Toddlerology 101: From Trials and Tribulations to Toddlerrific Times
If you are a parent of a toddler and someone asks you – what do you do? Next time how about saying ‘Why I’m a toddlerologist.’ Because I’m no expert on ‘toddlerology’ but these days I do spend alot of time around toddlers and so have become rather acquainted with their joys and challenges. And sometimes I feel like a tantrumologist. This week I read a very interesting book ‘Stretchmarks on my Sanity: The Growing Pains of Raising a Family.’ by Linda Sharp. Stretchmarks on my Sanity. I like that. It is very relatable when you are managing a ‘mini mafia’ 24-7. When I worked as a psychologist I used to collaborate with parents about how to manage their child’s behavioural challenges. Most often they were kids with special needs. And now I wonder what on earth I said to those parents. Becoming a parent is humbling. It’s really not a piece of cake, and although I never thought it would be, I don’t think I knew just how challenging it can be at times. I was familiar with the main theories, but putting it into practise is much harder in real life. When I am involved in heated negotiations with my mini-mafia, I often wonder whether it would be easier to enter into negotiations at the United Nations!
But toddlers are gorgeous. My now two year old is toddlerliscious. They are lots of fun and they are also quite amusing. When we gave ‘pocket rocket’ a gift on the morning of her birthday she had a little toddler tantrum, right on cue for the terrific two’s. She was more interested in whining for the ‘Dora app’ on my cell phone than opening her present. And when we sang Happy Birthday to her at her party it was her three year old sister who somewhat spoiled the moment by having a little meltdown. She had the pip because it wasn’t her birthday.
Toddlers can be so emotionally labile. Living with a toddler is like living life on a rollercoaster. One minute there is elation, and the next minute there is despair. And they are BUSY. Busy and often spirited. As delightful and cherubic as toddlers are, they are really hard work. And they can be tiring. Whether you are a younger mum or a more mature mum, many parents report feeling tired when they have a toddler. I recall one of my lecturers at university saying that toddlers and teenagers are really quite similar in many ways. I’m not at the teenage stage of parenting, (give me a few years) but the baby/toddler years and the teenage years are possibly the most challenging. There are can be trials and tribulations as well as many toddlerrific times. As Dr Sears says ‘To cope with toddler behavior it helps to remember the basic principle of developmental discipline: the drive that babies have to develop is the same one that creates discipline challenges.’ How true. What have you found to be most challenging about parenting toddlers?
Here are some trials that I experience each day – do any sound familiar?
- Wrangling an uncooperative toddler into their carseat – sometimes 4 or more times a day.
- Changing nappies on a writhing oppositional toddler. And then trying to convince your toddler to keep her nappy on, and her clothes and shoes on too.
- Trying to get an uncooperative child dressed to leave the house in a hurry. Actually just trying to leave the house in general. British comedian Michael MacIntyre has a brilliant clip about how hard it is to leave the house with little kids. If you haven’t seen this, you can see it here. www.youtube.com/watch?v=4GO2xz0L9gQ
- Trying to keep a toddler quiet at school assembly or in church. I’ve put together a ‘Keep Kiddie’s Calm Pencil Case’ for my handbag, an idea that was borrowed from a couple of the mum’s at school.
- Surviving the Supermarket. Yes I would probably win the award for having the worst behaved children at the supermarket. Some of this I suspect is sensory overload rather than just purely behavioural. We have tried various strategies such as distraction, rewards with some success. But it can still be a little hairy at times.
- Refusing to sit in the buggy.
- Bedtime Procrastinating. ‘Milk’ ‘Book’ and from the three year old ‘I want an apple.’ ‘I need to go to the toilet’. Sound familiar?
- Toddlers can be such fun on aeroplanes too, but thankfully this is only a once a year occurrence when we go to visit family. By next year our toddler will be three and a little easier.
‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Sometimes toddlers remind me of Jim, the character off the Vicar of Dibley who has a no stutter. The development of language makes parenting easier, and it is always exciting when your toddler has a language explosion. Although now I’ve had to be careful what I say as they are little sponges. Hearing ‘Oh crap’ come out of my toddler’s mouth when she drops something is rather amusing.
