Meet Emery. Adorable. Right? Come on, you know that kid is cute. Life with Emery is not always easy. I know, I know. You’re looking at that angel face saying, “Certainly he is the most perfect child ever!” Okay, so you might not be saying quite that, but something along those lines. But this kid is a challenge. And it is my daily mission to stay sane, while raising him lovingly and letting him be who he is.
This isn’t my first trip to the Raising-A-Toddler rodeo, and it won’t be my last. I’ve still got years of this stuff ahead of me. I’ve learned some things along the way thus far. And I’m sure I’ll have plenty more of these tips once Ransom enters the ranks of toddlerhood. But for now, here are 33 tips for maintaining your sanity while raising a toddler. There may be some you just cannot do. And that’s cool. There may be some that you just don’t need with your perfectly behaved toddler. Okay. Lucky you. Some of these may be just the perspective changer you need.
1. Messes can be cleaned.
It doesn’t matter how big or small, know it can be cleaned. And if you don’t know how to clean it, grab some Dawn dish soap and jump right in. It can’t be worse than the mess in front of you, right?
2. If you are not willing to DO something about your toddler’s behavior, don’t SAY anything about it.
I call this “saving my nos.” You know there are times when you’re, say, melting chocolate on the stove and you notice your toddler taking book after book off the shelf into a room beyond your line of vision. You aren’t willing to leave the chocolate to burn, so you yell, “No! Stop taking books off the shelf!” Well, your toddler will likely not listen to you. You are then left in the predicament of continually yelling at a little person who now KNOWS you aren’t willing to actually DO anything or you just let it go, and you’ve wasted a “no”. (You said no, they didn’t listen, nothing happened.) You get your blood pressure up about it. And you aren’t even sure of what they are doing in the other room. You might be right, they might be making a book tower to stand on to grab that beautiful ceramic vase they’ve been eyeing for years. Or they might just be giving each stuffed animal a book to read. You don’t know. But to save yourself the future trouble of them testing your no and save yourself the headache of having to keep yelling at the kid when they have clearly tuned you out. Just keep melting the chocolate. You’ll deal with the mess later.
3. Toddler proofing is not the same as baby proofing, and you need to do it.
When your baby was small, you baby proofed your house. You crawled around looking for hidden dangers for baby. You cleared off the coffee table. You put foam edges on your hearth. You plugged all the electrical outlets. But now, that baby is a toddler. And he can reach anything you can. Why? Because he can climb like a frickin’ monkey. (Seriously, Emery can scale walls!) So, that baby proofing you did just isn’t enough. You’ve got to tether the furniture to the walls. Anything of value needs to find a home in a box and hang out in the attic for a few years. Because, let’s face it, those peanut butter covered finger are just drawn to whatever it is Mommy finds most valuable to her. Wedding photos meet sharpie. First edition signed copy of a book, rip….. Glass vase passed down every generation on your wedding day- crash! Save yourself the headache and heartache and just put them away. (And by away, I mean far, far away. The top shelf might be 7 feet high, but your toddler can still get to it.)
4. Embrace the zen of things being already broken.
I once read an article about embracing the zen of toys being broken when you get them. Basically, you get something new and in your mind, the thing is broken. You spend each day that it isn’t broken excited, and loving it for the time. But when the day comes and the thing breaks, you don’t grieve, for it was already broken. Sounds strange. Sounds crazy. But it works. And it doesn’t just work for toys! It works for that awesome coffee cup you just bought. Or those lovely stemless wine glasses that you have been eyeing and finally possess. One day, they’ll break. View that as an inevitability. And when the day comes, and your coffee cup breaks (in the hands of your toddler, I’m sure) or your set of 8 wine glasses is down to 3, you’ll be okay. You won’t be upset. Because you viewed these as transient things. You enjoyed them while they were whole, and now you can move on.
5. Don’t buy double rolls of toilet paper!
But I’ll have to change my toilet paper more often! Hear me out, here. You buy a double roll, you use it for a few days, then your toddler decides to put the end in the toilet and flush, watching the whole roll unravel on its way down. You just wasted over half of your double roll! Buy the single rolls. When your toddler has his inevitable toilet paper adventures, less paper waste and lesser chance of a clogged toilet. Embrace the single roll!
