So your toddler is a handful. That’s okay. They’re supposed to be. I know it’s hard momma, but you can do this!
Last week I did a post on how important it is for us to be patient and kind to our ever learning and so confused toddlers. I want share with you some of the super simple ways I deal with my toddler to make my life easier without ever raising a hand or my voice.
1. Choose your battles. I can not stress this enough. That little ball of feisty energy with go head to head with you all day long without ever being phased. We on the other hand, only have so much time, energy, and patience. So it’s really important to decide what’s worth the fight and what’s not. Save yourself a lot of time and energy and let the little unimportant things go.
2. Choices, choices, choices. If you want to watch your toddler transform, offer choices. I know it seems so simple but I use what is called forced choice. Toddlers crave independence and control. When you give them a choice, you’re giving them that sense of control, but still getting them to do what you want. For example, I have a really hard time getting my daughter to get dressed sometimes. It’s like wrestling an alligator. But when she’s offered a choice (do you want the pink shirt or the red one? – because you’re getting dressed regardless) she is always more willing to get dressed. This can be done with anything though; do you want an apple or an orange(because you have to eat fruit), do you want to walk or ride in the cart (because you’re not being carried), do you want to brush your teeth first or wash your hands first ( because you’re going to do both but you can pick which one happens first.) This can be applied to just about any situation. Leaving your toddler with some sense of control all the while you’re getting things done without a fight.
3.Reinforcement. No, this is not bribery and it drives me nuts when people say it is. Bribery: here’s a cookie now be a good girl for the next 2 hours. Reinforcement: “wow! I love how you sat so nicely in the cart while mommy did all of her shopping! Here’s a cookie.” Reinforcement is a reward for something the child has already done, but not always in the form of a cookie or a toy. It could honestly be as simple as a high five. You just have to figure out what works best for your kid. Most of the time a flood of praise is all my little one needs to know I’m happy with her behavior and to keep doing that thing.
4. Follow through. You have to have to have to follow through. Always. I’m serious. This is HUGE for kids. When I tell my daughter that if she throws her marker one more time then she’s going to be all done with markers, I HAVE to take those markers from her when she throws the next one. If I am always making empty threats, my child will never believe a word that comes out of my mouth. But this goes the other way too. If I tell my daughter I’m going to give her a cookie (obviously my little one likes cookies…) then I damn well better give it to her. And yes there are extenuating circumstances from time to time, like plans to go to the park and an unexpected rain storm appears ruining plans. Those things are definitely going to happen, but we should absolutely try to control what we can. Empty promises are just as lethal as empty threats. We need to be true to our word so our kids not only trust us, but also learn to be true to their own word. We need to set the example regardless of how young they might be.
5. Be honest. I can’t stand it when I hear a parent tell a child maybe or we’ll see. Say what you mean people. If you can’t afford it, if it’s too late, if you just flat out don’t want them to have something, then say it. My daughter asks for ice cream for lunch at least once a week. I tell her “no, we don’t eat ice cream for lunch.” If she asks me to play in her tent and I have a headache, I tell her no, mommy isn’t feeling well. I don’t tell her later, or maybe, because I know all too well that “later” never comes. And when I ask her to do something, I don’t want her telling me “later” with the intention of never doing it. She does not need to think that “later” means no.
She recently started asking me if I’m okay if I get hurt or frustrated. And I’m honest with her. I tell her “Yeah Mommy’s okay I just a boo boo.” Or “Yeah Mommy’s okay I just made a mistake but I’ll try again.” Today I dumped her cup of lemonade all over the kitchen floor. She looked at me said “it’s ok mommy. Try again!” She is learning that it’s ok to be mad, or sad, or disappointed. And byme allowing her to see that I also feel those ways and I’m teaching that she isn’t alone in those feelings and how to appropriately handle those emotions. Which leads me to this…
6.Let them cry. We HAVE to stop telling our kids “stop crying,” or telling them they’re fine. It is SO annoying. I can’t even imagine how I might feel if every time I got upset someone was in my face telling me “you’re fine!” We need to let our little ones feel their feelings. When my daughter does cry after I’ve told her no, I don’t dismiss those tears. I help her understand what she is feeling. I say things like “I know it’s very disappointing. Mommy understands. Are you ready to go play?” If she says she’s not ready I let her cry. And I let her cry in her own way, sometimes she wants me to hold her, sometimes she wants to lay on the floor and cry. I let her know that whenever she is ready to come play with me I will be waiting for her. In the meantime I go about my business. I don’t dote over her or sit and watch her. Most of the time it’s only a matter of seconds before she decides she’s okay and ready to move on. If we ever want our kids to learn how to self regulate emotionally, we need to provide them with the time and space to do it. We also need to provide an environment that’s conducive to learning those emotions, what they mean, and how to regulate.
