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Toddlers! They are so adorable! I have had 2 of them and those were good times where a lot of fond memories were made. They were also frustrating times. As cute and sweet as they were, they were also constant, challenging, and at times, like a ticking time bomb! This was probably the stage in my kids’ lives where I read and researched the most. It was when I was the most frazzled and felt that I failed daily.
Those were the times when I was either too hard on them, or not hard enough. Sometimes I yelled or lost my temper when I should not have. These were the times that my patience was tested the most and sometimes I felt like an exhausted, raw nerve at the end of the day that was about to burst into tears of frustration.
If you are where I was – I loved my children with every fiber in me (and still do!) but was afraid they were going to drive me off the deep end, or that all they would remember would be me yelling and all my mistakes, keep reading. I will say the book that I found the MOST helpful was “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” by Dr. Harvey Karp. (That is the affiliate link) These are the things that I learned that I found most helpful.
1. They are still babies in that their BRAINS are not yet fully developed.
We have different areas in our brains that control different things and these areas do not all develop at the same time. The part of our brains that are logical and analytical develop slower. That means that for toddlers the EMOTIONAL part of their brains is running the show. There is no filter yet! Something happens and they have strong emotional reactions to it. Like all emotions, these reactions are often not very logical.
For Example: A Grown-up decides to have toast for breakfast. They put the bread in the toaster, and slide the handle down to start making toast. Then, they see the cereal. The grown-up thinks, “Oh, cereal looks good too! That would taste good, but I already have the bread in the toaster. I’ll have cereal for breakfast tomorrow.” Then, the toast pops up and the grown-up proceeds to fix and eat the toast, with the cereal idea shoved to the back of their thoughts for later.
Toddler wants toast for breakfast. The toddler has to find an adult to fix it for them and then communicate their wants to the adult. Then, they have to wait for the adult to understand. The adult finally understands and puts bread in the toaster to toast. More waiting. -_- While the bread is toasting, the toddler sees cereal. The toddler thinks “Cereal is very yummy. Tastes good. Makes me happy. Yes, cereal will make me happy! Want cereal!! Want cereal NOW!! Brain overload: Cereal! Cereal! Cereal!” Then, the toast pops up. “What??! Where did that come from??! I don’t want toast!! I want cereal!!!! Ahhhhhh!!!!!!!”
Meanwhile, the adult is thinking “Cereal? Where did that come from? You said you wanted toast 2 minutes ago! I fixed your toast, and now you’re having a meltdown??”
The toddler lacks the logical checkpoints that rein in the emotional response.
(If you need some strategies NOW, I have another post on the Top 10 Strategies for Dealing With Toddlers)
2. They live “In the Moment”
This is both an enjoyable and challenging characteristic of toddlers. It is enjoyable in the sense that you see someone exploring the world around them with wide-eyed curiosity and wonder. They can give you a whole new perspective on everyday things.
Driving through road construction, I would think, “Oh great! Road Work! I hate driving through all this construction.”
However, in the back seat, I would hear “Momma!!!! LOOK! Excavator!!!!! It DIGGING!!! GREAT BIG hole!!! Wow!!!!!!!!!!!”
It is very hard to be grumpy when you are hearing shrieks of delight and wonder from the back seat. Write this stuff down so you remember it. This is the good stuff in life. Drink it up. (Even if you’re really, really tired!)
That same “Living in the Moment” characteristic can be very hard when you are trying to leave an activity that they really enjoy. They loved going to the park, but they both hated leaving the park. Fortunately, there is a strategy to help! (More strategies in my next post!) Give them a warning before you change activities.
For example: If you are at the park and it is almost time to go, tell them “I am setting the timer (or “dinger”) on my phone for 2 more minutes. When this timer goes off, it will be time to leave the park and go home.” Then, when the timer goes off you tell them “The timer is going off. Hear the timer? It is time to go home now. Didn’t we have fun at the park? You looked so happy when you went down the slide! Was it really fun??” If they have a melt-down, you do have to calmly insist that it is time to go and then follow through.
