can take several years before a child’s legs take on their permanent appearance.

The information of this article has been reviewed by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at health4mom.org.