My daughter, Tallulah, just turned two years old and we are in the throes of full-blown toddlerland. In some ways, toddlers are so much easier than newborns; You can have real conversations with them, you can reason with them (on occasion) and when all else fails, you can bribe them. Not to mention, they are now capable of doing so much on their own.
On the other hand, toddlers have really strong opinions, they have way more energy, and their cries are much, much louder. As a parent, your job has evolved… You’re not just trying to keep them alive, you’re also teaching them how to be actual humans!
So for all you toddler mamas, toddler aunties and toddler mamas-to-be, I’ve pulled together my top 10 “rules of engagement” when entering the toddler stage. This is by no means a definitive list, but hopefully it will help you navigate this new territory!
1. You have more patience than you ever thought possible.
Toddler tantrums are real. And they suck. We’ve all witnessed them; whether in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, outside the coffee shop or at your favorite restaurant. We’ve watched as a helpless mom tries to wrangle the flying limbs of a red-faced little person screaming and crying at the top of their lungs. Before I had my daughter, I was 100 percent certain that I would never put up with all that chaos. My child would know that there are certain boundaries and throwing a fit in public was NOT acceptable.
Well, karma’s a total B! My daughter has opinions on everything, and likes to remind me who’s in charge every day. Throwing her body on the floor is just part of our morning routine (and our afternoon and evening routine as well). She can’t chew on the Desitin tube? Tantrum. She can’t throw her lunchbox at the dog? Tantrum. She wants to wear the mermaid pajamas, so I put her in the mermaid pajamas? TANTRUM.
All new toddler mamas will experience their child’s wrath and there really is no way to handle it…you just need survive it. Developmentally, these little people are starting to figure out the world around them, so they have all these feelings and thoughts. The good news is that it gets easier to manage once you can begin communicating with them, but sometimes they’re just going to melt down… and your best bet is to just let them. It sounds crazy, but reacting to it is exactly what they want. If your toddler throws a fit at the department store jewelry counter because he or she can’t grab the shiny necklace…walk away. Not like out to the parking lot, but far enough that you’re not standing there trying to negotiate. Chances are, he or she will see a group of strangers and will pop up to go find you. And if one of those shoppers wants to judge you or throw shade, don’t worry about it. Karma will handle it for you.
2. Just say yes.
This leads me to my next point: As parents, we end up saying “no” countless times every single day. And it’s the only phrase that will send your child into a complete meltdown as fast as, “it’s time for bed.” So I make the concerted effort to say “yes” as often as I can. It sounds impossible, but you can probably escape most days without every saying the word no, as long as you’re willing to do some creative rephrasing.
Toddler: “I drive!”
Mama: “Yes, you can drive mama’s car…when you’re 16.”
Toddler: “Cupcake please!”
Mama: “Yes, you can have a cupcake. On Saturday.”
Toddler: [Chewing on tube of diaper cream.]
Mama: “Yes, you can chew on something. Let’s get you something less toxic…like some fruit, a wash cloth, or a dog bone.”
3. Your toddler is not going to starve.
Toddler eating is unpredictable and can be really, really frustrating. I made the mistake of labeling Tallulah a “great eater,” but then around the 18-month mark, all bets were off. One day should would consume enough kiwi to turn herself green, and the next day she’d throw the entire bowl on the floor (I suggest investing in some toddler dishware that suctions to the tabletop, like the ezpz mat). She’ll routinely request a meal consisting of “papaya and cheese,” but then refuse to eat it. I think the best advice I got is this: she’s not going to starve. Worrying about whether or not she’s eating enough food—or enough of the right food—is an extra anxiety I don’t need. My job is to provide her with three meals and two snacks, and her job is to eat it. If she doesn’t, there’s nothing I can do. If it’s before bedtime, I’ll offer her some extra milk to insure that she gets through the night, and we’ll try again in the morning.
All of this assumes that you can actually get your toddler into the highchair at mealtime (which is a whole other topic completely).
4. Watch your mouth.
You have no idea the things those little brains absorb. My daughter dropped a colored pencil the other day and said “Oh sh*t!” (So maybe you should reconsider taking parenting advice from me). It won’t take long before conversations you had with your partner, are now being repeated to your neighbors, so be careful! But the repetition isn’t even the worse part. I’ve become the sort of parent that is forced to spell out words to my husband or nanny, because even mentioning the words “park,” “cookie” or “Ariel” could cause a riot in the middle of our family room.
On that note, it’s good to remember that it’s never too soon to start role modeling good behavior. When your little person accepts a toy from you or a snack, say “Thank you!” Soon they’ll start parroting it back to you. And truth be told, it’s 100 percent self-serving. When their needs grow and their opinions become stronger, you’ll be far more inclined to meet those needs when they’re asking you politely and seeming to appreciate your efforts (even when you know they don’t really mean it.)