Another way to give a warning that it is almost time to go is to ask them to pick one more thing to do before they go. This helps to ease the transition from one activity to another.
(Again, If you need some strategies NOW, I have another post on the Top 10 Strategies for Dealing With Toddlers or you can check out this great post on How to Discipline a Toddler )
3. They Have a Limited Attention Span
If you are currently living with a toddler, you are probably thinking “Figured that one out already, thank you very much, Captain Obvious.” There is a light at the end of the tunnel though! This flitting from one activity to another like a butterfly gets less extreme as they age! I saw a chart in a book called “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” that showed 7 minutes of clocked nursery time and where different aged children went in that time frame.
The 18-month- old’s looked like a solid line of scribbles; like a ping pong ball that had randomly bounced all over the place. That 18 month-old had explored EVERYTHING in those 7 minutes! At age 2, There were still scribbles, but not so many, and there were 2 un-explored activities. At age 2 and a half, there was one line that bounced around to various activities. By age 3, only two of the seven offered activities where explored, and by age 4, there was only one activity explored in those seven minutes. As they grown their attention spans dramatically increases! This is just a natural part of them maturing.
4. When They Get Upset, It is Hard for them to Communicate Effectively
Have you ever been so mad that you could not speak, or could not get anything out other than “Grrrrrrrr!!!!”? Toddlers, for the most part, are still learning language skills. Remember that first point that their brains are not fully developed yet? When they get upset, some of the language skills go right out the window. When that happens, they cannot communicate well, which leads to outbursts and them acting out their feelings.
My youngest son had a speech delay. This was especially pronounced with him when he was a toddler. His language skills were not good anyway, so when he got upset… BOOM! My normally happy toddler was exploding! (usually in public… thank you, son.) I had to find a way to calm him down before he could communicate anything to me. He would be having a meltdown and I had no idea why!
5. They are Impulsive and they NEED physical activity
Again, this goes back to the first point. Impulse control is still developing. Their “STOP!” mechanism is not yet fully in place. This is why they do things like dash into the middle of the parking lot, or they reach out to touch that thing that you just told them not to. Obviously, this is part of a parent’s job to help control this and keep them safe and to teach them to control it. They also have tons of energy!!! (Which you have probably already figured out.) They need a positive and productive outlet for it.
My youngest son, especially, needed outside time like oxygen. If he did not get outside and MOVE he was nearly intolerable in the house. I did things like taking him to the park, taking him for walks, letting him play in the sandbox, letting him throw rocks in the creek. I did anything I could think of that would get him outside and let him burn off energy.
For rainy days, I even got one of those little blow-up things that were small enough to fit in his room so he could bounce. (See it here) It took up ALL of the free floor space in his room, but it was worth it. It inflated with a regular tire inflator that I already had, and when we were not using it, I folded it up and stored it under his bed. They have some nicer ones available now, but I got that one because I needed it as small as I could get it.
If he did not get his physical activity, he climbed whatever he could find, he bounced around all over the house, he got into things he was not supposed to get into, and it was a fight all day long that left me absolutely exhausted. (And not in a very good mood either. My inner Mom-ster monster was released!)
6. Their personalities are formed in the first 3 years of their lives.
Yes, we all have basic personalities that we are born with and an undetermined portion of our personalities are genetic. However, environment also plays a role. When my boys were toddlers, I was pretty sure that I was royally messing up. They have different basic personalities. My oldest son was calm, easy, and laid back for the most part. I would go to the grocery store and my sweet boy would talk to me and not touch the things on the shelf. He would stay buckled in the seat, and perfectly happy, for the most part. I would hear other Moms in the grocery store with their kids and I would smugly walk by thinking that I had it all figured out… And then I had my second son.
Grocery Store Trips With my Second Son: A Whole New World!
