This stage of life can send you on a search for all the hacks for parenting toddlers. But oftentimes the most useful way to solve problems is to hack our own actions and mindsets!
Hear me out.
We all know that our tiny kids are just figuring out life. It’s kinda their job to act a little nuts from time to time as their brains develop. That doesn’t mean it’s not absolutely exhausting, because it very much can be. You’d be surprised, though, how long you can go before reaching your last nerve if you’ve got your default headspace set from the start of the day.
1. Let go of unrealistic expectations.
Simple (and probably beat to death by this point), but that doesn’t make it less true. You know your child best, so you can determine your own definition of “unrealistic” based on their current skills and development.
Chaotic but somewhat predictable is likely the new realistic expectation.
Whew. It’s okay.
2. Be the change you want to see.
We’ve all seen the funny videos of the toddlers who speak just like the grown ups in their lives, down to the vocal inflections. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s not, but we always realize too late how closely they’re actually watching us!
I say think ahead and use this to your advantage.
If a big tantrum is happening, rather than snatching an arm or matching their volume level, keep your own energy low and be obvious about your patience with them. It will take some time, but as they grow they’re going to be able to display a similar version of patience in many different situations! At the very least, they’ll come back to earth a little quicker.
Energy is so important. Show them what a calm person who uses their words looks like. We all want that kind of child, and we can help them become that.
We’re their walking manual for how to handle life, after all.
3. Teach sign-language.
Communication is a challenge at this stage. The quicker you can come to an understanding, the better everyone’s moods will be.
Even if you didn’t start when your toddler was a baby, you can still teach them signs for words they don’t know how to say yet! Even when my daughter needs something and doesn’t remember to use her “words” because she’s too upset, I can sign to her with a few guesses and she’s quick to calm down knowing that I can (eventually) understand what she needs.
4. Don’t use words you don’t want to hear.
Profanity, sure. But I actually have other examples.
Toddlers are building their language skills so fast. Saying tons of words and reading books is amazing and encouraged. And there’s no way they can truly understand the meaning and depth of some words, so they do deserve a lot of slack!
But if you’re like me, the idea of your baby eventually saying she “hates” you makes you emotional, even if she only knows how to say like 8 words and a handful of animal sounds at this point.
To try and creatively avoid this, my husband and I decided when we’re feeling hateful about anything, even an inanimate object, we’ll use other words more often instead. Loathe was our favorite. Imagine your toddler frustratedly saying they loathe something. Personally in that situation I’d be able to keep my own emotions out of it and help them out a little better. It’s cute because we’re reminded that they’re only using the words they know to try and describe their feelings. We can meet them where they are rather than treating them as if they know the effects of their words.
Another example is the use of the word “no.” Teaching them this word is important, but I don’t really use it when I’m feeling frustrated. At least not by itself. I try really hard to follow up a correction with solutions, options, and kindness. So far she hasn’t latched onto it as a catch-all response to things she’s feeling stubborn about.
5. Anticipate independence.
Who do these babies think they are, having opinions and doing stuff themselves?? You were just born, why is this happening?
Not too long ago I went to pick up my girl to take her downstairs to bed just like every night. She turned into angry jello and slipped out of my grasp to avoid being carried. I was so confused until I asked her if she wanted to go down the stairs by herself. “Yeah.” was her casual, confident response. Down she went, feet first, on her tummy.
I realized that she was craving some autonomy and control over herself in a situation that she already sensed she didn’t have much control over.
So often we just want to make things happen and get things done, and sometimes we find ourselves man-handling our toddlers just to get them to cooperate. Before these issues arise, see how often you can offer them choices that allow them to practice independence!
6. Make bedtime special.
As these tiny humans are getting smarter, (and possibly transitioning into big kid beds) the same tricks might not always work during bedtime routines.
The trick might be to not be tricky anymore.
Create a warm, positive environment in their bedrooms. Keep routines consistent. Give yourself enough time to be with them for a while. We always read a story or two, turn off the lights so it’s dark, then we have snuggle time to talk about her day.
“Did you…talk to Papa on the phone today?”
“Did you…eat a banana during breakfast?”
“Do hamsters know how to operate forklifts?”
If she doesn’t fall asleep before our conversation is over, I’ll sing a few songs. If that doesn't do it, I’ll say my goodnights and leave, standing outside of her closed door to shush a few times so she knows I’m still close. She’ll fall asleep within minutes on her own.
She wasn’t a sleep-through-the-night baby for the first like 9 months of her life, so I’m soaking this in right now. So grateful for her and how far she’s come.