Anyone who has a toddler knows that they’re unpredictable; one minute they can be humming and as happy as can be, and the next they become little Tasmanian Devils, screaming, throwing, hitting, biting, and rolling around on the floor. There are reasons for this, and you probably are not surprised by it, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. The fact is, toddlers can ruin your day, and fast.
Here are five things I’ve discovered as a mom that may not make for a perfect day, but can certainly make for a much happier day, for both you and your toddler!
1: Lead from the front. You’re the boss, the leader. You have to be in front! Be awake and dressed before your toddler. This is really hard sometimes, especially if you are not a “morning person” and your toddler is an early bird. However, anticipating when your little one will wake up and greeting them from a position of caffeinated clarity puts you at an advantage from the very beginning. When it’s time to do the next thing, simply say, “It’s time for breakfast!” or what have you. Whatever you do, DON’T say, “Well honey, what do you think? Do you want to eat now? What sounds good to you?” You’re the leader–lead!
2: Think ahead. Plan what’s going to happen, and when: meals, naps, appointments. If you haven’t done it already, establish a regular time for meals, naps, and bedtime. Keep this rough schedule in your mind; it gives you structure, and helps keep you from acting impulsively, or just reacting to your kids’ whims, which usually leads to cranky children and frazzled mom.
3: Music and cardboard. I know, it sounds odd. Here’s the thing: most of us agree that we let them watch too much TV, and that phones and ipads are not really great for them, even if we may not view them as truly harmful. But what are toddlers going to do all day without those things? Let them play! If you give them something made of cardboard–an empty cereal or oatmeal box, an old wrapping paper tube, a shoe box, all of the above–throw in some measuring cups and spoons, maybe an old deck of cards–and turn on some music, you’ll be amazed at their ability to entertain themselves! Music provides a background to the story they’re acting out–and trust me, there is ALWAYS a story going on in those little heads!
4: Outdoor play. Here again is a perfect alternative to technology and TV. If you are fortunate enough to have a fenced yard or patio, or even just a porch or deck, let them take some toys outside to play by themselves. A small plastic container of water and an old paintbrush are terrific for “painting”. Of course, you should be within eye and earshot, and not engrossed in technology yourself–but with a few toys or a couple of those cardboard containers, a toddler can play happily for quite an extended period of time. If you have swings or a sandbox, even better, but they are certainly not required.
5: Quiet time. Has your child outgrown naps? You must make daily “Quiet Time” an institution. Here’s how it works: Tell your child it’s just “Quiet Time”–they are not required to sleep at all! They can play quietly however they like but may not come out of their room until you come get them. Show them on your watch how long it will be; they don’t have to understand it, just that it’s a set amount of time. If they come out early, tell them you’re sorry but quiet time is not over yet, and you will have to add five minutes every time they come out early. You’ll be amazed at how much they learn to love this time; they will have time to think, to look at books (maybe read aloud to their toys), act out scenarios with all of their stuffed animals, build things, and so on; very often, they will even fall asleep. During this time, you can sit with your eyes closed (aka take a nap!), or read something, or enjoy a hobby. Gradually increase the allotted time as they become more used to it.
Toddlers can be challenging and exhausting, but with foresight and planning, most days can be satisfying and happy for you both. Don’t try to do too much, know your limits and those of your children, and always return to structure when things go crazy! Take advantage of kid swaps with friends, or mom’s day out, but don’t feel like you’re doomed to stress when you have to be home alone with them.
Here’s to many happy days ahead!