Many of us have been told to approach toddlerhood with the notion that we will be overrun by the “terrible twos” and ruled by “threenagers.” We’re taught to dread it before it even arrives. We see it coming, we’ve heard about it…but we’re so exhausted from the baby stage that a little independence doesn’t sound so bad. That’s why it is kind of shocking when it arrives and we quickly discover we are still needed All. The. Time.
Here are a few thinking points on how to approach the toddler years to help you and your toddler thrive (as well as survive):
1. Shift Your Perspective.
Most of the whining and crying is not your child GIVING you a hard time, it’s their way of telling you they are HAVING a hard time. They need help but truly can’t find a way to patiently ask for it in the moment. Their rate of growth is astounding. Little kids get overwhelmed easily, live in an over-stimulating world, and are asked to meet un-realistic expectations all day long. They have to express this overload somehow.
Research the ages & stages of your child, even down to the month they are in. Find out what toddlers are physically, cognitively, and emotionally capable of. At this stage, there are parts of the brain that have not developed yet. Your idea that your child “should know better” in certain situations might actually be biologically impossible. So find out if you’re asking too much, not enough, or are on track. Meeting your child where they are developmentally can take a lot of the stress and frustration off of you and your child.
Toddlers seem like they are more independent, but really aren’t as self-sufficient as they want to be. They still need to be supported as they gradually grow into preschoolers. Stay ready to help instead of ready to run.
2. Natural Consequences.
Try to stick with consequences that make sense and are “natural.” For example, if a toddler won’t eat their lunch, don’t threaten them with something like “if you don’t eat your lunch, I’m going to take away your favorite truck.” A toy truck has nothing to do with food. That makes as much sense as a police officer stopping you for speeding and taking away your coffee for a year. It doesn’t make sense. Neither does the lunch/truck scenario. It’s threatening instead of teaching plus there’s no logic…what would you do in such a moment? Probably what they do: protest and cry.
Do some research on natural consequences and logical consequences. There are many more examples out there. In regards to the lunch scenario, it’s best to look up healthy toddler eating habits to get ideas. A toy truck isn’t going to make or break your child’s long term relationship with food—practicing healthy eating habits is much more effective.
Kids believe us at this age. Use discipline as a way to build trust between you and your child from the beginning. The world is big and confusing—don’t make it more so by doling out consequences that don’t make sense.
3. Maximum Effort.
Maria Montessori coined the term Maximum Effort. It’s worthy of a quick online search because it isn’t a common idea for most of us. It is basically observing and allowing your child to exert themselves throughout the day—let them try to carry that heavy object, climb as high as they can, and drag that giant toy across the room—let them really test their own personal boundaries. This often involves objects that seem “too big” or “too heavy.” Let them try anyway.
Wait until they ask for help before jumping in with a hand or advice. We’re there to observe and watch them of course, but let them test their limits. It’s a natural drive they have inside them. Allowing them to express this struggle can lead to less struggles with you (not to mention better naps!)
Please know that exerting maximum effort will involve moments of “struggle”—and that’s okay. Let them figure out what they can do. And be ready with a smile when they turn around beaming at you, proudly announcing, “I do it myself!”
4. Don’t Project, Connect.
Connect with yourself. Part of our frustration as parents comes from the fact that our own needs aren’t being met at the exact same time someone else is screaming for their needs to be met. It’s overwhelming. A lot of yelling happens in those moments. But are we really screaming about what is happening in the moment…or the fact that our own needs aren’t being met without saying the words? If you aren’t getting enough alone time to recharge yourself, start taking it—especially during the toddler stage when daily demands feel pretty big. If you don’t, even the most simple of requests can start to feel like your kids are ‘getting in the way,’ when really they just need your help.
Our children can’t meet our needs, so we have to meet our own. Take time for you (because no one is going to give it to you!) When you get frustrated in the moment, connect with yourself—“what do I really need? I need an uninterrupted minute to myself.” Note that, acknowledge that you’re probably not going to get it in the moment BUT that you are going to make time for it (soon!).
Connect with your child. You acknowledged what you need, now what do they need in that moment? Try turning a grumpy situation around by being playful or silly to lighten the mood for everyone—including yourself. Turning tense moments into play is much easier to do if you know you’ve got a plan in place to take care of your needs, too.
5. Find the Joy of Each Stage
The crying emotions of the toddler years are amped way up…but so is the joy. They see the wonder of the world through fresh eyes. How magical that we get to be there for that.
If we come at the toddler stage with the attitude that it’s horrible, it will be. It’s self-fulfilling prophecy. It doesn’t have to be “terrible.” It’s a demanding time, yes, but not horrible. You’ll get overwhelmed. You will more than likely yell. But you can recover from those moments. You’ll move on and still love your kid.
Take a deep breath and try to focus on the positives of this age:
* Their cute little voices
* Their funny words for things
* Their innocence (which will be start to fade around age 4…)
* Their successes when they do something new or well
* Their desire to be independent (which is healthy and normal)
* Their total trust of you
* Their sense of humor is developing
* They can listen to longer stories
* You’re genuinely needed (relish it—soon they’ll act like you aren’t needed at all)
* You still hung the moon (sometimes)
* You can fix anything with a bandaid & a kiss
And when all else fails, rest in the notion that it flies by. Those challenging moments won’t last forever. Trust me…the days are long, but the years are short.