6. Don’t get over-zealous about potty training.
You know, one of the most stressful events with a toddler is not the messes he makes or the things he breaks. It is teaching him to quit pooping himself. Most parents really stress themselves out over potty training. They have some self-imposed deadline in their head and their child will be potty trained by the deadline, dagnabit! Only, the toddler isn’t aware of the deadline. The toddler isn’t even completely convinced in the necessity of using the toilet. And so the battle begins. I battled with my first with the potty. I begged. I cried. I bribed. I gave up. I resolved to get her on that blasted pink potty! She eventually got it. She’s 5 and she can use the toilet now, praise the Lord. I stressed us both out over something she was eventually going to get. My stressing over it and pushing her did not help her in the least. It did not help me in the least. Aidan got a bit forgotten in the potty training area. I potty trained Imogene and needed a break, though it was “his turn” since he is not too much younger than his sister. I didn’t bother, citing that boys needed longer anyway and I needed a potty training break. Guess what? He still learned to use the potty. On his own. No tears from me. No begging. No bribing. He figured it out all on his own. Now, he is that kind of kid. (You know the type. Engineer brain, I call him. He sees the way things work and he applies it for himself.) But the point is, he learned without my efforts. So, don’t stress out over it. They’ll get it soon enough and diaper days will be behind you.
7. Don’t compare toddlers!
If you’ve got more than 1 child, you know that no two kids are alike. Yet, you’ll often find yourself comparing what your younger one is doing compared to your recollection of what the older one was doing around the same age. You’ll find yourself comparing your toddler to the one you see at the park. Stop it. Stop comparing. You’ll only frustrate yourself. The kid you see at the park, you see for just a few moments of her day. You don’t see the little train wreck she is a bed time or the way she pitches a royal-knock-down-drag-out fit if she even senses healthy food of any sort in her vicinity. Assume you see every toddler at their best. (Or, if you see their fall-on-the-floor-thrash-around fit, assume they are at their worst.) But don’t compare. I’ve had 3 toddlers thus far and can tell you they are each very different and each complicated in their own way. So what if Suzy 2 year old can recite her ABCs and count to 20. Your kid can climb trees higher than most adults!
8. Find a way to internally mock those “my kid is better than yours” or “I know everything” parents.
I’m not saying be mean to them. I’m just saying, take lightly everything they say. So, Suzy can count to 20. I’m sure there is something Suzy cannot do. Don’t let Suzy’s Mom make you feel like a bad parent. Your kids are different. You are different. She doesn’t know your kid. She doesn’t parent your kid. You re the expert on your child. Ignore Suzy’s Mom. Making a farce of such parents will keep you from taking their criticisms and “advice” to heart. It’ll keep you sane.
9. Don’t be embarrassed by your toddler’s escapades- they are no reflection on your parenting ability.
People without toddlers look at a tantrum and say, “Look at that horribly parenting. If that were my child I would, blah de blah blah. And furthermore, my child will never behave in that manner!” If you’ve ever had a toddler, you look at a toddler’s tantrum and say, “Man! I remember those days! Stay strong, Mama. This too shall pass.” See, there is always going to be someone in the crowd (usually the least experienced) who will have some critique and assume your parenting is to blame. But the majority of the crowd knows that this is just what it is like living with a toddler! So ignore the few that don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. Ignore those shocked stares. Let your toddler pitch his fit because his Happy Meal now comes with fries and apples. (How dare they give me both and not let me choose anymore!) The “experts” around you (those normal moms who have toddlers or have had them) sympathize. Don’t feel the least bit bad or guilty. Toddlers pitch fits. Some more than others. You’re still a good mom. (And in my book, you get bonus points for continuing on your merry way and not let the fit even so much as faze you. I know you are my sister, a girl after my own heart!
10. What works for one toddler, will not work for all toddlers. What works for one mom, will not work for all moms.
You’ve been on the internet (you’re on it now!), you’ve read all the advice from all the “experts” about how to potty train, how to get your kid to eat better, how to limit temper tantrums, how to stop your toddler from biting. You’ve tried some of this sage advice. You feel like a failure when it doesn’t work. Wait! What happened?! Andrew’s Mother swore up and down bitter apple would stop my child from biting his brother again! But it just made my child more angry and he bit me! What did I do wrong?! You didn’t do anything wrong. You just aren’t raising Andrew. (And I do not recommend bitter apple for biting. I’ve never even heard of using it with kids, only dogs. So don’t try it and cite me on it.) You’re not Andrew’s mom. So, though the “experts” may claim (and I always check and see if the expert has even raised children) a fool-proof plan to sneak veggies into your child’s diet, know your child may not be fooled. There is no one size fits all advice for toddlers. There is no one size fits all advice for parenting. I’ve got 4 kids and have to do things differently for all 4. You think you’ve got this parenting thing in the bag, and then the next kid doesn’t respond to your ways. Nothing is wrong with them, or you. You’ve just got to adjust and adapt.
