Parenting a toddler? Eight great tips…

Today for Mom-Monday, I’m sharing an article I originally wrote for Sacramento Parent Magazine about parenting those cute little ones we call toddlers.

They can be so darn precious, but they can be challenging too.

If you’re a mommy to a toddler, be encouraged, hang in there and read on…


Ah, toddlerhood! It’s a time when kids test boundaries, and test their parents in the process. So how do moms and dads survive? Here are some practical tips:

Don’t give in: Remain calm, and remember that giving in just teaches your tot that kicking and screaming will eventually get him what he wants. “This typically leads to bigger and more frequent meltdowns,” says Terrah Tillman, a Marriage and Family Therapist.

Anticipate: Know what sets you child off. If your son gets upset every time you leave a friend’s house, plan something fun as part of your leaving routine, like keeping a special toy in the car.

Distract and redirect: Find something to avert your child’s attention. Introduce a new activity, like finding bugs or going outside.

Validate their feelings: Meltdowns often stem from kids’ frustration. “At the same time toddlers are growing into that ‘I can do it!’ stage, they lack the language skills to communicate effectively,” says Tillman. Showing your child that you understand what he’s feeling can help: “You’re sad. You want to stay at the park and play. I know.”

Reflect your child’s feelings: You can say something like, “I know you’re angry because Adam took your toy, but it’s not okay to hit.”

Teach alternatives: Teach kids to, “use your words,” and model what words work in different situations. Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution, also recommends the clapping method: “Tell a child to clap his hands whenever he feels an urge to hit. This gives him an immediate outlet for his emotions and helps him learn to keep his hands to himself.”

Use time-outs: Place your child in a spot that’s clear of toys, distractions, activities or entertainment. The general guideline for a time-out is one minute per year of age.

Be consistent: If you say you’re going to do something as a consequence, follow through. Dr. Diane Chan, a Pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, says that, “Inconsistency can be the quickest way to failure or relapse when it comes to disciplinary issues.”

Wait until your child is ready: It’s different for every child. You’ll know it’s time when your child stays dry longer, gets uncomfortable in dirty diapers and wants to be changed, can identify when he or she is going to the bathroom, or asks to use the toilet or wear underwear.

Be patient: Your child is learning a whole new process, and it may take time. Getting impatient or frustrated can delay things and turn tots off from potty-training.

Be creative: Jana Toole, a mom of five, shares one of her tips: “I pick a time when the weather is
supposed to be nice for a couple of days. We play outside a lot, in case there are accidents. I set a timer for every fifteen minutes and we take a break and try to go potty.” Jana also uses rewards. “We use a potty chart. After they make it to the end of the day or week with no accidents, they get to pick out a little toy.”

Anticipate and prepare: Sharing is tough, so make it easy on your little one. You can put away your child’s extra-special treasures (out of sight, out of mind!), so she won’t be forced to share favorites, or have a spare to share.

Give choices: Instead of demanding your child share something, try framing it as a choice. Pantley recommends something like, “Sarah would like to play with some stuffed animals. Which ones would you like to let her play with?”

Reward and praise: Acknowledge when your toddler plays nicely and shares: “Look how Sarah smiled when you shared your bear—nice sharing!”

Teach by example: Create situations where you share with your child, and point out that you are sharing.

Adjust expectations: Toddlers aren’t the eating machines they were as babies, nor will they feed on demand like they used to. Dr. Chan reassures us this is typical, healthy toddler behavior. “Normal weight and height growth curves stand as proof of this,” she says, adding that if a toddler has one good meal a day, or has eaten a food pyramid in one day (bread and fruit at breakfast, carbohydrates and dairy at lunch, and vegetables and protein at dinner), she’ll generally get the nutrition she needs.

Prevent pickiness: Nancy Tringali Piho, author of My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything, says that the early years are actually the best time to encourage your child to eat new foods. Eat together as a family and serve your impressionable and curious toddler foods that everyone else is eating. Piho recommends introducing the concept of flavor at this age too. Tell your toddler how much he will enjoy the flavors, and try not to let rejections deter you from serving foods again. (For more about picky eaters, read my post here.)

Start early: Giving your child a ten-minute notice before naptime and bedtime allows time for your child to unwind. If they’re in the middle of playing, help them finish their activity, so they aren’t frustrated by being pulled away from it.

Make it fun: Create a positive bedtime routine. Sing a song. Read or tell a story. Play quiet music, and create a relaxing environment. Make it a fun time for you and your child to bond.

Smooth transitions: Pantley recommends allowing your child to move from crib to big-kid bed on his own timetable. If you have a baby on the way, Dr. Chan recommends making the transition at least three months before, “so your child’s attachment to the crib will be long gone before the baby arrives.”

Practice patience: If your toddler isn’t talking well, keep in mind that children begin speaking at different ages. Christy Osterberg, a mom of two and a Speech and Language Pathologist, cautions against comparing your child to other children: “Each child is different. However, if you are concerned, don’t be afraid to get your child evaluated.”

Ask an expert: Talk to your child’s pediatrician, or get in touch with your County Office of Education (kids ages 0-3) or your local school district office (age 3 and up). Warmline Family Resource Center can also provide information, support and referrals.

Try to find the funny: Even in the not-so-funny moments, it will crop up. Learning to look past the frustrations is part of the art of parenting.

Enjoy right now: Nicole Blackburn, a mom of three, says, “Seeing how fast my eight-year-old is growing up helps me to stay positive day-to-day. Even when my younger kids are clinging to my leg, and I’m frustrated because I just want to make dinner, I need to remember that time is flying and this will pass.”

What about you? What do you find effective with your toddlers, or if your kids are older now, what worked for you when they were younger?

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