Toddlers are the total package. They are little bundles of energy excitedly exploring the world around them for the first time, seeking to experience everything through the lens of naivety and innocence, and running into their mothers’ reassuring arms when something unexpected suddenly curbs their enthusiasm.
Toddlerhood is a sweet and tender time that you will never forget. However, it is a phase that is demanding of physical and emotional energy. Those lovely times of being able to hold your baby and watch her rest in perfect stillness in your arms have now morphed into times of trying to hold her still while she is twisting and turning and saying, “Put me down!”. The lovely word “No!” is likely making a show stopping appearance from her mouth as she is discovering her voice. Her independence is taking off as her body is allowing her to move faster than you sometimes!
No worries…YOU GOT THIS. Thank goodness, your toddler is still looking back to you while exploring, making sure you haven’t disappeared. She will still run to you, seeking your comfort, looking for hugs and kisses, smiling bigger and bigger when receiving the encouragement of your gaze and tender words of “Wow! Look at you run!” and “Yay! You found something new!”
So, as you are sipping your morning coffee and counting the seconds of calm before your toddler wakes up to new adventures, here are some tips to help you connect:
1.Make time for just you.
This stage of development requires a lot of go, go, go. Make sure to take 30 minutes a day to sip some coffee on your own (even if that’s while your child is napping), take a walk or exercise (even if your toddler is in the stroller), watch a show that makes you laugh (even if he or she is playing on the floor next to you), take a hot shower, head to the grocery store on your own for some quiet shopping while your child is with the other parent, or pick up a good book. It is hard to do. It seems impossible to find that 30 minutes often. Find a way to do it. Your health needs it.
Even if you have no one to watch your toddler, you can do things for yourself while your toddler is engaged next to you with some toys or napping where you can still safely monitor and hear her. Taking time to do something small and relaxing for yourself is good for you to reset and be grounded. A healthier you will connect better with your toddler.
2. Engage in playtime.
Toddlers need to play with us, not just alongside us. Help your toddler to engage in fun activities by doing the activity with her. Join in pretend play. Dress up and pretend. Roll cars on the floor and play with train sets. You are fostering closeness in your relationship, helping her to be creative and imaginative, and you are encouraging social play! This is one of the healthiest habits you can create with your child.
3. Make mealtime fun.
Enjoy mealtime and allow yourself to stop focusing on making sure she eats all her veggies. Healthy food is important; just don’t stress about it! Create a fun time around food, and she will learn to associate food with healthy and positive emotions.
Toddlers pick up on stress easily. If you and your spouse are feeling stressed, your child will come to feel uneasy at the dinner table. Keep the dinner table light for your child and make it a place for smiles, calm conversation, and enjoyable time being together.
If your child is tired, exhausted, or fussy, go with the flow. You can always move mealtime to the playroom or outside if it helps. Bottom line? Keep it easy, relaxing, and flexible.
4. Share plenty of affection.
Your toddler has transitioned to not always needing to be held and is plenty mobile. But, don’t let that stop you from giving lots of hugs, snuggles, and laying down next to her during nap time. When your child isn’t busy exploring, she will welcome closeness to you. It will continue to build on the close attachment that you share, while letting her know that she is secure, loved, and safe.
5. When your toddler is having a meltdown, forget the 1-2-3 magic. Practice presence, patience, grace, comfort, and plenty of redirection. (T.R.U.S.T. Technique)
If your toddler is having an emotional episode, first ask yourself, is she hungry, tired, or overly stimulated? It happens a lot! Try not to get frustrated. Instead, take a deep breath, and respond to her needs. You may need to redirect her to a different toy or activity, exit a play date early, turn off screens, make a snack, or encourage her to lay down by you and take a snooze.
What if your toddler is emotional because of having a limit or boundary set? Also completely normal! It is healthy and OK for children to show emotion and they should feel safe doing so. If she is kicking, screaming, and crying, remind yourself that she doesn’t have the skills yet to control emotions. Remember, she feels safe letting you know how she feels, and that is a good thing! Be present. No time outs, no consequences, no loud voices. No “Why are you acting like this?” or “What is wrong?” questions. Just breathe, and be present.
Sit down by her and let her know you are there and it sounds like she is very sad or upset, that you’d love to give her a hug when she feels ready. Be a calm presence, and if emotions keep escalating, stay in the room, make gentle eye contact periodically, but allow yourself to be a bit busy. When a child is angry, and adrenaline levels are high, making eye contact that is strong and sharp, repeatedly asking what is wrong, or punishing only worsen the situation and raise stress levels further for her. You want her to know that it’s okay to be upset, that you recognize how that feels, and that you want to help and provide comfort and it is OK to come to you and receive that.
When your child comes over to you, you will see that she receives your warmth, and relaxes. If she is then calm, use this time to say, “It sounds like you were sad. Can you tell me about that? I love when you use your words. It makes it easier for me to help.” You’ve just taught your child to use words more and to trust that words can get us what we need far better than kicking and screaming.
Next, redirect her. Try going outside, playing something different, or getting a snack. Help her to move past the meltdown and relax.
6. Go outside together. Spend plenty of time outdoors.
There is something very calming and soothing about being in the sunshine, getting fresh air, and exercising. Make this a regular habit with your toddler.
7. Make time to be quiet and to be in prayer. Read a devotional, meditate on what God is doing in your life.
You will find that if you make a practice of this, your days will be far better. You will be more centered, more grounded, and more restful knowing that God is sovereign and in control, and that He watches over you without ceasing.
8. Focus on the exercise of gratefulness before God.
Thank Him for what He is doing in your life, no matter the season. Gratitude is powerful. It is a posture of the heart, and it has the power to shift the trajectory of your day by changing your attitude and outlook. Believe it or not, it physically and emotionally strengthens you and is shown to be excellent for your overall health. You will find yourself being more mindful, present, thankful, and less frustrated when bumps happen.
9. Savor the moment.
Let house cleaning, chores, work, and everything else on your ‘to-do list’ wait. Relish this time with your toddler. It won’t last long. Trust me, I know.