They say time flies, but I don't know that we feel the weight of this truth until we have kids. One minute you're holding your newborn baby in your arms, then you blink and all of a sudden they are running around, throwing tantrums, saying "no", and challenging everything you say.
You wonder longingly where your baby went (and if you are like me, immediately spend 20 minutes looking back at baby pictures/videos). You eventually come out of the reminiscing and realize your child has been growing up and it's time to parent them differently.
Let me just pause to say, this is my FAVORITE AGE. I love how quickly toddlers learn, how they experience the world around them, their rapid development and let's face it, they are just smart! Yes their behavior can be hard sometimes, but once you set boundaries in place and your child starts to understand their limitations, you will spend much less effort and time on managing their behavior and will be able to just enjoy them!
Here are a few tips to help you navigate this crazy but wonderful stage of toodler-hood:
1. Set Boundaries...and stick to them
It's our toddler's job to push us. They are trying to figure out where boundaries lie. It's our job to set those boundaries and hold to them. It's within secure limits that our child will feel the safest.
Remember that toddlers see the world in black and white, yes or no. "Maybes" and "sometimes" are hard for them to wrap their minds around.
Example: If you don't want your child eating a snack right before dinner, you'll need to set that boundary. When they ask for a snack, simply tell them that it's not snack time. Now comes the hard part, because I don't know any toddler that will take that first "no" and walk away (at least not until they've learned this boundary). They will whine, argue, cry, but your job is to hold to that boundary. Giving in to their protest will not communicate that a secure limit is set and will instead encourage them to fight against your "no's" even harder in the future!
2. Create Routines
Toddlers thrive within routines, especially bedtime routines. Doing things the exact same way every night helps create that sense of security and predictability that toddlers need.
Wherever you find your toddler struggling (maybe at bedtime, or getting ready in the morning), create a routine. Make it visual and put it on the wall. Then stick to it, every day, until it becomes second nature.
Example: Your child struggles at every bedtime. Stalling, pushing back, running around naked, you name it. Once you set your routine and put it on the wall, walk through each step with them. When they get off-course, remind them what the next step is (or better yet, have them tell you!). If they choose not to follow the routine, you'll have to be ready with a consequence (I recommend having them lose a part of the routine that they love, such as a book). This will show them that you are serious and if they want their book next time, they need to follow the routine!
3. Work on Transitions
Transitions can become a primary source of struggle between you and your toddler. Leaving the park, cleaning up toys, going to bed, you name it. It just comes with the age that your child is in.
I've got a couple transition tips for you:
Give them a warning (5 minutes or 2 minutes usually work well). Now this next part is IMPORTANT. Either set your timer or keep your eyes glued to your watch, because you need to follow through with that exact time. If you said 5 minutes until you leave the park, leave the park in 5 minutes. It's important for our toddler to know what 5 minutes actually feels like. And it's all part of sticking to the boundaries we put into place.
Make transitions fun. Build a pretend rocket ship to fly to the bathroom in. Pretend their teeth are rocks to be shined by the toothbrush. Walk backwards into bed. The more fun they can have, the easier the transitions will likely be!
4. Respond with Empathy and Compassion
As we are putting boundaries into place, our children will respond with a wide variety of emotions. When your child is struggling with something you've said, it's best to respond with empathy. This isn't always easy. I don't know about you, but when my child bursts into tears because he can't have a cookie right before dinner, it's hard for me to feel empathetic.
Regardless, it's important to have an understanding posture.
Try this formula (remember, it must be said in a compassionate tone of voice to work!):
Acknowledge what they are saying + say their feelings + re-state the limit
"You want to have a cookie before dinner because you are hungry, you are sad because I said no, but it's not snack time so there will be no cookies before dinner. Why don't you go play, we'll be eating in 10 minutes!"
"You don't want to stop playing and go to bed, you are mad that I asked you to clean up when you were in the middle of building with your legos, but it's bedtime, so we'll have to save that work for tomorrow. Is there a special place you want to keep it until then?"
5. Allow Natural Consequences
Instead of fighting about something, you could choose a few situations where you allow for your child to learn the impact of their actions through natural consequences. Our job is not to save our child from the discomfort of the consequence, but allow it to happen. (Natural consequences should only be used when there are no dangers involved.)
If your daughter won't eat breakfast, remind her that she will be hungry before snack time. If she still chooses not to eat, then allow her to feel hungry before snack time. Your job is to not feed her before snack time so that she can feel some hunger pangs and eat better the next time she is at a meal. (It's ok for our children to feel hungry!)
If your child refuses to put on a jacket or gloves on a cool day, let them go outside without their jacket or gloves. Bring them with you. Once they recognize how cold they are and ask for a jacket and gloves, put them on.
Sometimes, especially when we are tired, it's easy to give in to our toddler when they act out. We don't have the energy to stand firm in that moment. I totally get it, I've been there too. But I want you to know that when you do put in the extra effort to put boundaries in place and enforce them, that hard work will not be in vain. Your toddler will begin to respond to you differently, and over time, you will see a significant change in behavior and compliance.
P.S. If you want any adivce on your toddler specifically, I'm just an email away!