5. Start researching preschools now.
I’m not saying you need to subscribe the preschool mania that takes over cities like New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles, but don’t wait until July if you plan to send your child to school in the fall. Sure, there are 100 philosophies (Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Play-Based, Waldorf, Academic, blah, blah, blah), and every school has a different approach, set of beliefs and guidelines—but that’s not why you should start.
For many of you, it will be the first time you’re leaving your child in the care of someone else and/or in a new place outside of your home. For me, I’ve had a nanny since my daughter was six-weeks-old, but dropping her off at a school and leaving her there feels daunting. So I’m checking out different places and figuring out which is the best fit for our family and where our daughter seems to be the most comfortable. When the day comes, I’m still going to sob and sit in the car outside her school for a week like a psycho, but at least I’ll know she’s okay.
6. Potty Training is not for the weak of heart.
I’ve only yet to dabble in this territory, mainly because I’m way too tired to think about it. There are a few schools of thoughts on the topic, but from what I gather nothing is foolproof and it really just depends on your child, your parenting philosophies, and how white your carpets are.
I had one friend who struggled for months with potty training. Her almost 3-year-old daughter really fought the idea, especially after the arrival of her little brother (because getting her diaper changed meant more attention from mom and dad). When this mama decided that enough was enough, her daughter agreed. She pushed her potty to the front door, walked back into the family room and peed on the floor.
Another friend (who just so happens to be Ilana, your LaurenConrad.com editor) went full army general, barricaded her family in her house for four days, covered the furniture in towels, and did a potty training boot camp with her buck-naked 2-year-old…and it worked! Ilana now lives in a beautiful, diaper-free world. (But is required to carry around a travel potty for the impromptu roadside pitstop).
Apparently, there are people you can hire to come help you potty train your child, but I have yet to see an option for that on TaskRabbit. At the end of the day, I’d suggest not stressing too much. Kids eventually want to go to the bathroom on the potty—especially once they start going to school. Some positive peer pressure can actually be a good thing.
7. You will have at least one heart attack a day.
Keeping your child alive was nerve-wracking enough before they could move. Once they’re mobile, it’s a whole new ballgame. Whenever my daughter falls, trips or bumps into something, she bursts into hysterics—and every time my heart falls into my stomach. I never know if it’s going to actually be bad, or if it’s just the shock that caused her to unravel.
These days, if I turn my back for a split second she’s either disappeared (which is beyond terrifying, particularly in public) or has gotten into something that could cause serious injury. Baking cookies on my counter, she somehow managed to get hold of a very sharp pizza cutter. She’s decided that instead of napping, she should start trying to scale her crib. If there’s a boiling hot cup of coffee anywhere within her reach, she’s definitely trying to pour it all over herself. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that she’s trying to turn my hair gray!
8. Give your toddler lots of choices.
Kids are told what to do, where to play, how to dress, when to eat…the list goes on. Now, they’re at an age when they have preferences on just about everything, and ultimately are just looking to exert some control over their worlds. By offering them choices, you’re making your job as a parent so much easier.
Now don’t get all crazy. As the parent, its your responsibility to set the rules and make the decisions…but giving them options of how they can follow your direction is a life (and energy) saver.
“It’s time to brush your teeth. Would you like to use the Care Bear toothbrush or the Elmo toothbrush?”
“We need to put our shoes on. Would you like to sit on the couch or on the floor?”
“I’m going to change your diaper. Would you like me to sing Old MacDonald or Ariel?”
(For the record, it’s always Ariel and I’m actually pretty impressed that after 25 years I remembered all of the lyrics to “Part of Your World.”)
9. Your toddler can be a jerk.
Toddlers don’t understand personal space or “private time.” They’ll bound right in if you’re in the bathroom or shower. They’ll stick their hands in the toilet bowl or sandbox and then shove their fingers in your mouth. You might get slapped. You might get kicked. You might get bitten and pulled. You might get a full cup of water thrown in your face while in front of a dozen other moms. And one day, you will work tirelessly all day trying to be the best parent you can be, only to suffer through a 30-minute tantrum right before bedtime, and you can’t help but wonder what it would be like to have some of that pre-baby free time back.
10. Your toddler can be absolutely perfect.
Toddlers understand what it means to give hugs and kisses. They’ll ask to snuggle with you on the couch and want you to sing to them after they fall. They’ll make you laugh with the funny things they do, and amaze you when you see them learning something new. When you walk into a room, they’ll light up and coming running with open arms. You might get finger paintings. You might get eskimo or butterfly kisses. You might even get told you’re funny. And one day, without warning, you’ll be folding yet another pile of laundry and your baby will walk up to you, nuzzle into your neck and say “I love you, Mama” and you’re reminded that it’s worth every single second.
What other words of advice would you share with new mamas of toddlers?
I’d love to hear your own thoughts below.