This scientist and Mum of two is super passionate about our incredible human bodies! I love passing on my knowledge and passion to my toddler. I love equipping her with knowledge that will help her build a happy and healthy future. Welcome to our blog! Find out more about us here.
Read or watch
In the following video I explain to you why I teach my toddler body parts so that you can watch while you wash dishes or fold laundry! But if you’re feeding the baby, keep it quiet and read my post…
Today, I want to share with you why I think we should teach our children about their body from day one. Well, there’s three broad primary reasons:
I have taught physiology at the University of Otago and have grown up with a brother in a wheelchair. I’ve worked with individuals of all ages from newborn to university age, so I’ve seen just how important it is to teach our young people how the body works. It really can equip them to live a happier healthier life.
Today I share why I teach my toddler about her body…
Teaching body parts helps my toddler develop body awareness.
Teaching your toddler body awareness can provide them with communication tools when they’re hurting, itchy or uncomfortable and can empower them if they’re ever in a situation where someone is trying to take advantage of them, as horrible as it is to talk about. Let me know in the comments if you want more posts on body awareness like body awareness activities for toddlers!
Teaching body parts provides my toddler with communication tools to talk about her body
Toddlers struggle with communication which often leads to frustration and tantrums. As parents and teachers we can help scaffold their learning helping them learn to communicate. If we teach them about their body parts by singing songs with actions like “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”, they have the communication tools needed when they stubbed their toe.
Most of us know this particular song very well and we know the basic parts of our external body well, but it’s also important to teach children about their internal body. Give them tools to explain when things hurt inside. For example, sore muscles, headaches, stomach. Appendicitis is a very dangerous situation when not caught in time; it can be indicated by pain in the lower right abdomen, nausea and vomiting.
I teach my toddler body parts to help her use her body well and take care of her body well.
Toddlers and children are curious. They will start to play with their private parts from a young age wondering “what is this for?” When they understand what their body parts are for, they can start to use them more effectively and take care of them effectively.
Teaching her about her body gives my toddler opportunities to ask questions about their body
The body can be an uncomfortable topic for many adults, but it’s important that your toddler is comfortable asking questions about their body and talking about it. Why? Because you want them to feel comfortable coming and talking to you about itchy armpits or private parts. They should be taught modesty, but they also need to be able to speak about uncomfortable topics with a trusted adult as they grow.
When should I teach my child about consent?
You can start when they’re a baby or toddler! It is an unfortunate reality that we need to teach our children about consent. Even if they are in what you know to be a safe environment with safe adults, it is still important to empower our children with the knowledge of how to provide consent for anyone to touch them e.g. an adult changing their nappy.
I teach my toddler about her brain to give her emotional regulation tools she can use for a lifetime.
Check out my Instagram for our April series: The brain and emotional regulation for toddlers! Make sure you drop a comment letting me know if some of this content particularly helps you and make sure to send me a DM! I love to get to know my readers.
As part of this series I also made this emotional regulation activities bundle for my toddler and I put it on our Teachers Pay Teachers store as a resource for ages 2+! Make sure you check it out in our Teachers Pay Teachers store and follow us there for more resources like this one.
Teaching body parts helps me teach my toddler healthy habits from an early age.
The second reason I teach my toddler about body parts is that it can help her develop healthy habits to last a lifetime!
I teach my toddler to perform self-care activities well
For example, my daughter likes to wash herself in the bath…independent toddler… Yes, I need to make sure she’s clean to protect her skin, but she usually wants to do it by herself. This is ok. She needs to learn to clean herself well. It’s amazing what toddlers and children are capable of! They can usually learn to do it better than we ever imagined.
I can get carried away at times wanting to make sure it’s done thoroughly, and while there’s merit in making sure it’s done well, it’s most important that she learns how to do it well herself.
A great way to teach self-care is by incorporating it into play and by modelling.
Here are some activity ideas!
- Show them how soap gets rid of germs with this experiment using water, dishsoap and pepper.
- Cover their hands in cocoa or dirt, have them wash their hands until all the cocoa/dirt is gone. This can help show them that if in the bath they only wipe the cloth once over one of their legs, they’re not clean yet!
- Make a playdough person, use a fork to lightly create little dimples/germs all over the playdough person and have your child smooth them all out.
I aim to give my toddler the gift of a healthy relationship with food
Food. Delicious. Energy. Lifegiving. Immune boosting. Hydrating. Food is so many things that are wonderful, and it can be so many negative things too. Addictive. Damaging. Fattening. Harmful.
So how can we encourage our children to make healthy choices and have healthy habits when it comes to food?