Ah the tantrums. One of the more challenging areas of parenting two (and three year olds). And sometimes older children too. My eldest daughter is a threenager. I know I should avoid negative labels but the term threenager is meant affectionately. And it suits her rather well as she is quite talented in the tantrum department. In fact I think she could win Oscars for her tantrums. We enjoy spectacular performances. sometimes at the check out at K Mart and sometimes in the aisle at the Warehouse. But most often they are at home, and a main trigger seems to be clothing. Yes girls are fun when it comes to clothes. Whereas my son would happily wear the same grubby t-shirt for a week if I let him, my eldest daughter has frequent changes of clothes and avalanches of clothing all over the bedroom floor. After months and months of daily spectacular tantrums over clothes, I devised ‘The Rainbow Weekly Wardrobe for Fussy Young Ladies.‘ I am pleased to report that it has had some success, with a small but significant reduction in the frequency and intensity of tantrums. Which makes life a whole lot easier. I still want her to go to a school with a uniform mind you!
Oh yes, I couldn’t forget the joys of toilet training. When my eldest child was a toddler we as first time parents were a little exasperated over how long it took for him to be toilet trained. Sometimes as a first time parent you can feel pressured to have your child toilet trained. We tried everything. The Elmo potty traning DVD, social stories, and Thomas the Tank Engine stickers on the toilet. Four years later we still have a delightful collection of Thomas the Tank Engine stickers on the toilet lid! Nothing seemed to work. We used to joke that we were aiming to have him toilet trained before secondary school! But to our amazement, when he was three and a quarter, he toilet trained himself within three days. When he was ready. And so with number three, I am much more relaxed about toilet training.
How to ensure the toddler years are more toddleriffic than trying
What helps you to enjoy and embrace the toddler years? To thrive during this time rather than just survive? Are you sailing through without too many stretchmarks to your sanity? The toddler years are precious and special, yet I have always thought that it is unrealistic to expect parents to enjoy every single moment. No one if they are honest, sails through parenthood. Especially the early years (or the teen years, but I’m not quite there yet). There can be some rough moments. Some challenging behaviours are developmentally correct. It is normal and healthy for them to assert their will. My previously sweet one year old is now slightly stroppy (but still sweet).
A sense of humour is essential. And it can be helpful to have social support. Parenting can be much more sane within community. It is freeing to know that you are not alone. But sadly so many parents are isolated these days. And people find it difficult to be real as they fear being judged if they admit that they are struggling in an area. To have friends that you can be real with is so invaluable. Friends that aren’t going to judge you. Self care is so important too. It’s okay to admit that sometimes you need some time to yourself. Even if it is just an hour or two to have sit down with a cup of coffee without your toddler trying to steal the milk froth off the top.
Some other strategies I have learned via trial and error is to tell my toddler what is coming next. I’ve used time out a little and we are trialling a new strategy I read about called ‘time in’. When one of them has a meltdown we sit down on the couch, have a hug and try to calm down. We’ve tried a few reward systems but I’ve found that they work better for children over two and a half at least. When they are old enough to reason with. Distraction works wonders with todders and I’ve learned to have realistic expectations of what a toddler can manage. We have busy lives these days, going from one activity to the next. Too much noise or too many people can be overwhelming for a toddler. Just as it can be for adults. But developmentally toddlers lack the distress tolerance that older children and adults may have acquired. The supermarket is a case in point.
And what about a DIY Toddler Survival Kit? Often new parents are given a baby survival kit or a ‘postapartum survival kit’ when their precious bundle is born. But how about on a child’s first birthday giving them a survival kit’? Things like carpet cleaner and special spot cleaner to remove biro pen off walls are always helpful. Not to mention copious amounts of caffeine! The caffeine is for the parents, although my children would drink coffee if I let them. They have had plenty of modelling in this area!
And prayer. Here is the Serenity Prayer for Parents of Toddlers.
What has worked for you in taming your toddler? Let’s have a blogversation.