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Toddler - Tips for Parents


Information about the onset and patterns of risk behaviors associated with overweight and obesity during the toddler years are showcased in the link below. Visit the section titled Desired Behaviors to learn about how to promote healthy active living during the toddler years.

​​View Toddler ​Timeline​​​

Desired​​ Behaviors

Based upon evidence, a number of desired behaviors were identified as critical to helping families foster healthy active living for their toddler. For each desired behavior you can explore the evidence, learn what paren​​​ts told us about these behaviors, identify opportunities to promote healthy behaviors at the point of care, review how to start conversations and access messages and resources to support families. Also available to inform your counseling is the Onset and Patterns of Risk Behaviors for Toddlers Timeline located above this section.

Role Mod​​eling:

Parents and family model healthy active living


    Adults play a vital role in modeling behaviors and creating physical and social environments that influence nutrition, physical activity, and sedentary behaviors in children.

    Of all the adults involved in the lives of young children, parents or guardians have the greatest influence on them.

    Parent Feedback

    ​​Parents were skeptical that they were so influential.

    Some parents did note that children were often interested in eating what was on their plate.

    If the parent had healthy foods, their child was more likely to eat them as well, so they could see how modeling was important.

    Opportunities for Care

    ​​When providing anticipatory guidance about healthy active living, frame it as a family endeavor.

    Reinforce that parents are a child’s most important and influential role model.

    Conversation Starters

    ​​Tell me about how you are doing?

    How are you doing? Are you finding time to eat healthy and be active?

    What influence do you think your eating and activity have on your toddler?

    Related Parent Resources

    ​​HALF Message:
    Parenting is an important job. When you set a good example, your toddler learns healthy habits.

    Parents have the greatest influence on healthy habits like eating healthy, turning off the TV, and getting enough physical activity.

    HALF Resources:
    For realistic parent derived strategies about role modeling refer parents to Parenting Tips for Toddlers section​

Routines ​are Important:

Establish and maintain healthy routines
Regular meals
Daily physical activity
Adequate Sleep


    Parents should nurture routines for children that provide exposure to behaviors that are associated with obesity prevention.

    Three household routines were associated with a reduction in the risk of obesity. These routines were:
         Eating the evening meal as a family
         Getting appropriate amount of sleep
         Limiting screen time to <2 hours/day

    Sleep duration has been identified as potential modifier of childhood obesity. Children who got less than 9 hours of sleep had 1.5 times the risk of being obese as those with 11 hours/night. 

    Parent Feedback

    Parents were adverse to the word "schedule".

    Overall, parents had trouble making the link between routines and healthy active living. However, nap time was a valued routine.

    Many parents thought establishing routines was particularly challenging if they had multiple children with other schedules and demands.

    Opportunities for Care

    Emphasize the importance of eating breakfast, having family dinners, establishing a bedtime routine, and getting enough sleep.

    Help parents understand that routines make it easier to do these activities.

    Identify strategies to help the family establish and maintain routines.

    Advise parents that toddlers need 12-14 hours of sleep every day.

    Conversation Starters

    What’s a typical day like in your family?

    Can you talk about any barriers you have to developing healthy routines at home?

    Can you tell me about a routine that is going well for you?

    Can you tell me about a routine that you would like to have in your life?

    Who makes the routines in your house?

    Routines are a good thing, especially for toddlers. Let’s brainstorm some ways to start some routines for your family.

    Related Parent Resources

    Related HALF Messages:
    Routines are a good thing! One way to help you and your toddler stay healthy and happy is to stick to a routine. When your child knows what to expect, she’ll be less likely to have a temper tantrum.

    Establishing routines for mealtime, playtime, and sleeping time will help you manage your responsibilities as a parent, too.

    HALF Resources:
    For realistic parent derived strategies for establishing routines refer parents to the following sections on
       Quick Tips: Keep Your Child Healthy widget. Simply select Routines and Schedules to generate the results.
       Parenting Tips Toddlers
    Also take advantage of the HealthyGrowth app​ to create personalized patient education for your patient.

Building​ a Team: 

Parents engage famliy and friends to help ​​​their child eat healthy and be active
Parents and childcare workers work together to provide healthy foods and active play. 


    Many children share meals and activities with other members of the family.

    ​48% of children ages 0–4 with employed mothers were primarily cared for by a relative—their father, grandparent, sibling, other relative, or mother— while she worked

    24% spent the most amount of time in a center-based arrangement (day care, nursery school, preschool, or Head Start).

    14% were primarily cared for by a nonrelative in a home-based environment, such as a family day care provider, nanny, babysitter, or au pair.

    Parent Feedback

    Parents regularly identified family members (spouses and grandparents) as saboteurs and influencers that impact their ability to promote and integrate healthy active habits into their lives.

    In general, parents felt more comfortable approaching child care providers to talk about healthy active living values when the childcare provider was paid.

    If this service was provided in kind by family or friend, it was more challenging.

    There was sensitivity about offending the provider regardless of whether they were paid or unpaid.

    Opportunities for Care

    Assess parent and family support around healthy active living and identify barriers around healthy eating, routines, and activity.

    Remind parents that everyone loves the child and wants what is best for them. That is usually a great place to start these discussions.

    Ask about their comfort level with their childcare situation and ask if they feel supported in their healthy active living goals.

    Let families know that it is their prerogative to negotiate healthy active living for their toddler.

    Conversation Starters

    You’ve assumed an important job in raising your child. Is there anything/anyone that’s making your job difficult?

    Can you tell me of any family members or friends who share meals and/or physical activity with your child?

    Can you tell me how you feel about the influence of family and friends on meals and activity time?

    How does it feel to talk to your family and friends about your desires for a healthy active life for your child?

    How are things going with childcare?

    Do you know what and how much she is eating?

    Do you have any concerns about childcare?

    How does it feel to talk about healthy food and activity with your childcare provider?

    Is there anything that we could talk about today that would help you feel more comfortable talking to your childcare provider?

    Related Parent Resources

    R​elated HALF Messages:
    Many parents rely on other people to help take care of their kids. Having help can be a big relief, but it can also be stressful when other adults do things differently than we’d like.

    Clear communication, patience, and consistency can help you get everyone on the same team.

    HALF Resources: 
    For realistic parent derived strategies about engaging family members as part of team, refer parents to​y: Parenting Tips for Toddlers section

    Be clear with caregivers. If your toddler is in childcare, ask questions about what the teacher will provide at snack or mealtime. Talk to the teachers so they know what foods you want your child to eat.