Wow, toddlers are so different from babies! As I’ve grown more exasperated and annoyed with the antics of my toddler I realised that it wasn’t him that needed to change – he already had! It was time for me to catch up. I had a good, long, hard look at myself and I could see that I was noticeably more cross, grumpy and impatient. I would say ‘No!’ to Reuben for things that really didn’t need it. I rushed through day time tasks like nappy changes and bath times. I wasn’t the mum I wanted to be.
Thankfully I realised I needed to change, and I have (woohoo!). Obviously there’s times when I still act like that, but they’re few and far between. So these are my tips for a happy relationship and a healthy life with your toddler.
Disclaimer: If you have more than one child or a job you may find these suggestions laughably ridiculous or impossible!
1. Make the home as toddler proof as possible
You really don’t want to be saying ‘No’ all day, over and over again. But your toddler doesn’t know what is allowed and what isn’t. He doesn’t know which ‘toys’ are his and which are daddy’s. He doesn’t know that it’s ok to open one cupboard, but not a different one. So let your home be a place where your toddler can explore, climb, play and feel comfortable. Make sure there are child locks on any cupboard with chemicals, locks on low opening windows, put baby gates at stairs, close the toilet door, put anything precious high up or locked away and then…let him play! Try and relax about everything else. It’s ok if the pots and pans get taken out the drawer, you can put them back again. It’s not the end of the world if all the chairs get pulled out from under the table.
Obviously you will still need to enforce rules on a few things, but try to keep them to a minimum. In our house it is: no touching the fireplace, bins, soil in the houseplants, or the TV screen. At the moment that’s it. Everything else within his reach is fair game! If we leave something in his reach that he shouldn’t have – then that’s our fault, not his. The home should be a toddler haven where they can be themselves for a bit.
2. Have as few commitments as possible
Toddlers have their own interests, which may differ from ours. They also feel very strongly about what they want to do. They may want to spend all morning taking their shoes on and off. Or they have become obsessed with minibeasts and want to be in the garden all the time. They may decide to stop and look at something. The problem is, if you are in a rush to get somewhere then you will have to force them to do things they don’t want to do. Yes, things need to get done. But can the shopping wait 5 minutes while your child puts his shoes on all by himself? Bear in mind, that you might be taking them to something they will really enjoy (toddler gymnastics?!) but you are also taking them away from something they are also really enjoying (sense of accomplishment for putting on shoes). Think about what time commitments you have, and whether you can be flexible. If not, then at least allow a lot of time for getting there to allow for wanderings and wonderings.
3. Get outside every day
I treat my toddler like I would a dog – he needs to be taken for a walk every day! Except unlike a dog, I mostly let him choose where he wants to go. Sometimes we only get as far as watering the plants just outside the front door. Other days he’ll be in the mood to walk a long way. It doesn’t matter. Fresh air does all kind of good things for us, including helping us sleep better – so you’ll benefit from this at night time!!
4. Don’t interrupt a playing child
If your toddler is playing quietly, babbling or singing to herself, then let her be. Unstructured creative play is important to toddler brain development. She is developing her imagination and concentration. Go and enjoy this time to get some chores done or watch TV!
5. Let your child have an input in what happens to them
Your child is dependent on you for so much, and it can be frustrating to not be able to say what you want. If you give your child a small amount of ownership and involvement, they will be happier. Just think about when you’re at work and your boss tells you exactly what to do and you can’t do anything different or even talk back. The stress builds up (especially if it’s something you don’t want to do). By having a bit of choice or involvement, the task is improved. Keep choices to a maximum of 2 though, otherwise they might get bewildered by too much choice!
– let your child get a nappy from the nappy box when you need to change their nappy
– let your toddler choose which top they want to wear out of a choice of 2
– tell your child to go to the highchair at meal times, instead of carrying them there
– have your child put toys in the bath before bath time
– let them choose whether to run or hop to the car etc.
6. Let your toddler help with the housework
Letting your toddler help with the housework makes it take more, not less time. But that’s ok, because they’re having fun, you’re getting a job done, and you’re both having quality time together. Try to adapt the task to something they can do, or let them help with one small step of the process. A 12 month old can help you to wipe the table after eating, and can pull clothes out of the washing machine. An older child can help with sweeping, dusting, watering the plants, hanging up washing using pegs etc. They will enjoy helping with anything as long as you adapt it to their capabilities. For example, if they know how to use pegs then you could set up a lower washing line for them to hang up socks on while you hang up the other clothes.
Keep it fun, the idea isn’t to get them doing jobs for you, in fact it is more work for you! It’s more about helping them to become independent people, and to allow them some pride in themselves and their surroundings.
7. No need to shout
Shouting shows that you have lost your patience, your temper, and your control. In other words, it doesn’t reflect well on you. The only time you actually need to shout is if your child is about to be in danger from their actions. Otherwise a quiet, firm ‘No’ does the trick. Hold their hands, look into their eyes and follow up with an explanation – “No, we don’t throw our toys” or an alternative – “No, you can’t have that, but you can play with this”.
NB: The explanation should be short and sharp, no need to go into detail. “No, we don’t touch the fireplace” gets through more than “No, don’t touch the fireplace because sometimes it’s hot and I know it’s not right now but sometimes it is so don’t touch it now”.
Using this method I have managed to successfully deter Reuben from touching bins, soil in house plants, throwing toys, grabbing at my face and many more problems. I have got to the point where I really don’t think I need to shout at him at all.
8. Finally…chill out
As always, keep the mantras “If this was my 3rd child what would I do…” and “This too shall pass” going through your head. Try not to worry too much, go slow, go calm, enjoy your time together. Toddlers are hilarious and cute and entertaining – just watch and take it all in without getting too worked up about a missed nap or pages torn out a book. Enjoy it!