Overwhelmed with the challenges of parenting toddlers? Discover the best tips to better communicate with your child and avoid another tantrum.
To this day, my husband and I haven’t returned to a local car museum.
We took our then-toddler to see the car exhibits. We had just made it to the main lobby when he decided to throw a fit about being there. Trying to convince him to visit the exhibits or play with the hands-on toys and activities were useless.
My husband and I looked at each other, in a What are we going to do? sort of way. We had just paid for the tickets and the parking, and felt silly walking straight back out the door.
“Maybe he’s hungry,” my husband suggested.
So, we headed for the museum’s restaurant and ordered an early lunch. While we waited, we gave our toddler a bowl of blueberries to tide him over. Except when the meal finally came, he insisted on eating more blueberries, never mind that we didn’t have any more.
That was enough to get him to bang his elbows on the table in a crying fit, demanding blueberries.
“Let’s give him a choice,” I said. So, I asked him whether he wanted to stay or leave (spoiler alert: not the best choices to offer).
“Stay,” he responded. But staying in the restaurant only made him cranky and whiny. When we threatened to leave, he cried even more. Nothing was making him happy.
At that point, my husband and I had had enough. We paid for the barely-eaten food and left—our tickets, parking, and lunch paid for and unused. The car ride home was just as horrible, with our toddler wailing in the car seat the entire time.
How to make parenting toddlers easier
If you have a toddler, I’m certain you can relate.
Maybe your child insists on eating dinner on a plate—not the bowl you placed in front of him—only to refuse the meal even after you did as he asked.
Or you tried putting him in his room for timeout, except you literally had to hold the doorknob closed because he was pulling it open on the other side. Maybe he threw himself on the floor, screaming like crazy, even though you were the one he had hit on the face.
My toddler threw so many tantrums, I had to search online just how many are too many to be normal. It’s enough to feel overwhelmed with what to do, or second-guess your decisions (Was it a bad idea to give him the blueberries?, I kept wondering).
A few years and two more kids later, I’ve learned that there are seven basic principles to follow when it comes to parenting toddlers. It’s not about gaining complete control over your child (you can’t and shouldn’t), but learning how to better communicate in a way he understands.
By trying even just one of these tips, you’re bound to see fewer and less intense tantrums. But more importantly, you’ll feel better prepared to know how to handle them when they happen.
It’s what I wish I knew those first few years, when I had no idea what I was doing. Take a look at these practical and simple tips that make parenting toddlers easier and encourage good behavior:
1. Pick your battles
You’ve got to hand it to us parents. We go out of our way to stay consistent with rules and routines because we know that’s what toddlers need. But sometimes we go so far as standing so firmly that we forget to pick our battles.
Being consistent is important for many reasons, but one of the benefits is that they allow for flexibility in your life. Because you’ve been so consistent in general, you can afford to pick your battles or be flexible as you see fit.
As I say in my book, Parenting with Purpose:
“The goal of flexibility isn’t to make your child happy or to placate a tantrum. Being consistent, yet flexible, teaches him to deal with life circumstances. He’ll learn to model his actions after your own. As an adult or an older child, he won’t be so rigid to the point of stubbornness. Yet he’ll also understand the importance of discipline and following rules.”
In other words, it’s not necessary to fight over everything, especially when it’s crossing into hurting either you or your toddler. Remind yourself that your ultimate goal is to raise future adults, not fight about whether he needs to eat his pasta primavera before he gets to play.
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2. Put yourself in timeout
I’m not a fan of timeouts for many reasons, but if there’s anyone who can benefit from them, it’s us.
In an ideal world, we’d stay right alongside our toddlers, tantrums and all, while remaining calm and collected. But we’re all bound to lose our tempers, to the point where any other option is better than getting angry.
The next time that happens, put yourself in timeout, not your toddler. Even a minute alone to take a deep breath, refocus, and put things in perspective can be enough to calm down.
3. Give your toddler (smart) choices
I thought I was doing the right thing by giving my toddler a choice between staying at the museum or going home. Only later did I realize that, for however popular the advice to give toddlers choices, there are best practices to do so:
- Keep your choices simple. Having my toddler make such a weighty decision about whether to stay or leave was an unfair burden on him. Instead, offer simple choices that fits within their world, like asking, “Do you want the blue plate or the green plate?”
