10 Toddler Wrangling Tips

They're more powerful than they look.
They’re more powerful than they look.

Up until recently, I found myself wincing at the idea of E turning two or transforming into a “three-nager” on her third birthday. While I like to joke at twenty two months she’s already solidly a two-year-old, the reality is she’s also a lot of fun. Enough fun I’m not so worried anymore.

Sure, she throws some pretty intense tantrums and is about as stubborn as they come, but she also has such wonder about the world around her. Halloween, Christmas, snow… Everything familiar to me is an amazing new source of joy. And, as far as the hard stuff goes, I keep discovering little tricks that make our lives easier.

Today I’m sharing some ah-ha moments I wish I’d found earlier. My doctor recently told me the secret to a strong-willed child is making the options appealing. I think she’s right:

  1. Connect your child’s wardrobe to something he/she loves. For awhile, giving E choices of what to wear was enough, but then she suddenly didn’t want to change out of whatever she was already wearing. When I’d try to force her to wear what I picked out, she’d kick and scream and I’d have to give her space for everyone’s safety, (have I mentioned she’s strong-willed?). This could go on for 10 to 20 minutes until I somehow got the day’s outfit on and was then late for wherever we were headed. Then recently it hit me! She’s obsessed with pumpkins, snowmen, and Santa. If I told her the outfits I put in front of her were pumpkin dresses (orange), snowmen clothes (white), or Santa pants (striped) she couldn’t wait to have them on. {Insert sigh of relief.}
  2. Make food fun and available. I’m always envious of friend’s kids who seem to eat whatever they’re handed. E will easily skip eating during the day and then want to nurse the entire night, (which as I shared in a previous post is no longer an option). I get so frustrated because food she loves one day she won’t touch the next. I feel required to keep a huge variety of items on hand and practically beg her to eat at regular intervals throughout the day. While I still haven’t fully solved this problem, these tricks make a difference:
    Thanks Lala!
    Thanks for the idea, Lala!
    • Cookie cutters! One evening at my parents’ house, my stepmom pulled out cookie cutters and cut E’s sandwich and apple slices into stars. This made food she wouldn’t touch before interesting enough to eat. We’ve been using this trick at home, too.
    • Create a story around the food. Just like with clothes, if mashed potatoes become snow and broccoli becomes trees, she can tolerate putting them in her mouth. Basically, the food has to be fun enough to make it worth sitting still in her chair to eat.
    • Keep toddler-friendly snacks in a cabinet or drawer your child can access. While I might not always want her to eat a granola bar or crackers, at least I can tell she’s hungry when she heads to her section of the pantry.
  3. Outsmart tantrums. I’m not going to try to tell you every tantrum can be outsmarted, but many of E’s can. Most of her fits are connected to being overly tired, hungry or bored. Here’s what helps us:
    • Honor your sleep routine. Although I can get away with altering E’s schedule for a day or two, if we completely miss a nap or wake her too early, we’re headed straight for meltdown city. It can be tempting when out doing errands to keep pushing nap time back, but the gift of a peaceful outing is worth the time constraints.
    • Always carry food or be ready to find some. Sometimes I forget how grumpy I become when my blood sugar is low. The same goes for E. When her mood shifts and I’m not sure why, food is always a good place to start. If I’m in a grocery store and don’t have a snack for her, I don’t hesitate to break into something in my cart, (string cheese?). This is something I always hated to see my mom do as a child, but now I totally get it. No one at the check stand cares as long as you pay for it.
    • Have a bag of tricks or be ready to find one. Toddlers don’t share the same affinity as we do for fine food, conversation, or people watching. While running errands or visiting restaurants, I always have something in my “busy bag.” Whether it’s a book or small toy, I can usually buy myself a little extra adult time with the distraction. If I’m not carrying my diaper bag at a store, I’ll let her hold merchandise of interest until we get to the check stand. So far, this has worked as long as I’m ready with a different distraction when it’s time to hand it over, (like food).

      Busy bag activities allow us to actually leave the house...
      Busy bag activities allow us to actually leave the house…
  4. Busy bags.Β Okay, I know the last bullet was about having a bag of tricks, but I think this one is so important I’m going to say it again: have something on hand to entertain your toddler when you’re out. I’m not just saying this because I sell busy bags, I’m saying it because we’re able to go to nice restaurants and actually enjoy our food with the help of activities like coloring books, stickers, small board books, etc. If you don’t want to buy one, make one. Collect items each time you’re out and about and save them for when you feel resistance brewing. Bonus points if you wrap the items ahead of time.

    Our focused time together is the best.
    Our focused time together is the most memorable.
  5. Don’t forget to play with your kid(s). This seems obvious but between multiple jobs, keeping a clean(ish) house, feeding my family, and remembering to take care of myself, it can be easy to spend time around E without actually playing with her. But, focused time together is the whole reason I’m willing to juggle part-time gigs instead of going back to work full-time. I make a daily effort to play even if it means an uncleaned mess or unfinished task. Not only are we all happier for it, but I also notice increased independence from her when she gets a healthy dose of focused attention.
  6. Give your child a little space. As I just mentioned, I don’t constantly entertain E. I give her space to play on her own because I feel it’s important in this busy world to learn to appreciate quiet time alone.Β On this same token, our TV isn’t always on. There is quiet in our house because I want her to be comfortable without constant stimulation. If I can hear her playing in her bedroom, I give her space to do so without me hovering, (even if I’m still actively listening). Likewise, when she gets up in the morning or from her nap, I let her get herself out of bed and come to me. I can hear her the whole time, but she’s learning independence through the process. I also let her explore at the park or library while I watch from a safe distance. She’s learning to occupy herself for longer periods of time, which is great for everyone.

