As a mom who’s been through the toddler years three times, I can give you all the words of wisdom about how the years go too quickly. But when you’re in the middle of toddler life, all you want is to make it through a day, an hour, or just a minute without a meltdown, tantrum, or battle.
When I was in those years with each of my three girls, I remember being told over and over, “give them choices.” But what if you’ve tried that repeatedly and you’re still struggling?
One morning when my youngest daughter was a toddler, I was totally on my mom A game and laid out two outfits for her to choose from. Instead of selecting one of them, she simply picked the shirt from one and shorts from the other.
Her mix and match approach may have been perfectly acceptable clothes for the day, but I thought to myself, “If another parenting expert tells me to give her choices, I’m going to scream.”
If you have a toddler, you’ve probably had your own version of this story or something similar.
How, then, do we reduce the challenges our kids throw at us every day?
I think the starting place is realizing that we’re only going to manage these behaviors, not eliminate them. A toddler’s struggle for autonomy and independence puts them on a collision course with our desire to have things go a certain way.
So what can we do to reduce how often we have those moments with our sweet little ones that make us ready for them to move out and go to college?
Here are three ways I’ve found to help bring down the number of battles you have with your toddler each day.
Related post: The Simplest Way to Reduce Toddler Temper Tantrums
DECIDE WHAT MATTERS AHEAD OF TIME
This is my reinterpretation of the advice you’ve heard hundreds of times, “Pick your battles.” I’d rather start with the premise that we’ve decided ahead of time what does and does not matter.
Instead of waiting until a conflict is brewing to decide whether it’s worth our energy, spend a few minutes reflecting with yourself or your partner about what causes most of the power struggles with your toddler. Make a list and decide which are non-negotiables and which to let go.
For example, when my youngest was a toddler, she wanted to walk on her own and never wanted to be carried, including store parking lots.
When I would try to hold her hand, she’d try to pull away, intent on being independent, but this was a battle I had to win for her safety, and I knew this every time we went to a store.
Then, when she wanted to wear her Cinderella costume to the store a few weeks after Halloween, I didn’t care at all. No power struggle there or argument from me. As she proudly walked around the store wearing her blue gown, she received nothing but adoring looks from adults.
And sadly, I heard a little girl say to her mom as they passed us, “See, she got to wear her costume.” I felt for both the girl and her mom. They’d probably had a battle about it, and no one went to the store in a good mood.
So call it “picking your battles” if you want to, but do it ahead of time.
Knowing what you are and are not going to be worried about will help you feel prepared for the day as it unfolds, in all its glorious toddler unpredictability.
My best friend and mothering mentor helped me raise my two older girls who are now 23 and 20.
She was, and still is, really great about having the right words to get to the crux of any matter. I, on the other hand, would explain and reason and make perfectly rational arguments I was sure would convince my girls that I was right.
Who do you think was more effective with their toddlers? She was. Always.
When we were together and I’d start one of my explanations, she’d signal me to cut it short. I learned in time to save the explanations for more thoughtful conversations with my kids as they got older.
Not only did this reduce my frustration, it lessened the amount of time a battle would continue. If I wasn’t blathering on and on, we could get those struggles over a lot more quickly.
So how can you keep things short and to the point in the middle of a heated situation? Have a go-to mantra prepared ahead of time to use.
Don’t wait until you need to think quickly and find yourself struggling to respond to your fussing child. Know what you’re going to say and stick with it.
One phrase I used to say all the time was, “I know it’s not what you want right now, but that’s the answer.” No matter what the comeback from my kids was, I’d just keep responding with the same words.
This will get them used to the response and know that you really mean it everytime you say it. If you take some time to come up with your catchphrase that works in multiple situations, you’ll be ready when the moment strikes.
As you know, those moments don’t always happen within the confines of your own home. Some kids seem to have a knack for knowing when they have you over a barrel.
If you’re in a public place, having those words ready saves you from becoming a parenting “don’t” in the aisles of the grocery store.
KEEP YOUR DEMEANOR AND VOICE CALM
I saved the best for last, didn’t I? Or I should say, I saved the toughest for last. If this were so simple, we’d be in parenting nirvana, wouldn’t we?
But it isn’t so easy.
This is the toughest part for many of us in all areas of being a mom: Staying calm and centered when the chaos is swirling around us is tough, even on our best days.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult parts of arguing and power struggles and leaves us all feeling the most damaged and drained. It’s what makes us question our ability to parent and doubt that we’re a good mom.
Not only is this a good strategy for keeping ourselves in control, but it is good for our children to witness and model these good, calm behaviors, rather than aggressive and angry behaviors.
If they see you doing it, they will too. So keeping your cool and staying calm will not only make that situation a little more bearable, but it will hopefully lead to your child maintaining the same level of calmness.
This is where brainstorming before the storm and preparing ahead of time for situations that raise our frustration and anxiety is key.
The more prepared we are, the more likely we can get through the upheaval without wondering what we would have looked and sounded like had our parenting been caught on camera.
Practice your calm voice and demeanor in ways that are effective for you. There is no universal technique that works for everyone, so find yours and make it a part of your daily life.
It takes time to learn this skill, so don’t beat yourself up if you lose it from time to time. All moms do. It’s the trial and error that makes the difference.
. . . . .
If you’re in the challenging days of parenting and raising a toddler, you know you can experience the sweetest moments, followed quickly by a vicious tantrum that you never saw coming.
By deciding ahead of time what’s important, not over-explaining, and staying as calm as possible in the midst of a meltdown, you’ll minimize the frequency and impact of these outbursts.
These are the years where our kids learn what is and is not acceptable in their behaviors, how we will respond to them, and how they can make the world conform to their wishes.
It’s definitely hard work to parent them through these trying times, but realizing the importance of the groundwork that you’re laying now can help you stay on course.
By being intentional and parenting consciously, you will set yourself up for easier parenting in the years to come.
About the Author:
Carla Burgess had a baby in her 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. She shares her mothering experiences through her blog, The Older Mom and can be found on Instagram @theoldermom. Having been through so many stages of parenting, she wants to help you learn to Parent Like a Mother.