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The Toddler Instruction Manual

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“It’s a good thing you are so cute!”

This is a phrase many parents often think of during the challenging toddler years as they find themselves cleaning up messes, potty training, listening to shouts of “No!” with every suggestion, and watching their child throw yet another tantrum.

As a mom of six kids, including 7-year-old triplets, we have had our fair share of challenging toddler moments. I remember many days when the triplets would use their nap time to destroy their bedroom instead of rest. Diaper changes were a wrestling match and meal times meant mopping the floor three times a day. The days were busy and exhausting, but they were full of giggles and hugs and wet kisses. My kids could be distracted with a game of “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and I could get a laugh from a silly face. At the end of most days it felt like a triplet tornado had gone through my house, but when I tucked them in at night I remembered there were lots of sweet moments as well.

Toddlers are defined as kids ranging from ages one to three, and during this time they meet many developmental milestones including learning to walk, talk, interact with others, and explore the world around them. As a parent, this can be a joy to watch but can also become exhausting as kids express their independence and work out their frustrations through tantrums. While all of this is normal, parents can feel overwhelmed and frustrated as well. Toddlers don’t come with an instruction manual, but these tips could help you survive and perhaps even enjoy the toddler years.

Patience

When parenting a toddler, your patience will be stretched to the limits. Whenever you’re dealing with a child, it’s best to remember they are learning and testing limits. Try to give grace to yourself and your child and allow for bumps along the way. Set boundaries for your child but try to remain calm in moments when these limits are tested. Arguing with a toddler is never worth the effort. If you feel yourself becoming angry, simply walk away for a few minutes and come back when your patience has returned. Modeling this behavior will help your child understand how to work out their own frustrations in a healthy way.

Laughter

The old saying “Laughter is the best medicine” could be applied to parenthood. When things seem particularly stressful or you are overwhelmed by a messy playroom, a little laughter can turn your mood around. Allow yourself to be silly and play with your child. Try to slow down and see the world through their eyes. Laughing and playing with your child can also be a good distraction if your child needs to be redirected and it’s a great way to boost the moods of everyone in the house.

Anticipation

One of the best ways to help keep your toddler from getting into trouble is to anticipate what might be tempting for little ones. Before nap or playtime, scan the room for dangers or messes waiting to happen. Remove anything fragile that can be broken, torn, or spilled from the room, or put high enough that it is out of reach. Pack your car with an extra change of clothing, emergency snacks, and diaper supplies in case you need them when you are away from home. When you are headed out of the house, try to leave a few minutes early in case you need extra time. If you know a toy or situation triggers your child to feel frustrated, avoid it if possible. You can’t prevent every tantrum and challenge you will face, but some can be avoided with a little planning.

Let It Go

Life is too short to worry about having a perfectly clean house. Toddlers are famous for making messes, dumping toys, and moving from one thing to the next in minutes. During the toddler years try to focus on playing with your kids and allowing them to have fun rather than exhausting yourself cleaning. There will be plenty of years in the not too distant future where your house will stay clean. If toy clutter is stressful to you, reduce the amount of toys that are out at any given time. You can do this by rotating toys every few months, only allowing one box of toys out at a time, or donating items your kids are not interested in. Toddlers are often motivated by music, play or sing “The Cleanup Song” and have your child help pick up toys before transitioning to mealtime or bedtime.

Safety

Toddlers are naturally curious which helps them learn and develop. This curiosity can lead them to do things that are unsafe like climbing where they could fall, putting things in their mouths, and getting into things they shouldn’t. Create a safe place for your child where they can play without safety concerns. You may find it easiest to create a play space where you can use gates to help keep kids safe. For some parents, it’s easier to toddler-proof the entire house and let them have free reign. Whichever way you decide, your child will be happier with their own area to safely play.

Routine

Toddlers thrive on routine because they know what to expect. When kids know what to expect, transitions are smoother for kids. The whole day doesn’t have to be planned but having a routine at transitional periods of the day can make things easier for parents and little ones. Naps, bedtime, meals, and clean up time can give your kids consistency that they thrive on.

Perspective

When dealing with the highs and lows of parenting a toddler, try to keep some perspective. The toddler years are short and your child is learning, discovering the world, and growing every day. When they are still and quiet, cuddle up and enjoy the moment. When they want to be carried, try to remember all too soon they will be too big. Enjoy the sweet moments, embrace challenging ones, and try to remember that toddlers are cute for a reason and this stage will pass in the blink of an eye.


Sarah Lyons has been published in Pregnancy and Newborn Magazine KC Parent, Austin Family, Creative Child and over 160 other parenting publications.

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