11. Just because he likes it today, doesn’t mean he’ll like it tomorrow. (Just because it works today, doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow.)
These toddlers are fickle little things. Today, string cheese is their favorite snack in the world! Tomorrow, they throw the cheese at you and scream! (You fool! Don’t you know string cheese is out! Fruit leather is the new string cheese! Sheesh.) Today, you find he’ll actually clean up his own toys if you play the “Clean It Up” song by Yo Gabba Gabba. Tomorrow, you turn the magic tunes on and he makes a bigger mess! Don’t fret. Toddlers are fickle. It isn’t you. Just roll with it.
12. Put the number for poison control on speed dial.
You know, the moment your kid ingests floor cleaner is usually a few moments after he flushed that poison control magnet down the toilet. Go ahead and put the number on speed dial. And don’t worry, poison control assures me that they aren’t tracking my calls for investigative purposes. (Yes, I called so much I had to ask.)
13. Put the number to the local Children’s Hospital Nurse Line on speed dial.
You’re at the playground, suddenly the stick that was a pretend sword is now in your toddlers eye. You’ll be glad you’ve got the nurse line on your speed dial to determine if your should take your toddler to your regular doctor, urgent care, or the ER.
14. “Child Proof” is a relative term.
When dealing with a toddler, “child proof” simply means it buys you a little time before they get into whatever it is you’re trying to keep them from. They’ll eventually figure out those cabinet locks. They’ll eventually figure out the child-proof medicine tops. The trick is to not give them long with those things, so hopefully you don’t have to call poison control. With a toddler, you want to double and triple up your child-proof stuff. (Medicine in a child-proof bottle, inside a tote with a latch, inside a cabinet with a lock.) Hopefully you’ll catch them before they get through all layers of protection.
15. Switch to more child-friendly cleaners, at least while they’re in this phase of life.
I know, you love your bleach and ammonia. But how much are you going to love your toddler getting into those things? Consider switching to more kid-friendly cleaners, at least until this exploring and destroying phase is over. (Fabuloso is safe-ish around toddlers. It is just soap, so drinking it just upsets the tummy. I know from personal experience.) Switch to vinegar or just soap and water.
16. “Spill-proof” is a relative term.
Spill -proof usually means that when the cup falls onto its side, it does not spill completely. However, when a toddler shakes it upside down, it might sprinkle. When they throw it against the wall, it might leak. And of course, they could just suck it out and spit it all over your white couch.
17. Lids are a must on all cups- even yours.
You think to put your toddler’s drink in a spill-proof sippy, but what about your sweet tea you keep with you all day? Put a lid on that, too. It won’t keep it from getting spilled, but it will minimize the mess when it is spilled. Consider travel cups for everything anyone in the house is drinking that isn’t at the dinner table.
18. Invest in a steam cleaner.
If you’ve got carpet and a toddler, you need a steam cleaner. Even if you have your carpet professionally cleaner twice a year, you need a steam cleaner. Some messes are just less stressful with a steam cleaner around.
19. Remember, your main goal of the toddler years is simply keeping the child alive.
If your toddler is alive at the end of the day, you’ve done your job. It doesn’t matter that all they’ve eaten is dog food and they’re covered in marker. They are living. No permanent damage has been rendered to them today. Good job, mom!
20. Delight in small victories.
Life with a toddler can be rough. It is easy to get bogged down. You’ve cleaned mess after mess, the house is still a wreck, the kid is throwing his umpteen-thousandth temper tantrum, and you’re about to loose you shmidt. Learn to celebrate your small victories! He colored mostly on the paper with the Sharpie this time, only a few marks on the table- that is improvement! He ate 2 beans at dinner tonight when yesterday he tossed his plate against the wall. Winning! He brought me a book to read to him! Sure he only sat for a few pages, but he is interested in reading! Yes!
21. The cuter the outfit, the more staining the mud/lipstick/paint.
It never fails, I put my toddler in the most adorable outfit and before we even get out of the house, it’s ruined. And not ruined like, he can’t wear it today. Ruined like, he’ll never wear this again. It just seems to always happen. The cuter the outfit is one him, the bigger and deeper the stain. Save your sanity. Enjoy the cute outfit for the two seconds it is cute. If you have to, put it on them and take a picture immediately. We all know the outfit will never be the same. (This is why I laugh when people say, “Oh, you’ve got three boys! At least you already have all the boy stuff to pass down.” Pass down? What’s that? Do boy’s clothes beyond a certain size make it out in one piece?)
