So you have a baby and you think, “Okay, this is tough. But it’ll get easier.” And in some ways it does. But in other ways, it just gets harder and harder as your complacent little lump of genetics and poo gains mobility and a mind of their own. They test your limits, challenge themselves to try their hands at new and dangerous situations, and start throwing temper tantrums if you don’t buy cat food at the store.
In this lovely toddler age of independence and boundary testing, I have to admit I’ve found myself losing patience and wondering if I can do this. If you’re feeling like you’re barely keeping it together (or have fallen apart), know you’re not the only mama losing it out there. Parenting is a tough gig!
Fortunately, there are a few things that make life with a toddler easier for me. Don’t expect sunshine and bluebirds to suddenly calm every tantrum and flit about washing your dishes and wiping the floor (What was that gooey spot, anyhow? Actually, I don’t want to know), but at least these simple ideas may keep your hair from greying quite as quickly.
Simple Tips to Make Life Easier with a Toddler
Open communication and clear expectations
Knowing what is going on and what people expect of you is a big part of being comfortable in the world. It can be highly stressful if you’re constantly being pulled here and there, told what to do (and more often what NOT to do), and don’t know how to ask questions.
When I was a kid, maybe somewhere around 8 years old, I remember being extremely disappointed over not doing something fun that the person I was with had told us we would do. Instead, I was just taken home without even knowing that’s where we were going, and that there just wouldn’t be time to go to the pool that day. It was at this moment I decided to always keep my little ones in the loop and to keep my promises to the best of my ability. Sometimes plans have to change, and we are unable to follow through with our intentions, but if we keep the communication flowing, talking to our children as competent, included beings, emotions are more easily kept in check.
First and then statements have also been helpful for us, letting my little miss know that I understand what she’s wanting to do and that we will do it, but first something else must happen. Keeping the little one involved in what our plans and intentions help her to know what to expect and have an easier time transitioning. Giving warnings (“We’re going to leave the playground in 5 minutes”) helps with this.
Another piece that really helped with increasing successful communication with our toddler was introducing sign language. Even when she started using many different words, they could be hard to understand. When she throws in a sign, it makes it way easier to know what she’s talking about. Even though we had a late start with sign language, it definitely helped us communicate easier for a period of time.
Enlist the help of your toddler
Little ones love being a part of what you’re doing, and confidence can be built by helping you out. The more I can get my toddler involved, the more pleasant she is, and the more we are able to get done together.
Some of the household tasks she can help out with are:
* Washing the floor – Get a spray bottle and some rags or microfiber cloths and spend some time polishing up the floor. This covers a variety of bases since your floor will be cleaner, and you and your toddler will be using muscles while bonding, building confidence and gaining life skills. Win, win, win, win, win.
* Watering the garden and houseplants – A little watering can of her own and my munchkin is content and contributing while I work or relax in the garden.
* Holding the dust pan – Sweeping is an exciting event around here. When trying to sweep up the crumbs and dust bunnies with the broom seemed an unsuccessful and dangerous task, I passed her the dustpan. Holding onto this while I sweep the floors, then holding it down (I have to help a bit here) while I sweep the pile off the floor gives little miss a sense of pride that shows all over her when she carries it over and dumps it into the trash can.
There are a lot of other different ways that toddlers can help.
Cultivate engagement and solitary play
I find it helpful that I’m able to set out something that my toddler is really into, which will keep her occupied when I need to get something done (we do have to eat at some point, and will run out of dishes if we never wash them). Here are a few activities that are motivating enough to keep my little munchkin happy playing solitarily while I rush through some food prep or laundry loading:
* Playdough and glass beads or other loose materials to poke in and decorate with.
* Sticking stickers onto paper – Make someone a personalized card with one of your child’s first drawings and some stickers chosen and placed by the little learner. This is also a simple way to promote fine motor development.
* Building with blocks – I keep a box of building blocks in our main room (where both our kitchen, dining, play and living area are) as well as a box upstairs in little Z’s room. At first, it was about knocking down, then stacking, and now that she’s comfortable with the blocks I see her choosing out particular shapes and colours and building more intricate designs. While she is building, she is learning valuable lessons about physics, space, shape, balance, and so much more.
* Puzzles – Both traditional puzzles (wood with a holding peg for this stage) and cool mind puzzle toys (such as stacking bowls) are very motivating for my little one. Figuring out where the pieces go, how to orient each one, and how they all fit together offers a great opportunity for developing problem-solving skills.
