As a parent, I function on 45% instinct, 25% experience, 20% advice, and about 10% flying by the seat of my pants. I am not an expert by any stretch and my kids are only 4 and 6 years old. I’m still in the newlywed phase of parenting! Please understand that I do not expect nor desire anyone to take anything I say here as anything more than my personal opinions. If you find something on this list that resonates for your family, GREAT! If not, I respect that no two families are the same and I do NOT think I’m a better parent than anyone. Unless you smoke in the car with your child. Then yeah, I’m a better parent than you. (My husband is shooting me a death glare for being “controversial” but whatever. It’s true.) Anyway, here are eight easy steps to make raising tiny people just a little easier.
Toddlers will push every boundary you set. They will ask the same question 17,000 times just to see if their will is stronger than yours, and will swoop in if they see you are distracted or worn down. Toddlers who never hear the word “no” grow into entitled jerks who don’t understand and can’t cope when little Susie doesn’t want to share her toys. Sometimes giving in may seem like sweet relief, but it only serves to make the next tantrum that much worse. It can be HARD to say no; it is no fun at all, especially in public. But keeping firm boundaries is essential to raising kids you don’t hate.
But Sometimes Say Yes!
I know, I know. “But you just said to say no?!?!” Bear with me. While it’s essential to set boundaries, it’s also healthy to give toddlers (and yourself!) some room for spontaneity. So run outside and play in that thunderstorm! Eat that cupcake for breakfast! Break out that craft glitter! Let them stir that bowl! Toddler see the wonder and magic of their worlds more clearly than anyone, and you have such a short amount of time to indulge them in this. Say yes sometimes to the silly, the crazy, and the FUN toddlers bring to your life and create some of your happiest memories together.
Give Them Choices
Toddlers are in a difficult position where they are detaching their identities from their parents, while still depending on them for, well, everything. Giving your toddler choices throughout the day will help them feel more in control and less likely to become frustrated. Let them pick between two outfits, or whether they’ll have an apple or banana with lunch. Having autonomy to choose helps toddlers feel independent without actually letting them do whatever they want—after all, you first decided what the options would be!
But Not Too Many Choices
Are you sensing a pattern? Yes, life is all about balance and giving a toddler *too* many choices can overwhelm them. And we all know where toddlers head when overwhelmed—that’s right, Meltdown Central. The key to this strategy is to limit their options. Sure, they get to choose their outfits, but they only have two to pick from!
Be Consistent with Discipline
Children need to be able to know what to expect. If they learn that the threat of (insert disciplinary method here) is not always real, not only are they more likely to risk the punishment, they’ll be angry, resentful, and confused the times you do follow through. No matter the method your family prefers, the most important part is to be on the same page and enforce rules consistently.
But Don’t be Afraid to Change it Up
Just because your parents, your friend, heck, even your friendly neighborhood blogger thinks their way is best, it’s ok to decide something is not working for you and abandon or modify their method of discipline. Just like no two families are the same, no two toddlers are the same. What works for one daughter may have the opposite affect in her sister. Figure out what method of disciplines works for YOUR toddler and enforce it lovingly, consistently, and unapologetically.
Get Them on a Schedule
My husband is glaring at me again, probably because he’s a stickler for the schedule and I’m the free-spirited (read: lazy and maybe a little selfish) parent that bucks the schedule at my convenience. However, there is a clear difference in my children’s behavior when they are on their schedule versus when they’re not. Eating breakfast late because mommy wants to sleep in leads to whining, which leads to throwing a pop tart at them, which leads to a sugar high and the subsequent crash, which leads to issues at nap time, which leads to meltdowns and problems going to bed and mommy losing her sh*t. As my wonderful husband tells me “just stick to the d*mn schedule, woman!”
Teach, and Model, empathy and Compassion
Look, being a toddler is hard. So is being a parent. One of the most important things you can show this little life you’ve been entrusted with is how to be kind even when things aren’t going well. To others, to them, and even to yourself. Example: Tommy wants a toy in line at the grocery. Mom says no (go mom!) and because Tommy is an unstable nuclear bomb—I mean toddler—he starts to cry. What would you do here? Give in and grab the toy, praying he stops? Pretend Tommy isn’t your kid? Get angry with him for causing a scene? What works for me *just* often enough to suggest giving it a try is to stay calm, let my child know it’s alright to feel disappointed and that mommy feels disappointed sometimes, too. Then give her the tools to calm down. My oldest and I take deep breaths together, my youngest just needs to be held and comforted. Figure out what helps your child and give it a shot! Sometimes a distraction is even the best way; I say if letting your child watch Bubble Guppies on your phone is the only way to finish getting out of the grocery store without CPS getting involved, screw anyone who judges you.
That’s my best advice right there. Like most things in life, your mileage will vary. Most importantly, find what works for you and for your family. That, above all else, is the most important piece of advice out there.