Oh. My! Grocery store trips were entirely different. I was breathing out silent apologies to all those Moms that I had so smugly passed with my perfect little baby in the cart because now I was the one with the screaming child in the grocery store! That was a lesson in being humble for sure! I started making my grocery list in the order that the store was arranged in so I could get in and out more quickly. If the option of ordering my groceries online had been more available then, I might have seriously considered it! In stark contrast to my oldest son, my youngest was wired as “spirited!”
Despite the fact that their basic personalities are wired oppositely, I am happy to say that I think, by the Grace of God, that I somehow managed not to ruin either of them. There are parts of their personalities that are the same, and I would like to think that some of the things I did in toddler-hood had an impact on that. The thing that I hear about both of the boys now from their teachers and others that have worked with them is that they are both very sweet and loving.
Remember to Love on them, Snuggle them, and Savor the sweetness.
Remember to love them in toddlerhood. Rock them, kiss their boo-boos, sing to them, hug them, read to them, and always tell them that you love them. I honestly think that part of the reason that my boys are so loving is that they were loved. We talked about being nice to one another, about sharing, about considering other people’s feelings, about saying sorry when we are wrong, and about forgiveness. These lessons have to be repeated often, but they will lodge deep in their hearts. In my opinion, it makes a huge impact in your child’s life.
7. They need socialization
While they are in their toddler and pre-k years, it is my opinion that this is a prime time for learning social skills. They need to know how to interact with other kids. No matter how awesome of a parent you are, you cannot be another little kid to them. You are too rational, you communicate too well, in short, you are too grown-up and you will not react like a kid that is close in age to them. I was a stay at home mom, but we did not stay home all the time. We went to the library, we went to the park, we had playdates. The play dates, I especially loved because it let me connect with other Moms. Adult contact!!!
Benefits of Mother’s Day Out Pre-K program
The other thing that I did was that I enrolled both of them in Mother’s Day Out programs at local churches. They each went one day a week until the year before they started kindergarten, and then I increased it to 2 days a week. I missed them. Yes, it was hard leaving them there at first, BUT, they both looked forward to going and enjoyed it. Attending Mother’s Day Out program enabled them to meet some of the people that they would be attending school with and learn some social skills. It was also great exposure to many of the pre-k skills that they needed to develop before starting school.
For example, they learned skills like how to line up, how to sit at a table and do “work”, how to cut things out with scissors and glue them, how to color and stay in the lines, how to share with someone that is not a relative, how to introduce themselves and make a friend. All these skills helped them to make the kindergarten transition more easily. There were also other benefits of Mother’s Day Out. For one, I got some Momma time! It was not a full-time daycare, so they were only there for 5-6 hours a day, and it was less expensive than traditional daycare, which made it much more affordable for us.
My youngest son made some rapid gains in his speech after he started going to Mother’s Day Out as well. He had to; he was surrounded by other chattering kids! Between the two of my children, he was probably the one for which this was most vital. Even if you choose not to do an official paid program, do something so that your toddler or preschooler gets to interact with other kids.
If you are currently the parent of a toddler, I want to encourage you to hang in there. Yes, I know they are frustrating, but hopefully, these tips and strategies will help to make your life easier, as they did for mine. Some of my best memories of the boys come from their toddler years. If you liked these tips, look at my next post, where I discuss some strategies that I found effective in dealing with my toddlers.
Again, many of the techniques that I discuss in this post and in the next one come from the “Happiest Toddler on the Block” book. I highly recommend adding this one to your parenting library. For me, it was one of those books that I constantly referred back to. Hang in there, you are doing a great job. You ARE good enough and no one knows your children like you do. Do your best, remember to take some time for self-care for yourself, and pray like crazy!
If you are in need of some strategiesfor coping with toddlers, I have another post on the Top 10 Strategies for Dealing With Toddlers.
Edited: 3/1/2018 for better Readability and Search Engine Optimization