I’m so tired of hearing about the “terrible twos”. Toddlers are wonderful, imaginative, curious, growing creatures with great senses of humor and an amazing zest for life. If there’s anything “terrible” it’s the way they are treated by the grown-ups around them. Sometimes, this is due to a simple misunderstanding of what can really be expected from your toddler.
Toddlers’ brains are developing at a rapid rate and at times it can seem that the baby we knew yesterday is no relation to the toddler we see today. For some parents who were never really comfortable with the totally dependant baby, this change to an independent mover is a blessing. But for most of us, this rapid progression is intimidating and even frightening.
To see what I mean, we must take a quick look at toddler development. If we want to understand who they are, we have to find out where they are. Toddlers spend much of their time working on their gross motor skills – that means walking, climbing, jumping and exploring the great big world. As they develop independence, phobias can also arise, as well as separation anxiety and fears of strangers. They are also working on language and communication – which is where a lot of frustration can arise – for both the toddler and her family. Feeding toddlers can be a tricky experiment in nutrition, as their wants and needs change from one day to the next. Sometimes toddlers even begin to have disrupted sleeping patterns, even those who have slept through the night for months on end.
Whew! No wonder people call these little bundles of contradiction “terrible” and struggle to find the joy in daily care-taking. But I have great news for you: toddlers are sweet, fun, inquisitive, joyful, loving, curious, really special beings. Below, you will find some tips for handling your toddler and some strategies to help bring joy to every single day that you get to spend with your toddler. Don’t miss out on the blessing that your toddler waits to give you. When you can relax into his world, you will rediscover childhood joys and remember why you wanted to have this little being in the first place.
Tips for Toddlers:
- Toddlers are a bit like dogs in that they are totally present to the “now” moment AND they are most at home in the great outdoors. Take these two facts and get outside with your toddler! Let her show you the new flower in the garden, the big puddle in the driveway, the old tire swing in the park. Rediscover the joys of the great world with your toddler. It can actually be one of the most relaxing ways to enjoy spending time with her.
- Early exercise will help him to sleep better, both at naptimes and nighttimes. Get out to the park in the mornings and let him do what he does best: run around like a little heathen. This will also help him to eat better.
- Speaking of eating… Don’t let mealtimes turn into fights. How? Five times a day (yes, five!), sit your toddler down with a small, well-balanced meal. That means some dairy, some grains (preferably whole grains), some fruits and veggies, and some protein. If you watch carefully, you will find that she will eat a balanced diet over the course of a week. You don’t have to worry if she won’t eat a balanced meal at every sitting or even every day. Toddlers are much more tuned in to their bodies than we are and they will eat what their bodies require if they are offered healthy foods. Really. Also, make sure she’s getting plenty of whole, organic milk. It’s critical to growing brains and bodies.
- Getting a toddler to cooperate can seem like trying to herd a group of unwilling cats – but it is possible! One key is to offer him age-appropriate choices. Toddlers love being in control and they really enjoy the power of making their own choices; but you have to do it in a smart way. For example, if you want your toddler to sit down and get his shoes on so you can leave for the grocery store, DO NOT say, “Honey, can we go to the grocery store?” or “Will, can you turn off the TV?” or even “Get over here and get your shoes on!” The first two won’t work because you’re asking him a yes or no question. He will probably say no. That’s what toddlers do. The third option doesn’t work because toddlers don’t like being bossed around any more than you do. Here’s an option that works: “Will, we’re going to the grocery store and it’s time to put on your shoes. Do you want to wear your sandals or your tennies?” This puts him in control, but he’s doing what you want him to do anyway. By the way, a good rule of thumb is to give your toddler the number of choices that he has years in his age. If he’s two years old, give him two choices, etc.
- If you have a fearful toddler, be as patient as you can! The best gift you can give her is an understanding parent who gives her unconditional love and a sense of safety. Remember, this time of toddlerhood is simply a bump in the road in the life of your child. She does not need to grow up today and be independent. She will blossom when she’s ready. Just make her feel secure in the world. She’ll do the rest as time goes by.
- Potty training can seem like a little nightmare all its own. The best way to have an easy time with it is to not begin toilet training until he clearly shows you that he wants to. Otherwise, it becomes a battle for control of his body. And guess who wins? He does. It is, after all, his body. So let him take the lead in potty training. It will go much more smoothly.
- Lastly, make sure you read to your toddler every day. Even if it’s the same two books every single day, over and over again (and it probably will be), do it! This not only sets up great bonding time between the two of you, but it helps to foster that love of learning and joy of discovery that every toddler innately possesses.