- Teach them how their body uses and processes food …playdough activity idea here on my Instagram!
- Teach them the discipline of reflective eating
- Involve them in meal preparation and meal choice
- Model a reflective and healthy relationship with food ourselves
Encourage reflective eating
What is reflective eating? Ask yourself, how does this food make you feel? To some people a sandwich gives them the brain power and energy to power them for the whole afternoon. To others it causes bloat, discomfort and a sluggish afternoon. Reflective eating is considering how this food affects you. Is it life giving and energy boosting? Or delicious in the moment but induces brain fog and reduces your productivity?
What does this look like for your toddler? Ooh! Another post idea! Going on my list 😉 For my toddler this looks like me modelling my own food reflections and asking her about her experiences with food. We do this regularly.
If you’re a Mum, you think about food all. the. time… Breakfast. Snacks. Lunch. Dinner. Plan for tomorrow…plan for next week…groceries and more. We put so much effort into making sure our family has good healthy food to eat and we want them to actually eat it and enjoy it! And along comes a picky toddler…it can be so discouraging! Toddlers are picky. There are many reasons for this and the blog Kids Eat In Color by Jennifer Anderson is a great resource for finding strategies and ideas to feed picky kids.
If you have a young baby, you may be thinking about ways to help you start them off with a strong and healthy relationship with food by introducing them to a variety of flavours early on. But, if you’re like me, you have so much in your brain! So it’s hard to keep it all straight and can add to cognitive load and overwhelm. So I made this meal organiser printable pack to help plan family meals when starting solids! Click here to head to our Teachers Pay Teachers store to download it.
Habits can last a lifetime. Good habits take time to build and bad habits can take time to break. They do what we do more than what we say, so I work to show them what a healthy relationship with food looks like by first focusing on my own healthy relationship with food. I love a good treat and yes sometimes treats are good, but when I have a treat I make sure I don’t hide it. I have treats at time when I deserve them and they will provide my body with some good nutrition. If I feel the need to hide treats, then I ask myself “should I be eating this?” “What benefit does it have for me?” “How will I feel after I consume this?” If my toddler is around, I include her in that conversation. If she wants a treat, I have the same conversation with her. Sometimes we conclude “yes, it’s time for a treat” and sometimes we conclude “no, it’s not the right time for a treat. It’s right before dinner”.
Give your child the responsibility of keeping themselves safe with safety habits for toddlers
There are habits we have that are important for keeping us safe such as:
- wearing a helmet
- wearing a seatbelt
- sitting in a carseat or booster seat
- no running across the road
- no running on slippery concrete at the pool
- respect things that are dangerous e.g. pot on the stove is for adults
- wearing sunscreen
We have family rules, and I can enforce these rules with my toddler, “in this family we wear our helmet”. I can also explain why in simple terms we wear a helmet “so that if we fall our head doesn’t get hurt”. If this works, wonderful.
Your child may, however, need some more information through a conversation, play ideas or object lessons to understand why it’s so important and how they can keep themselves safe.
Promote emotional wellbeing in the early years to build a foundation for their future mental health
Mental health is a leading problem in our western society; I don’t think anyone would argue with me there. This is the world our toddlers and preschoolers are growing up in. I want to empower my daughter with knowledge, tools and habits that will help her take charge of her mental health through life. Habits that will cause her to intentionally reflect on where she is at and habits that will see her making changes to improve her mental health day to day.
One of the most important things a toddler is learning is emotional regulation. They learn that they can’t control their world – how hard is that lesson?! I know I wish I could control my world…but that’s not real life. As they are learning this hard lesson, they are learning to interpret signals coming from their amygdala. Signals that are firing with huge feelings that they struggle to regulate. We as their parents and teachers are here to help coregulate and teach them to recognise what they are experiencing as an emotion. We are here to give them strategies to move from their downstairs brain to their upstairs brain to help them think, problem solve and find ways to self-regulate.
Teach your toddler some emotional regulation tools with these emotional regulation activities:
Upstairs Downstairs Brain Activity pack
Activities structured to identify feelings, learn about the brain, upstairs downstairs brain, and learn strategies that can help self-regulate
My Big Little Feelings worksheets
Interactive worksheets to help your child identify 20 different feelings through facial features, body language and experiences they have had in the past.
Click here to purchase in our shop or sign up for our email list below and download for free!
- Upstairs Downstairs Brain activity pack
- My Big Little Feelings worksheets
- Brain-themed writing paper
- Bonus: My Brain Helps Me poster
Show your toddler the consequences of unhealthy habits.