8. Let them get their hands dirty. So much of their learning is done through play and exploration. And yeah it’s sometimes messy, but kids are messy! We all knew that going in. My daughter paints, plays with playdoh, markers, kinetic sand, and dried beans just to name a few. I allow her to feed herself and have been doing so since she was 6 months old. When she was about 8 months old I set up a pouring station for her on the dining room floor and let her go crazy with water. Did it make a huge mess? You bet! But she had a blast! And it’s just water. It cleans up easily. So many times kids are denied access to something they would really love and could also benefit from because “it’s messy.” When my daughter digs through her box of dried beans to find the little animals and pom-poms I’ve hidden in there, she is not only having a really good time, but she is also working on her motor skills. When she feels the kinetic sand ooze through her fingers, she is learning new sensations, cause and effect, and stimulating her senses. Her bean box stimulates visual, auditory, and tactile senses all at one time. Does she dump those little suckers ALL OVER my living room? YUP! But she also helps me clean up (we do nothing else until her beans are picked up) and I make her play with them on a blanket. It keeps my mess a bit more contained. But I know for a fact there are people reading this and cringing at the thought of the mess it would make. But trust me. Let go a little. Get down on the floor and play too. I personally love playing with the beans.
9. Be patient. Toddlers want to things by themselves and let’s face it, they move at a turtle’s pace. It can be frustrating BUT they need to…say it with me….learn. And without practice, they will never learn. My daughter has recently decided she wants to walk everywhere by herself. Which is good but when we are in a parking lot, it makes me very nervous. I would never want to stifle her need for independence so when we are free and clear from moving vehicles and as long as she is holding my hand, she is permitted to walk. I teach her to look for cars and lights while we’re in the parking lot and to stay close to one side of the road. She wants to do the puzzle by herself. She messes with it and messes with it and it takes for what feels like forever to get one piece in and it’s agonizing to watch her struggle, but I never help unless she asks for it. She wants to put her socks on by herself and we need to leave for the grocery store. OH LORD! But I let her try, and I let her try as long as she wants to. But she eventually looks up at me and says “Help Mommy.” I let try knowing full well that she won’t be able to do it, that we’re losing time, that we have places to be, and none of it matters. Her needs always come first. Her need to learn is more important. Okay so we might have dinner a little later tonight because my 2 year old wanted to try to put her socks on. So what? One day she is going to tell me she wants to do it, and she’s going to do it. And all that time she spent practicing will have paid off. She’s learned that she really can do it herself. Building her confidence and her independence.
10. Give transition warnings. Toddlers have a rough time stopping something they love doing. Especially when it means leaving toys for something like the dreaded nap time. I have found that telling my daughter what comes next, helps her transition to what’s coming next. I tell her five more minutes then nap time, she says ok, and willingly goes upstairs with me for nap when the time comes. If I tell her in the morning that mommy has to work today, there are little to no tears when I walk out the door. But if I stop her in the middle of something and tell her she’s all done…cue waterworks. Save yourself the frustration of a tantrum and give them warnings.
11. Set boundaries and stick to them. We only do playdoh at the table. We only color on paper. We don’t throw things unless it’s made to be thrown. We always eat dinner at the table. When my daughter starts engaging in those ever so stressful toddlerisms, I dig my heels in and that’s the end of it. If she takes markers or playdoh away from her table, she gets one reminder (sometimes we all need a reminder) and if she doesn’t listen that first time, it gets cleaned up. And when the markers get thrown on the floor, or the food at times, she gets down on the floor and cleans up her mess. And we do nothing else until the mess is cleaned up. Sometimes it takes a long time for her to comply, sometimes she cries, sometimes she lies on the floor in peaceful protest. Regardless of her reaction the outcome is always the same. Boundaries are boundaries and it’s important for my little girl to understand there are rules and consequences for breaking those rules. If she learns early on at home, it won’t be such a shock when she starts school.
12. Last but certainly not least; Let them be little.