Daily life with a toddler can be challenging for parents, but please realize that toddlers are in a developmental tug of war of being little kids who want desperately to be big kids and so it’s a time fraught with emotional meltdowns for them (as well as you).
If we as parents can keep our own emotions in check, we can actually help out those little fiery balls of independence more than we realize.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Toddler’s Creed, but if not, please have a look, because in a humorous way this exactly describes where a toddler is both socially and emotionally. They are SO self-centered!
Setting the stage in toddlerhood will go a long way as your child matures into a preschooler and beyond.
Here are 12 Parent Tips to help you cope with the toddler years.
- Be a Good Example: Toddlers learn the most by watching the caregivers in their environment. Remember, YOUR mannerisms, speech and behavior can and WILL be imitated by your toddler. And while the first time your child shouts out “$%#@!” might be funny because he heard you say it with such genuine inflection to the car that cut you off in traffic last week…his yelling it at the lady at the check-out counter will not be so amusing.
- Give Hugs/Kisses/Praise: While toddlerhood means a barrage of “no, stop, don’t!”, always remember that your positive attention should far outweigh your negative attention and punishment of your child. Catching your child “being good/behaving appropriately” will go a long way in showing her that good behavior gets rewarded and gets far more attention than inappropriate behavior.
- Set Rules Early & Stick To Them: Sure your toddler will test you on a daily basis, but consistency in your daily schedule and household rules will ultimately benefit both you and your toddler in the future. Every time you “give in” or offer a bribe to avoid a meltdown/tantrum it will set you back…remember that! If today’s tantrum was 5 minutes because Corey wants a cookie before dinner, and Dad decides he doesn’t want to hear the crying and gives Corey the cookie to appease him today, be prepared that next time Corey wants a cookie his tantrum will now be 10 minutes or longer and may be in public at the restaurant table.
- Tell Your Child What Is Expected/Desired: We get really stuck on saying “NO!”, “Stop hitting”, “Quit throwing!”, “Don’t pull the dog’s tail!”, that our toddlers tend to tune out those words. Instead, change your own mindset to TEACH your child what he should be doing in place of the current misbehavior. For example “Gentle touches”, “Arms are for hugging”, “Let’s throw the balls into the laundry basket instead of at Dad’s computer”, “Fifi loves when you pet her softly”.
- Offer choices: Toddlers want to be in control and if you can make them feel like they are in control by making their own decisions they love it. So offer choices such as “Do you want to wear your Superman shirt or your red sweatshirt today?” or “Do you want eggs or French toast for breakfast?” or “Do you want to clean up the blocks or the train set? You pick one and I’ll help with the other”.
- Stick to a Daily Schedule: Toddlers need consistency and routine. Making your day predictable for your child can make life easier and less chaotic for all of you. Schedule 3 meals and 2 snacks at the same time each day and be sure your child gets adequate free play, exercise and nap/sleep time. Tired and hungry kids are miserable kids.
- Use First/Then Statements: Claire wants her snack NOW, but you asked her to pick up her toys. “First put your toys in the bin, then you can choose apples or Cheerios for snack”. Angelo wants to go outside, but doesn’t want to wear his coat. “First we put on your coat, then we go outside and play on the swings”. Be matter of fact in your tone, wait out meltdowns, and repeat the phrases calmly several times if needed.
- Know your toddler’s limits & frustrations: Avoid outings that may be over stimulating, or prepare for them well in advance. Don’t introduce new activities or people if your child is tired, sick or hungry. Prepare snacks/toys to fidget with when you go out shopping or may need to wait in long lines. Try to intervene with “Dad will help you” if you see frustration setting in due to an inability to complete a toy that may be too advanced, etc.
- Don’t Over-React: Yes, toddlers love to say the word NO! And sometimes they even say no when they really mean yes. If your child shouts no at you, calmly repeat your request. Use distraction or try one of the above methods of offering a choice or using a first/then statement.
- Pick Your Battles: If Alana wants to wear her Halloween costume today to the grocery store and it’s closer to Easter and getting her out of it is going to mean a 20 minute meltdown, is it so bad to wear a Halloween costume to the store?
- Encourage Use of Words/Teach Feelings: When your toddler hits his baby brother, instead of saying “Stop hitting him!” say “You are mad because Andy took your book. But you may not hit him. Andy is just a baby, he doesn’t know how to ask you for a book. You’re the big brother, you can ask Andy for your book back and then we’ll pick another book for him to play with”.
- Use Natural & Logical Consequences: If Max throws his truck, he needs to go pick it up. If he throws his truck again, Mom puts his truck away and he cannot play with it the rest of the day. If Jenna spills her cup on purpose, Jenna is given a rag and told to clean up her milk. Use time-out sparingly. Instead, create a quiet corner in your house where your child can go to “re-group” or calm down, or punch pillows, whatever he/she needs to do to settle down.
Consistency is key!