Cause and effect is something children start to learn when they are babies at about 9 months old. This understanding of cause and effect turns to a deeper understanding of what consequences are in their preschooler years. When they are developmentally ready to understand this concept, you can start to show them situations in their own life where they experience natural consequences e.g. I ate too much sugar and now my tummy hurts, and logical consequences.
Cultivate empathy in your toddler
Empathy does not come naturally for children. They are the centre of their own world. When they are born, they learn their mother’s love, they discover their family members and eventually start to develop relationships with other children. As they go through everyday life with you, they will create in their mind their sense of normal. My brother is in a wheelchair. To my toddler this is normal because he’s just her Uncle. To a child who has never seen anyone in a wheelchair, they are likely to think this is different and have questions.
As they go through everyday life with you, they will meet other children and adults who may have:
- special needs
- food allergies
- stomach tubes
- and more
They will meet extraordinary humans who live a different normal.
Let’s raise toddlers who are comfortable learning and asking questions about someone else’s normal. Most of all, let’s raise toddlers who are accepting of others, whatever their normal is and however new and strange.
This is getting to be a long post, but I think it’s important for me to include this story before I conclude. I have a brother with special needs. He has the most beautiful piercing blue eyes and a handsome face, and he’s been in a wheelchair since he was a toddler. His epileptic seizures keep setting his development back leaving him exhausted and lethargic. He’s now in his 20’s and I’ve had the honour and privilege of being his sister.
Through the years I’ve come across people who are curious, scared, empathetic, uncomfortable, sympathetic, awkward, and understanding. He seizures so often that as his sister I’m quite used to them, but when a friend was hanging out with me at home after school they would often be quite taken aback. “Is he ok? What do we do? How can we help him?” This was a response I did appreciate. The reality is, there wasn’t much we could do to help him except make sure he was safe and not going to hurt himself during a seizure.
The responses I found harder were people who were just uncomfortable, awkward, obviously had questions, but did not feel comfortable talking about it or being around him. He’s always been sensitive to others and how they respond to them, even if they can’t tell.
I had a birthday party. All my friends walked in and we had games and food and a good time. My Mum made an observation. My brother was sitting on his bed with his toys in the corner, maybe a tween from memory? As my friends walked in, most of them either didn’t see him or ignored him out of discomfort…but one friend walked over to him and looked him in the eyes and said “Hi! How are you doing today?” He has a motor pattern where he moves his head back and forth for reasons I don’t need to dive into and seems to not be paying attention, but he hears and is aware of much more than we realise.
Throughout that birthday party, he was watching the friend that had greeted him when they all arrived. For him, this was huge communication and amazing for us to see. She had made a big impact on him. He so appreciated someone new coming in and engaging with him.
Why do I share this? Because I know how uncomfortable special needs and medical situations can make people, generally more adults than children…but I think it’s so important to teach our children how their body works, what can happen when it goes wrong and how to love everyone well regardless of their medical status. When my friend treated my brother as another valuable human in the room, he responded in kind trying to find ways to connect with her in his own way.
There are three primary reasons why I teach my toddler about how her body and other bodies work.
In teaching her body awareness she can feel comfortable and confident asking me any and all questions about her body, I can teach her to respect her body and the body of others by teaching her consent and I can teach her about her brain to help her use her body well and give her an emotional regulation toolbox. Don’t forget to download the free emotional regulation printable worksheets!
In teaching her healthy habits by teaching her about how her body works and modelling, she can be independent and confident in her self-care, she can form healthy food habits through her life and have key safety habits that can give me more confidence as a mother trying to keep her safe. Through modelling and play, I can encourage and promote emotional wellness and mental health habits that she can carry with her for life.
In teaching her about medical conditions and the person behind the medical condition I can cultivate empathy in my toddler. She knows my brother is in a wheelchair and she loves him with all her heart just as she loves my other brothers with all her heart.
So I encourage you, through everyday life teach your child about their body, how it works, how to take care of it, and how to use it to thrive and serve others. Follow along as I post about ways that I’m teaching my toddler about how her body works and as I talk to her about how her lungs work and how someone with asthma can find breathing hard sometimes.
Let us know in the comments if any of these reasons have inspired you. What will you focus on teaching your toddler first?
Don’t forget to get the “My Big Little Feelings” for FREE by signing up to our email list! The pdf will automatically download once you confirm your subscription through your confirmation email.
We want to get to know you better and let you know about updates from ohhowtheygrow like new posts or freebies. We won’t bombard you with emails! I myself know how frustrating that is. Our emails will be short and to the point and we would love to hear from you. We will endeavour to reply to all emails from you too.