    We're lucky to live within walking distance of beautiful trails, but it's still an effort to get outside in the winter.
    We’re lucky to live within walking distance of beautiful trails, but it’s still an effort to get outside in the winter.
  7. Go outside. This is one I suck at sometimes. It’s easy to get caught up in the to-do lists and not make it outside before dark (especially during the winter). But, I know kids need to be outside as much as possible. The other day as I was lamenting the challenge of getting her to sleep at night, an eavesdropping dad chimed in that I needed to go run her at the park. He’s right. During these dark, cold winter months, it’s too easy to skip going out, but kids need fresh air, natural light, and space to burn energy without walls.
  8. Be aware of your reactions. Children are mirrors. The other day when I was startled by a raccoon, E wouldn’t take her hands off her eyes for 10 whole minutes. She was petrified and I felt terrible. The same goes for how I react when she gets hurt. If I rush over and make a big deal, she cries a lot more than if I give her a moment and then come over and smile as I calmly check her out. They know when you’re worried and they worry too. Likewise, if they witness you being overly angry or upset about something, they’re likely to repeat the same emotion when they respond to the world around them.
  9. Listen to your own words. This one is huge. As a teacher, I can always pick out what parents must say at home from how a kid talks. This starts early. We purposely try not to use words we don’t want E to use, (although we’re still guilty of slipping up). For example, if you don’t want to be told you’re mean, don’t use the word mean. Instead, say something like “you’re not being very nice.” I’d much rather be told I’m not being very nice, than mean.
  10. Don’t fight over things that don’t matter. I’ll end with this one. It’s the biggest trick I’m coming to accept. I pick my battles with E by asking myself if what is bugging me is really an issue. Often, if it’s not hurting her or anyone else, I let it go. For example, yesterday afternoon, she took a nap with her tricycle in the bed. I could have fought her, but it was clean and there was no reason for her not to take a nap with her tricycle, even if my adult brain felt like telling her no. It wasn’t worth the fight.

Obviously, different tricks work for different kiddos, and even with the same kiddo, something that works one week may not the next. Still, I love sharing ideas because you never know what might help when you or your child is about to lose it. Have any favorite tricks that are working for your family right now? Please, please share! I’m certain we’ll always be learning around here…

7 thoughts on “10 Toddler Wrangling Tips

  1. Awesome tips. I have a 9 month boy right now, but can tell we are in for a very stubborn and strong-willed child. I will also share some of these ideas with my sister; her daughter is quite feisty. I really appreciated the getting dressed ideas as my niece always ends up screaming when it’s time to get dressed. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like to remind myself that strong-willed children turn into leaders πŸ˜‰ Or at least we hope they do! Thank goodness they’re also fun. Hopefully the ideas help with your niece, (it also helps to hear I’m not alone in the getting dressed struggle…). Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. It’s a pretty comprehensive list. Hard to suggest anything else. I know that I tried very hard not to over-react when they got “hurt” for the same reason you cite. And the same goes for their tantrums as well. The more the adults over-react to a tantrum, the more they see a tantrum producing results. I remember the first time our older son had a tantrum in a store. We were ready to leave, he wasn’t. I looked at my wife and said, “Oh, look, he’s having his first in-store tantrum,” and picked him up and walked out of the store and found something else to entertain him and end the tantrum.

    The two biggest suggestions I always have are somewhat contradictory. First, a routine I believe is critical. Covering naptime and sleeptime and meals. I remember when Ours were that young and we tried to ensure their naps as much as we could and there were certain family members (the in-laws) who complained about how important it was to us that they have their naps. Same goes for meal times. No, we’re not having dinner at 9:00 at night, if we typically have it around 6:00. The routine is critical to minimizing some of the crises of a toddler.

    But, on the other hand, parents have to be flexible and adaptable and recognize that no technique or approach is going to last for very long. This is what we struggled constantly with our older son. Particularly with sleeping. What worked for a couple of weeks would stop working eventually and it would take us a couple more weeks to realize we had to make another adjustment.

    Ultimately, though, you hit on another point that makes it all worthwhile. The beauty of life as seen through a toddler’s eyes. There is nothing “hard” that happened when our kids were that young that wasn’t massively counterbalanced by the good things that come from a toddler and little person.

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    1. I think you’re right on. And, routine is something I struggle with because my own work routine varies depending on what day of the week it is, (and forget the holidays, we were out way too late!). But, going into the new year, I’m hoping to get into a better rhythm. Thanks for the reinforcement. I enjoy hearing about your boys as they grew up, (also helps to hear that their needs changed on a regular basis). Happy New Year!

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