Are the terrible twos real? Well, if we want them to be, maybe. Lack of vocabulary, grandiose demands, and a high need for independence equals an enormous task of patience for those of us navigating these toddler waters. Most of the time, I tend to think toddlers are just curious little people desperately trying to figure out the world. They are doing the best they can with what they have, which might mean your house has turned into their giant science experiment. But, every mess they make, every question they have, is an opportunity to learn. As much as we know this is true, it doesn’t always help us when we are in the middle of their mess.
During these years, it is so easy to get frustrated and react in ways you wish you hadn't. When this happens, the truth is:
You're not a bad parent - you're human.
However, it is important to recognize your reaction and realize you need a plan for the next time. Remember, the goal is a connection, not perfection.
Three Tips (for Not Losing Your Mind on those Challenging Toddler Days)
1. Focus on the "End Goal"
With toddlers, every moment of every day has the potential to go poorly. They might not get the color cup they want. They may have a difficult time putting on their socks (but won’t let you do it because “I do it!”). First, recognize this is an overwhelming moment, and then set your sights on the end goal of connection. Use a question like, “would you like to do it, or would you like me to help?” Affirm their effort, and keep moving forward. They might have a melt down….and you might beat them to it if your patience has worn thin. If you mess up, it is ok. Use this as an opportunity to model for your child that it's ok to make mistakes, but also how to say sorry.
2. Look at the Heart Behind the Action
Sometimes a toddler might be making a big mess, but their heart was to help. For example, if a two-year-old sees you change your newborn’s diaper, she might try to pick up the baby, remove the diaper, and change the messy diaper for you. You now have a giant mess despite your 'helpful' toddler. Use these kinds of moments to encourage their autonomy, then take the time to teach them how to clean up their mess.
3. Remember they Understand more than they Communicate
Our toddlers are watching us all the time. Toddlers will mimic your actions before they articulate words. They can express the heart and spirit behind your words before they can say a single word. Have you ever seen a one-year-old make a mad face and stomp her foot? Even babies are capable of expressing emotion. Our actions and emotions express our truth.
People, including toddlers, will believe our actions more than our words. Being able to walk this out takes practice and work. There are many moments we won’t get it right.
Don’t Worry! When our actions cause disconnection, it is repairable.
Tomorrow is another day!
PS) How can you keep moving forward today even when you feel like you have failed your toddler?
PSS) This piece is directly inspired by Connection with Toddlers from the Priority of Connection track in the Life Academy. This track helps us develop skills to successfully pursue and strengthen the heart connection we have with our children.