Remnants of lunch smeared across her pants, she totes a toddler on one hip and a diaper bag big enough for a family of 12. She can’t remember the last time she slept through the night or went to the bathroom by herself.
“No” is her new middle name and an empty coffee cup is a serious emergency. Yep, she’s the mom of a toddler. Possibly the most physically exhausting job there is. And somewhere in there she’s supposed to train these little hearts toward Jesus?
I remember well those early parenting days. My first two babies were 13 months apart. Many days, I thought I would die. I wondered if I’d ever go to the bathroom without someone dumping a box of cereal on the carpet or if my Bible would grow dust from all of those mornings that I was just too tired to crack it open. It was hard. Even though I was so graciously blessed with the privilege of having those sweet little tots, it was plain hard.
Mom, just because your friend has 2 or 3 more kids than you do, don’t discount how difficult those toddler years are. Don’t discount how hard it is to just have one. This parenting thing is new everyday and just when you think you’ve got the little guy figured out, he changes.
A few months ago I wrote a post on consequences for little hearts. The post itself was full of ideas that were applicable for children about age 5-12. But this leaves a huge gap. Knowing that those early years, before age 5, are crucial to your child’s development, I wanted to offer up a few pieces of wisdom for parenting the toddler years. Be encouraged mama, you can do this!
The Don’ts of parenting the toddler years
Don’t take it personally…defiance is a flesh issue not a reflection of her love for you.
Don’t always hover…let her experience minor natural consequences for naughty behavior.
Don’t explain everything…you’ll have plenty of time to share the moral reason why when he is older.
Don’t offer choices…this includes clothes, colors, foods, etc. Save the battles for later.
Don’t let media dictate your child’s behavior…she will imitate what she watches.
Don’t compare your child to others…he will learn to obey at his own pace.
The Do’s of parenting the toddler years
Make quiet time your priority
I know it’s hard. No, I really know. But I promise it’s a worthwhile investment in your children. If you can wake up FOR your kids, you won’t wake up TO them. And your whole day will change. Sign up for Hello Mornings this fall and make it your priority. I’ll be your cheerleader!
Find a Titus 2 woman
If at all possible, find yourself a mentor, a Titus 2 woman who can walk with you through these years. I would encourage you to make broad your definition of “older woman.” While those women who have graduated multiple children are a wealth of knowledge, they have forgotten a LOT of what happens in the trenches of toddlerhood. Instead, find a mom with multiple children who are late elementary or middle school. These moms have toddlerhood fresh on their minds. Trust me!
When I first had children, there was one thing that I was SURE of. My children would obey. The first time. Period. Over the years I have learned that this is a ridiculous expectation. Do I obey the first time every time? (God is shaking his head furiously right now.) If I can’t meet that expectation as an adult, then I can’t place that expectation on my little guys. I’m not saying to throw it all out the window and just let them do whatever they want. Be firm and consistent, but know that you must find grace for that sweet little defiant face.
Make a schedule
If you cringe at the thought of a schedule and you have toddlers, I challenge you to consider trying it. Toddlers thrive on structure. They should get up roughy the same time, take a nap at roughly the same time, and have meals at roughly the same time. This type of consistency helps them feel secure.
Remember, you are mom. Don’t ask your child what she wants to do. Give instruction for what you want her to do. If you ask her is she wants to go to bed, do you honestly think she will ever say yes? Your question indicates to her that it’s an option and it isn’t. The same thing goes for “ok.” Don’t put that on the end of your instructions. “Get in the car, ok?” is a choice. But you aren’t offering a choice. You want her in the car. So state that.
When you ask your child to do something or to stop doing something, ask only once. Don’t count to three. Don’t threaten…”if you do that one more time, I’m going to…” Simply state your command one time. IF the child is disobedient, move directly to corrective discipline. Otherwise, you make yourself a liar and that reputation will stick.
Fight disobedience with consistency
Most offenses by a toddler involve the hands. These are new tools that he is just starting to understand. Discipline remains the same regardless of circumstances. If he takes a friend’s toy, pushes a sibling, or touches the tv remote, squeeze his hand and say no. If that doesn’t stop the behavior, remove him from the room.
For example, if he touches something he shouldn’t…
1st offense…make eye contact and say no
2nd offense…squeeze hand and say no
3rd offense…remove the child to his crib or a high chair in another room
Teach them to say “yes mom”
I start this really early. If baby is doing something naughty, I tell him no, remove him from the situation and say- “yes mom” while I am showing him obedience. Once he is about 18 months old, I would first say “no” and then coax him to obedience while saying “yes mom.” If he doesn’t comply, pick him up and show him obedience while saying “yes mom.” (If he goes back to the problem area, then I would confine him in the high chair or pack n’ play.)
Speaking of confining, the best thing you can do for yourself with a toddler is to set boundaries during the day. Have a time set aside for “high chair” time and put him in it while you clean the kitchen or pay the bills. Have a “room time” where your tot stays in his crib (lights on, with toys) to play. This frees you up to get a shower or brush your teeth with the assurance that he is safe. It also makes him more compliant in the grocery cart, doctor’s office, or anywhere else where he can not run free. Yes, he may cry at first, but it won’t hurt him to learn that sometimes we have to sit still or stay in one place. More on room time here.
Learn to ignore tantrums
Unless your child is hurting someone, let her throw a tantrum. Ignore it. Walk away. Do some dishes. Whatever you do, don’t try and problem solve it. Tantrums don’t dignify a response. And this is applicable to any age.
Keep on doing it
Be patient. Training toddlers takes a LOT of consistency. Don’t expect perfection. In fact, your toddler is probably better at obeying than you think. If you feel discouraged, get a sheet of paper and make tallies for the number of times he obeys each day vs. the number of times he doesn’t.You’ll be surprised at how many times he actually does obey. Look for progress, not perfection. That’s your goal in this phase.
Get some great resources
It can be hard to find parenting books with specifics for dealing with toddlers. So often they are geared toward older kids or they are simply too generic to be of help. My favorite practical book for this stage is On Becoming Toddlerwise. I also love Mom’s Notes by Carla Link. Both are full of very practical advice for specific situations that arise in toddlerhood. In addition, Chronicles of a Babywise Mom is an excellent online resource for practical ways to help your toddler.
Sweet mom, if you don’t hear anything else in the post, I want you to know this. God has given you this precious child. You can not mess him up, because God’s love for him fills the gaps of your failures. We all fail, but in God’s grace every single one of our children is held in His hands.
A printable prayer for you…
For a downloadable version, click here…[download id=”6″]
Do you have tips for the toddler years? Burning questions that I didn’t answer? Please share!
Looking for a better way to encourage your children to pray?