22. If you don’t make the most of unconventional canvases, they will.
Toddlers love to make messes. It is just part of their little natures. If you don’t provide unconventional canvases to make messes upon, they’ll find their own. So, let them color the side of the house with chalk. Let them use the chalk to “decorate” your brick hearth. Because if I’ve got to choose between cleaning chalk of the hearth at the end of the day and cleaning Sharpie off my white chenille bed spread, I’m going with the hearth. (The second is impossible.) Their messes will be made. So take advantage of opportunities to put the messes in the best place for you.
23. The second you try to show them off, they’ll act a fool.
Emery can count. He can count very well. The second I say, “Emery, show Mrs. Jan how you can count.” he acts out. Not just folding his arms and refusing to count (though he has done so before). But yelling, screaming, kicking, “Noooo!”
Emery tells jokes. He only knows one joke, but varies it constantly. If I say, “Emery, tell Daddy your joke.” That kid will act like I’ve got two heads. Suddenly the word “joke” has no meaning. So, I prompt him. “Say, ‘Knock, knock!’” “No!” “Come on Emery. ‘Knock, knock!’” “NOOOOO!!!!”
24. Don’t take it personally.
They love you. Really they do. Screaming “No!” in your face and then throwing a cookie at you isn’t a personal affront. They don’t think poorly of you just because they scream “SHUT UP!” when you say, “I love you, sweet boy.” None of it is personal. It isn’t you against them. It is just them learning how the world works. (And by all means, you can tell them not to tell you to shut up or tell them they hurt your feeling. Though, I wouldn’t expect empathy- they’ve got none. Little sociopaths.) So, don’t get your feelings hurt when they refuse your kisses. They are just flexing their autonomy. It’s nothing personal.
25. They do not like age appropriate toys.
Save your money, they aren’t going to play with that toddler toy that is “all the rage.” Being a top toy only means that lots of parents buy it, not that lots of kids like it. You get them a play broom, they’ll still scream for the Swiffer. You get them a play kitchen, they’ll still be up under your feet to “help” you cook. Toddlers like the real thing. No fakes. So, shorten the Swiffer and let them to town. (You can actually shorten a Swiffer to be kid sized. Just remove one of the rods in the handle.) Give them a duster and let them work. Hand over spoons and bowls and let them play.
26. Limit your expectations.
They are toddlers. It is a difficult transition phase for you. They were your baby, now they are growing. As they grow, it is easy to have unrealistic expectations. While we can’t treat them like babies, we also can’t expect 5 year old behavior from a 2 year old. Just because they can sometimes help pick up toys doesn’t mean we can expect them to keep their rooms clean. Just because they sometimes refrain from taking the toys of others, doesn’t mean we expect them to be self-giving all the time. Anytime you find yourself frustrated that your toddler isn’t behaving as they should, think about what it is you are expecting of them and decide if it is an acceptable expectation. Don’t sell them short, but don’t hold such high standards they’ll always fail.
27. Don’t expect them to just go with the flow.
There are toddlers who go with the flow. It is built into their little personalities. They’ll always be that way. Everyone cannot be that way. So while you may wish you’re little one would just go with the flow, he may be yelling, “Go with the flow?! Woman! I am the flow!” And you know what? The world needs those kinds of people. Yes, they are inconvenient toddlers, but they make awesome leaders.
28. Bribes just don’t work. Save your breath and money.
Bribing a toddler is a futile activity. They just don’t really get the whole delayed gratification bit, which is what a bribe is. Putting aside the discussion on if it is best or not for kids, plain and simple, it just doesn’t work for toddlers. You may find it works one day, because the kid is tired of feeling amicable that day. But you’ll find that with a toddler, more often than not, your bribes will fail. So save your efforts and don’t bother attempting it.
29. You don’t have to entertain them all day.
That is a novel idea to some parents, I’m sure. But the fact is, your toddler will be happy, smart, and well-adjusted without your over-enthusiastic attempts to keep him that way. They can play alone. They can invent their own games. You don’t have to schedule activity after activity for them. It is okay to sit on the patio and read while they pick at blades of grass. You don’t have to be actively playing with them all day every day. Sure, there are times you’ll want to have a planned activity for them, but they flourish with free time. I know you think, “Lordy me! He’s just bored to death. He’s just piling up rocks and then moving the pile! I need to do something with him.” But stop! He’s learning. He’s exploring. He’s safe. He’s happy. You can sit back, drink your lemonade and continue reading your Sookie Stackhouse novel. If you’ve been entertaining your kid every hour of the day, you may find him resistant to playing alone at first. Encourage him to spread his little wings. He’ll be entertaining himself in no time.
