How to Be a Great Mom to a Toddler
You're happily tucking your toddler in for his afternoon nap when he starts to panic -- where's his favorite stuffed Big Bird toy? A peaceful nap won't occur without it!
With toddlers, there's a morning, lunch, and bedtime ritual, and you will not deviate from it. "They have no sense of what time or day it is, so a routine is the only way they know what's going on," says Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Toddler Center in New York City. "It helps them feel safe and secure when they're going through such huge developmental changes." This means you have to become the kind of boss you've always hated: the one who keeps tabs on every single thing her charges do. Nothing says micromanager like asking "Do you have to go potty?" every half hour.
It'll be worth it, though -- for your toddler's happiness and your sanity. Avoiding unpleasant surprises and letting him know what to expect out of each day helps him feel in control, which makes him much more agreeable. If it means you have to read the same book every night, well, at least he's going to bed. Nicely managed, Mom.
While language really takes off between 18 months and 3 years, that doesn't necessarily make a 2-year-old easy to understand.
Toddlers tend to get uptight when you can't figure out what they're saying. Hence the need to hone your Caveman-to-English translation skills. (Does "ball" mean "There's my ball! Let's play!" or "Find my ball before I start screaming!"?)
To help you understand each other better, keep your phrases short, repeat yourself often, and stay aware of your toddler's gestures and tone of voice -- especially important when he's upset. Even if you have no idea what he's yelling about, show him you understand he's angry, and go from there.
You'll also need this skill whenever your diction-challenged kid tries to talk to a civilian: Be prepared to translate. Unless, of course, you can't. Then you'll be lucky if you have someone even better skilled nearby. My son once asked me, very seriously, "Mommy, where does love go?" Wow. I tried to concoct an age-appropriate response, and as I rambled, he continued asking, getting more upset. Finally, my daughter stepped in to translate: "He's asking, 'Where is Lava Girl?'" His action-figure toy from a fast-food restaurant. Oh.
Toddlers can be sweet little angels. Or ruthless overlords. They demand what they want, then kick and scream if they don't get it. It can be a delicate process getting yours to do the most basic tasks -- eat, sleep, get into the car seat -- and you're likely to be met by loud and sometimes violent objections. This is where diplomacy comes in. Of course it requires patience and understanding, but also a little sly strategy. To get her daughter, Emily, to go to the bathroom when she was 3, Rebecca Horvath of Bluff City, Tennessee, used the power of suggestion. "I'd casually tell her that we'd go to the potty before we left the mall," Horvath says. "Then I'd mention it a couple of times while we were there, and then when we were ready to leave, she'd go without a fight. It seemed more like a matter of fact than something Mommy wanted her to do." Making your toddler think something was her idea? That's diplomacy in action.
Julie Tilsner is the author of four books and is a frequent contributor to Parenting. She chronicles her attempts to feed her two kids in her blog, badhomecooking.typepad.com.