Things were clicking along nicely for me with my firstborn until that fateful day in the shampoo aisle of Target. My content little baby somehow transformed into a tantrum-throwing toddler, making a shrieking sound just like a pterodactyl, along with wildly flailing arms and legs. We quickly exited the store, and I wearily thought to myself, “Well, this is a whole new ballgame.”
18 months. They’re adorable. They’re curious. They want to be with you 100% of the time. They babble incoherently, expecting you to understand. Their emotions range from the highest heights to the deepest depths, all within two minutes.
It’s like living with an adorable and tiny, weirdly eccentric, somewhat belligerent, highly dependent roommate who has language barrier issues.
How do you navigate this potential mine field of emotions and sticky hands?
Through much trial and error, here are my five tried and true C’s of parenting a 1 ½ to 3 year old.
Once you reach the toddler age, they begin to need even more information about the world around them. It’s incredibly helpful (and educational) to narrate your day. Instead of simply scooping them up to take them home from a play date, verbally walk them through what’s happening.
“Mommy’s going to take your hand now. We’re going to go up these steps, one, two, three, four, five! Good job! Now we’re going to put our arms in our sleeves. When we’re in the car, let’s listen to some music! What shall we have for lunch when we get home?”
Providing your child with more information, as well as fixing their mind on what’s ahead, helps them transition from one activity to another without feeling overwhelmed. Getting down on their eye level to communicate important information is also incredibly helpful.
2. Calm and compassion
When your toddler is throwing a fit for the fifth time, it’s easy to want to throw a fit of your own. Instead, take a deep breath – or if things are really bad, see my post about 10 Steps to Turn Around a Bad Day – and make a choice to respond in a calm manner.
Use words that show you understand why they are upset. “You are so mad right now, aren’t you? You are so disappointed we can’t take the red truck home with us. That is so hard!” While you aren’t giving into the demands of your toddler, you can certainly be compassionate toward them in the midst of their big feelings.
It’s so hard, but absolutely worth it. When it comes to parenting a toddler, being consistent is crucial. In their early years, my kids spent a lot of time exploring the routines and boundaries of our family life.
“Did Mommy really mean it when she said to not throw food on the floor?” “Does Daddy mean it when he says not to run away from him at the park?”
Toddlers are guaranteed to test these boundaries you’ve set. Stick to them. A gentle but firm “no” while guiding your child into appropriate behavior is a great place to start. You may spend half a day being consistent with an important boundary, but it is time well spent.
Lavish praise is such a powerful tool in the life of a toddler. A big smile, a high five, and phrases like, “Great job! I’m so proud of you! You’re my big helper!” reinforce positive behavior. When you’re working on appropriate behaviors and new skills, praise, praise, praise that toddler. They will light up and keep up the great work!
When one of my kids was behaving unusually out of line, it was helpful to take a step back, and gauge how full their “love tank” was. Taking 15-30 minutes to sit down with them, read to them, play with them, give hugs, eye contact, and lots of focused attention filled up their tank.
Afterward, they would be able to make more calm, positive choices. When you have a new baby or many other demands, it’s easy to overlook this tremendous need in your child’s life for connectedness with you. It’s a powerful thing.
Communicate. Calm and compassionate. Consistent. Complimentary. Connected.
These are the simple words to guide you on your way with toddlers. You’ve got this, Mom.
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