* Books – Ever since she was only a month or so old we started showing our little bug, books. Now they are one of her favourite things. She has grown a love for books of all kinds, especially photos we’ve printed off of her and her friends and family, as well as picture dictionaries. While she does love to have us sit together and look at them, she will often sit and look at books herself. Here are our favourite board books, which you may enjoy, too.
* Sand/water tactile play – We were lucky enough to pick up a sand and water table for free earlier this spring. Since setting it up, Z has had hours of fun and learning completely engaged in digging, piling, dumping, scooping and otherwise manipulating the sand and water. Because we found a perfect location to keep the table, just outside the sliding door on our deck, I can easily watch her playing while I putter around the house, do dishes, or get a meal together.
* Baby dolls – There are few things Z likes more than strolling around with and taking care of her baby dolls.
* Drawing – Another piece we were lucky to find up for grabs was a Melissa & Doug easel, with a chalk board and clips for paper on one side, and a white board on the other. I recently picked up some coloured dry-erase markers and, wow, have these ever become a hit. Again, we keep this messier piece outside on the deck where there is more room and less chance of our house being accidently drawn on, and I can either keep an eye on her while I do my thing, or spend time together with my little bug being creative and artistic. Who doesn’t love doodling? It’s so therapeutic. I love spending this time with baby girl.
* Felt board play – These soft, flat pieces of imagery can provide plenty of imaginary play and quiet engagement. There are places you can go to buy felt board stories and pieces, or you can cut out your own shapes from large felt squares that can be found at dollar and craft stores. You could also buy a felt board, or make one like I did, out of a big piece of light board (a thick cardboard or those plastic presentation boards), then cover it with felt that you buy in larger quantity from a craft or fabric store. Just like stickers, the felt shapes have the ability to dazzle your little one by sticking to the felt board (or couch, carpet or other soft material surface), but isn’t as permanent or tricky to manipulate as stickers are.
Spend some time watching and noticing to what interests your child. What do they keep trying to get into, and what do they try to do with the things they find? Are they stacking? Rolling? Are they constantly trying to get into your kitchen tools? Let them explore their interests in an appropriate way, and you’ll probably find a few minutes of space where you’re not being climbed on – all while they build valuable skills and learn about their world.
Learn some action songs
Little one getting restless? Won’t sit or stand still when you need just a few more minutes somewhere, or is wriggling away from a diaper change? It’s been amazing how well breaking into song has worked for making my life easier with my toddler around. When she was younger I would sing this “Sleeping Bunny” song (if you’ve ever worked in childcare you probably know a version of it) when we were out at restaurants or other places where I wanted her to be fairly still for a bit. She would lay down and wait quietly while I sang to the end of the song where she wakes up. Brilliant.
Sometimes even just breaking up a difficult moment with a song can help diffuse a situation and give you more time to wrap up what needs to be done.
Other nerve-saving songs have been “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, “Wheels on the Bus”, “Head and Shoulders”, “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, and our favourite – “Bumpy Road”.
Have fun with life
The next time going gets tough with guiding your toddler’s behaviour, try this: instead of getting upset and being stern and all “You must do as I say or else!”, turn it into a game. Now, some may say that making light of obedience and expectations isn’t appropriate, but I have found from experience that responding with laughter and love makes everything move a little smoother than when you’re desperately trying to be the prison guard. Relax a little.
The next time little Tommy says “No” to putting on his pants, break into a silly face, make a little joke or otherwise crack a smile on that little face. When we’re happy, we tend to be far more compliant.
Speaking of happiness, make sure you’re in the mindset to enjoy these quickly disappearing years of tiny cuteness. Yes, I know, everyone says to “treasure the moment” and as a busy parent it can be enough to make you scream “YOU treasure your gosh darn childless moments, lady!” But when I’ve stepped out of my mindset of “I have to get this done. Hold on, hold on. One minute. Stop that.” and I leave all the other stuff to simply be with my little one, having fun right along with her, I find life as a Mom a thousand times more enjoyable.
It feels good to be happy. It feels great to form a closer bond with your child as you get to know each other better and build pleasant memories. It does not feel good to go through a whole day battling with the emotions of a child who wants your attention, resenting them for the ridiculous fact that you haven’t been able to scrub the toilets.
I choose happiness over order. (Although I do have to keep reminding myself of this from time to time.)
How about you? What do you do to make life easier?