You blinked and your baby is now a toddler. Welcome to a crazy parenting stage, where reason goes out the window and suddenly your household’s happiness rests on the whims of a tiny dictator. Toddlers do have a bad reputation, and with good reason; they defy logic, they like to exert their independence, and they have big feelings. But whilst they are certainly challenging at times, there’s also something really special about seeing their personality explode. I’m certainly no expert, and much more eloquent and qualified people have written extensively on this subject, but I have picked up a couple of tips and tricks that seem to work with my toddlers.
Always give a five minute warning before a change, and stick to it. No one likes change if they don’t know its coming. Playing is learning – so my boys will actually say now they are ‘too busy’ to do something whilst they are playing with duplo and that’s not a lie – they are busy. Busy creating something. If it’s possible I try to let them finish what they are in the middle of, even if that means delaying bath time for a little while. Make boring, everyday things fun; teeth brushing can be a hunt for foods that have been stuck in their teeth all day, getting dressed can be a race, inanimate objects like shoes can talk and say they miss feet. I’m well aware this all makes me sound like a madwoman but hey – if it gets their shoes on, it’s worth being silly. The sillier you are the better; toddlers are a great audience.
Lets talk tantrums. I’ve lost count of the tantrums I’ve dealt with and the reasons behind them can be hilariously trivial. Toddlers don’t have a grasp of time or the laws of physics, so they can get angry about things we can’t control. A banana broken in half and won’t fuse back together, for example, can be catastrophic. I used to handle tantrums all wrong and found myself getting frustrated and upset myself, particularly if we were in public. I used to argue back, or rely to heavily on distraction, which works sometimes but not always. Imagine how you’d feel if you were upset about something and your partner just said ‘oh look Lauren, a kitty cat over there!’ I’d be furious. I’d feel completely ignored. What I eventually found effective is this – get down to their level and verbalise what you think is wrong. For example; ‘I can see you’re upset because its raining and you wanted to play outside. Is that what is bothering you?’ And perhaps offer an alternative activity, or an idea of how to make it better. Or better yet, acknowledge that what they are feeling is normal. ‘I know you don’t want to leave the park, it must be really annoying when Mama says its time to leave’. A cuddle seems to help as well. Of course, this doesn’t work with the really big tantrums, the nuclear ones. If you spot the signs of frustration early and try to avoid them that’s ideal, but if it’s too late for that the only thing you can do is be there. Be sympathetic; they aren’t enjoying this either. Try and stay calm yourself. Remember that it will pass. Every parent in the vicinity has had the same experience; they aren’t judging you, they remember their child doing the exact same thing.
A lot of toddler frustration comes from their inability to properly communicate their thoughts and feelings. Which, if you think about it, must be really hard. Their understanding is always ahead though, so the good news is that they probably understand a lot of what you are saying, even if they can’t talk back. It also helps to have a bit of empathy and manage your expectations (a trick I learnt from a wise and much more qualified friend). Basically take the time to consider if what you expect of them is reasonable, or setting them up for failure. Is it reasonable of me to ask a toddler to sit still and quiet in the pub while I chat to my friend? Will a toddler likely be happy sat in a dentist waiting room for long without something to do? Am I expecting a toddler to have the table manners of an adult? Put your expectations in line with what is achievable for a very young child. And don’t be hard on yourself if you do lose your temper or handle a situation badly. Just try and be calmer next time. I apologise to my two as well; ‘sorry I got a bit cross just then boys’. It sets them up for apologising themselves when they do something they shouldn’t, and its not a weakness to show them that even grown ups make mistakes.
Toddlers are hilarious but also so crazy; trying to apply any form of adult logic to a toddler is a fool’s game. Instead, embrace your toddler’s weird and wonderful quirks and try to enjoy the rollercoaster. It might well be the hardest era we encounter as parents but we can muddle through if we just try to empathise with our tiny terrors. Oh, and always, ALWAYS have emergency snacks. Good luck.