Thursday, March 14, 2013

Toddler 101: Taming of the Shrewd

Is there anything cuter than a toddler?
I mean, really. Look at that face. Still a baby but one that responds back to you, shows undying love to you. Priceless.
But you know what I've learned over the years? Be wary of anything that cute. It's usually cute for a reason.

Case in point:
Koala bears: very cute, super mean. Same goes for squirrels.
Puppies: super cute; can destroy a house in minutes, they poo all over everything
Kittens: adorable; cats? No explanation needed

I could give you a list of unattractive, low maintenance animals as well but you get my point. Cute for a reason. Personally, I love a good toddler. Being on my 4th, I've learned a thing or two about taming this little beast and I'm happy to share. You're welcome.

Toddler 101

To defeat or at least pacify your opponent, one must understand her opponent. So let's break down the mind of a toddler.

Toddlers are intense

These little guys are extreme: they're extremely happy or extremely distraught. There's no middle ground. They feel everything completely. They love with the most love & when they're upset, it's quite literally the worst thing that's ever happened to them. And it can turn on a dime. One minute you're covered in kisses & the next, they look like this:
my apologies for the quality of my photo, I had to snap quickly before he got over it :)
That kind of intensity can be exhausting. They're usually spent after a major meltdown & almost always need a big hug. It's tough to be that emotional. 

Toddlers think you're stupid

This is how I think it goes inside my toddler's head:
Oh, wow! That's where the candy bowl went. I loooovveee candy. I really want a piece. I'm going to ask her. "Hey Mom, I want a piece of candy." What? She doesn't know what I'm saying? Hmmm, ok. I'll just point up & say it again. "Mom, candy please." She said NO??? I can't believe it. She must not know what I mean. I'm going to scream it really loud so she can hear me. "CANDY! CANDY! CANDY! CANDY!" Still no? Oh, this is worst day ever. I can't take it. I can't live without candy. I can't even stand up straight, I need candy. Why oh why doesn't she know how much I want candy? My life is so awful, I can no longer show my face. This cold, hard floor must hide me from her, she has shamed me.  I can't even look at her right now. My heart is shattered. End scene
 Been there before? I'm there daily, to the point where I'm hiding things or bribing my older kids to "please don't eat that/get that out/open that drawer right now" so that I don't have to diffuse the fit. It's quite a balancing act.
Toddlers are easily frustrated by their lack of language. They have thoughts & emotions just like us but not the words to express themselves. That has to be incredibly maddening, especially when you're highly charged about everything.

Toddlers are dealing with physical changes

Most toddlers are still experiencing some teething. Teething is brutal. Have you looked inside a toddler's mouth lately? Yowzer. Red, swollen gums everywhere. It's gotta hurt & it's gonna make 'em cranky. It would make me cranky to have a mouth full of newly protruding teeth & a mom who won't give me candy. Candy makes everything better. 
Sleep patterns also change in the toddler years. Many are going from two naps a day down to one. For most, that sleep probably occurs right after a meal (lunch & dinner) so those hours leading up to the nap/bedtime have the potential to be very hairy. Hungry + tired+ mouth full of new teeth + people who don't always give you your way = meltdown. See? It's really just all about math.

What can I do to get through this & actually enjoy it?

Match their intensity

I wish I could remember where I read this so I could give this genius proper credit. It is hands down the best piece of toddler advice out there. It goes like this: when your toddler is having a meltdown, get down on his level & repeat back to him what he's saying to you at the same level of intensity. That means if your toddler is screaming, "Candy, candy" then you get down face to face & scream back, "You want candy." Now, you're going to feel (and look) like an absolute fool but I swear it works. The instant he realizes that you understand him, the screaming stops. It's amazing, I NEVER would've thought it would work but it makes perfect sense if you think about it. You may find that you don't necessarily have to get as loud as your toddler. Different temperaments need different intensities. 
The 2nd part of this awesome advice was name your price. So, you'd say, "You can have candy after dinner." This will usually invoke more screaming, more matching & more price naming. It's quite a vicious cycle and again, will make you feel foolish. But they do eventually give up & move on. Or you can distract them with something else, like an empty box or that $75 hunk of plastic that no longer lights up & makes noise. Your call.
*Side bar: I do not recommend "matching your child's intensity" in public unless you are completely confident in your parenting & can handle the gawking. A softer approach will likely warrant similar results with a lot less stares from old ladies. Nothing like a grandma shaking her head at you to take the wind out of your parenting sails. Back off lady, it's different now. 

Provide language

Children with no words get frustrated that they can't express themselves so, give them some words. I like to start with sign language. Teach them a few basic signs from an early age & you'll find yourself able to communicate fairly well. I used the signs: no, yes, more, milk, water, thank you, please & sorry. There are a bazillion more but those were all I needed. Research shows that babies who sign tend to develop oral language more quickly. Win-win. I just incorporated the signs into my language, especially when speaking with my baby. You'll find that they pick the signs up fairly quickly & will still use them even after they learn to speak the words. It's really quite amazing & empowering- for all of you!

Be the boss

The earlier that you establish that you're the boss, the better. No must mean no consistently. The minute you give into the fit you dig yourself a huge hole, one that's going to be harder to get out of next time. Toddlers are smart & manipulative. They absolutely know how to work you & your weak points. This will continue throughout your existence as parent & child so, toughen up buttercup. It's a lot easier to move an 18 month old than an 8 year old, trust me on this one. Oh, & here's your freebie: they NEVER stop crying. There is ALWAYS going to be something that sets them off. Better learn to deal with it now because it's not going away. Can I get an Amen from my parents of teenagers?

Don't sweat the small stuff 

Pick your battles. Is it inconvenient that your toddler can empty a drawer in seconds? Absolutely. Is it worth a few minutes of peace to you OR is it worth the screaming battle to stop them? That, my friends, is for you to decide. Find your battle points & go after them. Leave the rest. You'll make yourself crazy trying to fight every battle. Let. It. Go. You'll all be happier. 

Godspeed, my parenting friends. May you all be on the receiving end of one of these:

It's totally worth it, snotty nose & all. 


  1. Love this!! The crying never stops it just gets louder as they get older! :)

    1. Yes! Much, much louder & not nearly as cute :)

  2. Amen! The crying is just so ugly the older they get. And so is mine. :-)

    Consistency is the key, no doubt. It's the one thing I find myself failing at the most. Yesterday I asked Erin to stop using a certain 'tone' in her voice when telling Luke no about something silly. I swear, 10 seconds later I was telling one of them "don't!" with the same tone in my voice. Parenting is so humbling...

    1. Hee Hee :) I think I see a future post here! I HATE IT when I hear them talking like me- humbling is the right word!!!!

  3. Joy, have you been in my house this week? Month? Year? I can match you meltdown for meltdown right now. I love love this post, especially the face-down picture. That is my world right now X2. Loving your blog!!

    1. Thank you, thank you! I can only imagine what your house is like- I think you'd win in the meltdown face-off... maybe win isn't the right word ;) We didn't have a lot of that with my twins, mostly because they didn't have anyone else to watch. That has to be crazy with the two of them watching your older boys & trying to do everything they do. Do I sense a girls' weekend in your future?


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