When we went to buy our “new” van, we took only baby Pearl with us. Our salesman glanced at her sleeping contentedly in her car seat and mentioned he had a 2-year-old at home. I said, “Oh, that’s such a fun age” and he gave a laugh and said, “That’s one way to describe it.” His comment surprised me, because mine had been genuine. With all of our girls, I’ve found myself really enjoying the toddler years.
Yes, our girls have had all the highs and lows usually expected of toddlers, but it is still a fun age. Two-year-olds and three-year-olds are learning and discovering so many things. Jade makes us laugh so often during a day with her simple questions, observations, or just the way she says something in her three-year-old voice.
That’s not to say there aren’t days when her three-year-old shrieking about the inside-out sleeve on her jacket or some other trivial (to me) matter drives me nuts. So here are my tips for enjoying the toddler years.
Make It Silly
Toddlers love silly. They are the kings and queens of silly, whether they are being silly or laughing at someone else for being silly. Often when Jade is upset at something, introducing “silly” to the conversation can help turn it around. “Silly socks, getting stuff halfway onto your feet.” “Silly pajamas, getting turned around backwards when you’re trying to put them on.”
Make It a Game
Toddlers are open to suggestions and love to have fun. Turning something into a game is a great way to make it happen quickly. Suggesting that Jade is a bunny or frog “hopping off to bed” can make bedtime routines go easier. Picking up the toys can be a game. Going somewhere can become a race (as long as the toddler wins, which I often have to talk to my older girls about).
Keep It Positive
Jade does not react well to stern words or negativity. While there are times when a firm “no” is necessary, it often results in tears from her. Instead, I try to keep my tone positive, even when saying something like, “We don’t hit our friends” or “No sticking your tongue out at your sister. That’s not nice.” Then I try to turn it around: “Let’s smile at them instead.”
Tone of voice makes such a big difference in getting a positive or negative reaction from her. It’s a good reminder to watch my parenting style and not get impatient with her.
As a parent, we’re often thinking two or three steps ahead: “I need to throw the laundry in now so I can do math with the girls and then fold it before we head out the door to gymnastics.” Toddlers think in the now: “I’m having fun playing with this toy.” Giving hints about what happens next can help smooth the transitions and prevent melt-downs.
Often, I get busy with my things and then tell the girls, “We need to go now!” Usually that results in moans and complaints from all of them, but especially from Jade. She has no concept that time is passing and we need to move on to the next activity. So while I’m getting ready to go, I try to let them know that “In five minutes we need to start putting shoes and coats on” or “Can you please start cleaning up in a couple minutes so we can go meet Daddy?”
Everyone responds well to encouragement, but especially toddlers. Dropping a comment like “Thanks for getting your coat on” or “Good job buckling the top half of your seat belt!” often makes Jade light up in satisfaction. They are small people who are often frustrated by what they can’t do (especially if they have big siblings who are doing those things), so a little recognition of what they can do goes a long way.
Put It in Words
I think one of the reasons that the toddler years are known as the “terrible” twos or threes is the struggle that toddlers have in putting things into words. Imagine being unable to communicate something to those around you. I’d be pretty frustrated too, and often try to remember this when Jade bursts into tears over something.
Sometimes, I’ve failed to understand what she’s trying to say. Sometimes, I’ve failed to hear what she’s said because I’m busy. Sometimes, I haven’t heard her in the clamour of her three sisters. Sometimes, she’s just overwhelmed with emotions she can’t express. That’s when I need to pause and help her communicate (and tell Sunshine and Lily to be quiet for a bit).
Holding her, getting down to her level, or asking simple “yes and no” questions (“Did your sister take the toy you wanted?”) to help her express herself can help end the tears more quickly.
Spend Time Together
Often what the toddler has troubles putting into words is their need for mommy or daddy. We are busy people and it’s easy to get focused on our to-do list or what older siblings need. I’ve found that taking a few minutes a day to sit with my toddler makes a huge difference in our day. Maybe that’s just giving her a long hug when she wakes up, or reading a book with her in the afternoon.
If I’m taking the older two girls out, I make a big deal about how she gets to do something special with Daddy at home (or vice versa if he’s taking them out) so she doesn’t feel left out of what they’re doing. They are little, so little things like five minutes spent doing a puzzle or colouring a picture goes a long way.
Involve the Siblings
This tip obviously didn’t work when Sunshine and Lily were little, but they are a huge help with Jade. Often if I’m tired or stressed out, they step in with the silliness or positive tone. If we’re getting ready to head out the door and Jade’s coat is inside out, Lily will “put it in time out” for not co-operating (and they all laugh about that). Sunshine is good at being a little mama and offering hugs if Jade is upset about something (which sometimes helps and sometimes doesn’t).
If your toddler has older siblings, you can coach them in helping with their younger sibling or give them specific tasks to do to help. I’ll often get Sunshine or Lily to help Jade with her socks and shoes while I’m getting Pearl ready; they have fun doing it and it helps prevent Jade’s frustration over trying to do it herself.
Do you find yourself enjoying the toddler years or hoping they pass quickly? What’s your favourite age or stage?