- Stick to parent-approved choices. Offer your toddler choices where you’ll be okay either way he decides. It’s not helpful if you threaten him with, “We need to go to the grocery now. Do you want to come or stay home?” when he can’t be home by himself. Instead, you might say, “We need to go to the grocery now. Do you want to sit in the cart, or walk next to me?”
- Give only two choices. More choices aren’t always best. In fact, stick to two choices to make it easier for him to weigh them each and decide. Otherwise, he’ll feel overwhelmed with all the options.
4. Focus on what your toddler should or could do
A day in the life of a toddler isn’t always easy, especially when you think about how many times they hear the word “no.” We tell them not to run, to stop fidgeting around, or that they can’t climb the bookshelves.
All well-meaning advice, no doubt, but after a while, hearing limit after limit can feel draining.
Instead, use the power of positive language and talk about what your toddler can or should do, instead of what she can’t or shouldn’t. Tell her to walk along the hallway, sit facing the dining table, or get down from the bookshelves. Same intentions, but said in a way that makes her more likely to comply.
5. Have realistic expectations
We forget that a toddler’s development will always override any kind of discipline or communication.
Kids are wired in a way that makes it more likely for them to throw a tantrum, no matter how much you try to avoid them. They may not be ready to share or they may have different taste sensitivities compared to us. They may not even know the emotions they feel.
So, no matter how many times you’ve told your toddler not to hit, be patient when he still doesn’t listen. Knowing that he’s always learning will make you more empathetic when he inevitably struggles.
6. Create an environment suitable for toddlers
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I realized I had grown tired of constantly telling my toddler to stop touching the remote control already.
Why can’t he learn?! I’d think.
That is, until I realized that a better option might be to put the remote controls out of his reach to begin with.
Your toddler has done a good job in learning what is and isn’t okay to do, and often through constant reminders. But sometimes, it’s easier not to “tempt” him at all and make sure his environment helps him listen.
For instance, have easy-to-access storage boxes like these so he can quickly put toys away on his own. Put markers away if you’re tired of telling him not to draw on himself. Baby proof certain parts of your home so he can explore without being watched like a hawk.
Helping him thrive includes setting up the right environment that will help him do just that.
7. Remember that all emotions are okay
For any parent who has experienced the exhaustion of a tantrum, it’s easy to assume that the goal is to suppress these situations as often as possible.
Except that will only do your toddler a disservice. You see, she’s bound to experience the whole gamut of emotions, both joyful and challenging. The goal isn’t to suppress the bad days, but to give her the tools to cope when they happen.
This includes talking about emotions as normal experiences we all go through, or labeling them so she can better articulate how she feels. It means not telling her to stop crying, or trying to distract her out of her sadness.
The more she knows that all emotions are okay—that we all have bad days—the more she’ll be better able to accept, embrace, and move on from them.
I wish I could say the effects of my toddler’s epic meltdown at the museum ended when he finally calmed down.
Instead, I found myself wanting to be alone for the next five hours, exhausted from the challenges of that morning. So much so that when he came bouncing happily my way wanting to read and play, I couldn’t be happy in return just yet.
No doubt, parenting toddlers is enough to test even the most patient mom, but we learn so much from the experience. For one thing, picking your battles is okay and often necessary from time to time. We can also give choices, so long as they’re the right ones.
Using positive language makes getting them to listen that much easier, as does creating an environment suitable for them. Having realistic expectations reminds us that they’re wired differently from us. We’re better off putting ourselves in timeout, rather than them.
And above all, it’s important to embrace the fact that all emotions are okay. It’s far better to equip them with the skills to manage their big emotions than it is to try to avoid them completely.
In remembering that incident at the museum, I recently asked my husband, “So, what do you think about taking the kids to the car museum?”
He smiled and said, “I think we’re ready to give it another shot.”
Get more tips:
- How to Discipline a Toddler Who Hits
- 5 Ways to Stop Toddler Power Struggles Many Parents Don’t Think to Do
- How to Stop Your Toddler Whining (Even When You’ve Tried Everything)
- Top 10 Toddler Discipline Books to Get Your Child to Listen
- 5 Things to Remember when You’re Losing Your Temper with Your Toddler
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