Toddlers are amazing little snot factories, aren’t they? It’s absolutely incredible to watch them pick up new skills, words, and concepts each day. It’s also absolutely incredible to turn around for .0174 seconds, only to discover they can summon the destructive power of a category 5 hurricane in that amount of time.
No matter how wonderful they are, parenting a toddler can still be a frustrating, scary, confusing process. Until such a time as an infallible, infinite, comprehensive owner’s manual becomes available, parents are resigned to simply doing the best they can.
Thankfully, that best can be pretty darn good, if you’ve got the right help. In need of some assistance? Here are 10 things you have to know when raising a toddler.
1. One Size Doesn’t Fit All
This is going to sound trite, and frankly, silly – but kids are like snowflakes.
No two kids are alike. Your sticky little munchkin is not going to react exactly like your BFF’s offspring. Your second child will present totally different infection symptoms than their big brother or sister did. Your little genius will learn at a different pace, and have different skills and strengths than your braggart of a cousin’s obnoxious little Einstein.
While this can make looking for parenting advice and concrete answers more than a bit frustrating, this snowflake revelation should also be a bit freeing. If nothing else, “every kid is different” makes a great mantra to repeat when you’re feeling bombarded by competitive parents trying to turn everything into a contest.
2. Be Crazy Selective
Finding answers for your special snowflake’s latest health or behavioral issue can be difficult, given the aforementioned lack of a comprehensive owner’s manual. This can drive parents from message board to message board, mommy blog to mommy blog in search of an answer. Any answer.
Although there are amazing, talented, wise, and knowledgeable amateur bloggers out there with healthy and helpful tips, there are also a lot of people who are armed with little more than an internet connection and loud opinions.
That’s why it’s so important to be crazy selective about what resources you turn to. It may seem square, but proven, respected sources like PBS or the American Academy of Pediatrics really are your best bet. Or, to be really boring, you could try talking to your kid’s pediatrician.
3. You’re Living With a Sponge
This one is pretty simple: Your kid is like a little sponge, absorbing everything you say. Whether it’s mimicking the way you answer the phone or repeating the most unfortunate part of your recent road rage rant, whatever comes out of your mouth is going to come out of theirs, too.
Do with that knowledge what you will.
4. Oh, You Should Probably Invest in Sponges
That same little terror that is repeating everything you say will also fly about your house like a hummingbird on speed, making messes you never dreamed were humanly possible.
First, there’s the never-ending stream of bodily fluids – thanks, stomach viruses and potty-training! Then there’s whatever ungodly notion crossed their mind that day that resulted in a SpaghettiO mosaic on your ceiling, or crop-circle-like grooves dug in your expensive hardwood floor.
You’ll learn to keep a creative and extensive arsenal of cleaning supplies on hand, from a never-ending supply of baby wipes, to baking soda, to vinegar, to a spare tube of toothpaste. What’s that? Yeah, I said toothpaste. That goop will give you minty fresh breath and get crayon off your walls, ink out of your clothes, and scuff marks off your floor.
5. All Work and No Play … Is a Terrible Idea
Kids, especially little kids, don’t need to spend hours a day racking up resume points for their college applications.
Although fear for your child’s future and success is understandable, preschool is way too young to have kids working on a college-prep checklist.
Experts agree, what kids really need is time to play. The sad truth is that kids spend 50% less time playing than they did in the 1970s. And while times they are a-changing, and play helps develop their imaginations and get out all that crazy kid energy, playing is also how kids learn. Letting them play isn’t setting them back, it’s giving them a chance to grow.
6. Structure Is Your Friend
It’s really easy for little kids to get overwhelmed. They’re tiny and still new to the world: They need order and a certain amount of predictability to feel safe.
That’s why one of the best things you can do is try to give them a bit of structure: Regular mealtimes, regular bedtimes, consistent discipline, etc.
Sure, life will get in the way and they’ll stay up too late one night, or you’ll cave and give them that extra cookie even after they threw their dinner in your face. However, occasional breaks are nothing to worry about. It’s a lack of structure and too much freedom that can really throw your kids out of whack.
Providing structure doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, instead of asking what they want for lunch, offer two options to pick between. They’ll still feel grown up and important and involved, but they won’t feel overwhelmed by endless choices, or inspired to throw a temper tantrum when you say no to Fruit Loop encrusted prime rib. Not that it doesn’t sound delicious, you just don’t have the necessary ingredients on hand.
7. You Need a Poker Face
A good poker face and a game plan are essential when it comes to dealing with tantrums or naughty behavior.
Flying off the handle won’t help, and neither will giving in. Instead, establish a safe spot for your toddler’s time out and then go take your own. You’ll both get a chance to calm down, and you can take that time to reaffirm your parenting views and prepare yourself to re-enter the lion’s den.
Please, pay no attention to the scrambled metaphors behind the curtain.
8. Look for the Roots
Yeah, there’s always a root of the problem.
Sometimes it’s just that kids are selfish little stinkers who want their own way and don’t want to stop playing for dinner, or don’t want to share their toys with Jimmy. Other times, your kid is tired, or sick, or scared, or overwhelmed, or lonely, or dealing with any number of underlying issues.
Some of these will be bad attitudes you need to address, others will be signals that routines need to change – like bedtime needs to be earlier – or emotional needs need to be addressed. Whatever the case, you and your child will both benefit from your willingness to look beyond the surface actions of temper tantrums and bad behavior.
That surface issue still needs to be addressed – hitting a sibling is never okay, even if it happened because the culprit was overtired – but you’ll get more by digging a little deeper.
9. Your Actions Speak Loudest
Remember that bit about sponges? Not the bit about cleaning, the one about your kids repeating everything you say.
Yeah, that goes double for everything you do.
All your instructions, rules, life lessons, and world-views don’t mean diddly squat if you aren’t living them out for your kids to see. Your kids are going to do what you do, so if you’re saying one thing and doing another, guess which they’re going to imitate?
No one expects you to be perfect. Just keep in mind what you want your kids to see you doing and what you don’t.
10. They Grow Up So Fast
To a new parent, or even a non-parent, that phrase can seem so cliché. At first you roll your eyes and wish well-meaning geriatrics would stop telling you that.
Then you blink and your 2-day-old is now a 2-year-old, and you suddenly get it.
Your little kids will only be little kids for a short period of time. It’s so important to cherish and treasure and make the most of that time while you can.
It may feel impossible with work and other obligations, but there are plenty of ways you can spend time with your kids, even when it feels like you have no time at all.
So don’t wish away those tantrums and boogie stalactites and mysterious stains so quickly. Before you know it, you’ll be looking at lists for 10 Things You Must Know About Surviving Life With a Teenager, or 10 Ways to Get Your Ungrateful 30-Year-Old-Child to Answer Your Texts Sometime This Century.