30. Enlist in the help of his little friends.
Sometimes, talking through toys is the best way to get your toddler to listen. With Emery, that means talking to Ribbert, his Scentsy Buddy. A few evenings in a row, Emery suddenly HATED the concept of bedtime. This, from a kid who would BEG to go to bed just 8 months before. I tried talking to Emery. I tried just making him go to bed and protest and keep putting him back in bed. In desperation, I turned to Ribbert. I said, “Ribbert, stop screaming at me!” Immediately, Emery was quite. I continued, “Ribbert, it is bedtime. There willl be plenty of time to play tomorrow, but tonight, you must go to bed.” Emery joined in, “To bed, Ribbert!” I tucked Emery and Ribbert in bed. “Would you like me to sing ou a song or tell you a stroy, Ribbert?” Emery replies, “He like song. Twinkle. Twinkle.” I sang the song. Kissed Emery and Ribbert, and they were in bed. Suddenly, it wasn’t a power struggle to Emery. I took it from being between me and Emery and made it between me and Ribbert. Emery was moved from his spot as being in the fight for control to being an observer. He was free to “give in” without loosing his autonomy. I gave him an out to stop fighting.
It won’t always work. (See the previous point about everything not working for every kid, every time!) But if you’ve tried everything else, give it a shot. if nothing else, it lightens the mood.
31. Give them options, but not too many!
Toddlers are learning that they can control things. They are suddenly the boss of their world. From babies being carried about with no control over who was holding them, where they were, what they ate, or what the wore they move into this new stage where they can cause things to happen. If they scream loud enough, long enough, they get their way. They want choices, dangit! The trick is to give them options so they can choose. Let them have some control in their lives. But don’t overwhelm them. I usually give two options when I can. At bedtime, I pull out two sets of pjs. This turns the tables. It isn’t about if they’ll consent to wearing the pjs, it is about which pjs they’ll wear. The same goes for snack time. The entire contents of the kitchen aren’t up for grabs (it would take forever, and many mind changes to get him settled on anything). He can choose a banana or some cheese crackers. He’s happy. I’m happy.
Of course, there are times when neither of the two options is sufficient. That happens. Stinkin’ tiny, cute dictators! You just have to know what things you’ll just let go and which are non-negotiable. Are pjs for bed a must or can they sleep in their diaper alone? Are you willing to say “no snack” or is it okay that they chose a fruit leather when you offered crackers or a banana. Is the couch an acceptable napping spot or do they really have to go to their bed, even if it means they won’t sleep? That stuff depends on you and what you know of them.
32. If it looks like poop, treat it like poop until it is proven otherwise.
If a toddler walks over to you holding anything that appears to be poop, you assume it is poop. If you find a “painting” on the wall and you think, “Is it chocolate or poop?” You treat it like poop. Never smell a toddler’s could-be-poop hands. You’ll just end up with poop on your nose. In the end, you’ll never regret treating the come-to-find-out-it-is-only-chocolate like poop. You will, however, regret assuming chocolate when it turns out to be poop. And 9 times out of 10, it’s poop.
33. Enjoy it. But don’t feel bad that you don’t enjoy the moment you’re cleaning human feces out of the carpet.
You know they’l only be toddlers once (Praise the Lord!). Take the time to enjoy the funny things they do and say. Enjoy watching them explore and learn. Celebrate this time with them. But don’t feel guilty that at times, you just can’t find the silver lining. Don’t feel bad about being annoyed that you’re steam cleaning chocolate footprints off the floor for the fourth time this week. (Blasted “fridge lock” never worked correctly!) Sometimes life with toddler just sucks. Cleaning up their messes while being screamed at is no fun. Maybe you’ll laugh about this one day, but today, it ain’t funny.
Write down those messes they make. Maybe one day, you’ll get a book deal writing about all these escapades. That might make cleaning permanent marker off the hardwood floor worht it. Or maybe you’ll just pass your notes on to this toddler when he’s a grown man with his first child turning two. It just might bring him a bit of perspective. Or he’ll assume you are a vry lousy parent to allow him to stab his eyeball with fabric scissors not once, but twice! It’s okay. By the time his first child is 4, he’ll understand.
He’ll be a man one day. And this one, he’s going to be Chuck Norris.