The Golden Rules of Parenting Toddlers

If you find, as most parents of toddlers do, that once in a while, or perhaps even - most of the time - things feel a little *out of control,* there's a simple reason: they are!  2-4 year olds are tiny insane people, who have very little control over their impulses, their emotions, and even their bodies. They can't be reasoned with, or trusted to make good decisions, and yet - we still have to try to reason with them so that they begin to understand WHY we say and do what we do in polite society. We still have to "trust" them to do things that will probably make a huge mess, just so they learn how. And we still have to explain to them exactly WHAT they are feeling - so that they learn to recognize it themselves and can begin to deal. It gets - exhausting to say the least, especially when you've repeated yourself calmly for what feels like the forty-seventh time and they're just not getting it. But! Take heart! I've discovered some golden rules to help you get on the best footing you can for dealing with crazy people all day long, and it's stupidly simple.

1) Both YOU and THEY need to make your absolute best effort to eat well - this means unprocessed,  not sugary or dyed natural foods. Actual fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and dairy. Lots of eggs, nuts, and beans in place of meat. Fish a couple times a week. Drink lots of water. It takes preparation and willpower, but BELIEVE ME (i know you want a treat during nap time - I FEEL YOU.) you will see a VERY POSITIVE behavior change in kids who are getting regular nutritious meals full of good fat, fiber, etc. I know you have a ton of rebuttals to this: it's expensive to eat well, my kid won't eat ____, I don't have time to cook. I say, you're the parent and you make the rules. Make it a priority and stick to it.

2) Both YOU and THEY need regular, healthy, uninterrupted sleep. Toddlers need 12-14 hours a night. If they are getting to the point where they "refuse to nap," make sure they're going to bed early enough to get 12 hours. Darker the room, the better. If you regularly hear snoring or them waking themselves up or sleeping fitfully, (and they're not going through a cold or respiritory illness) ask your pediatrician to look into it - poor sleep causes a TON of problems, including behavior issues and cognitive delays.

I know that when I eat and sleep well, my patience and energy increases tenfold. I know that when they eat and sleep well, we get A LOT less whining, fussiness, bad attitude, and just an increase in focused play and SWEETNESS. Which is what we all want, right? Yes, there's still the occasional meltdown or bad day, but there's so much less of that "end of the rope" feeling, for me and for them.

3) The third and last "golden rule" is to abide loosely to a schedule - it can be switched up when you need to, but kids really thrive on the structure of knowing what will happen - they have such little control over anything, it helps put their minds in order. Here's a sample of our typical schedule: We wake up between 6:30 and 7, cuddle and play, go potty, come downstairs and eat breakfast, then free play all morning (play dough, toys, help me cook, go to the park sometimes, have a play date, whatever floats their boat) until about 11:30, then we potty again, eat something and go upstairs for nap. I read them some stories, they go to sleep,(12:30 or 1:00) and when they wake up around 3, dad is home. Potty again, then often we'll go somewhere after nap - the grocery store or what have you, or play with dad or in the backyard. We typically have a little snack around 4 or 4:30 - a graham cracker with peanut butter or something. Then we make dinner and eat, potty, bath time, stories, and bed by 8. At this point it's mostly self-directed free play, but that's what is developmentally appropriate - we'll start incorporating structured crafts and science projects as they get older. Note: if the schedule will change significantly for the day, have a conversation and talk to them about it beforehand. {This works wonders for all kinds of behavior stuff - now that they are 2.5, I can go over things a few hours, then a few minutes before and let them know what I expect. Then a gentle reminder during the behavior is all it takes (usually.) Example: "We're going to Mommy's friend's house. If you see something you'd like to touch or play with, please ask first. Don't touch anything without asking." Then as they get in the door and run to play with a breakable display of some sort, "We need to ask before touching."}

Notice they don't constantly snack all day long - we did this before they turned 2, to curb fussiness, pretty much whenever they wanted. What happened was kids who ate poorly at mealtimes and who were constantly whining for snacks. Not to mention the kind of snacks that are easy to hand out 24/7 are usually preprocessed and packaged - cereal, squeeze pouches of stuff, etc. It was expensive, not really healthy, and was causing undesirable behavior. We cut the snacks to 1-2 a day and they know what to expect now.

We also try to nap at home in our beds. We've done naps in the car, sometimes I just can't face another round of putting them to sleep and the car is soooo easy. But the car naps are fitful, their little necks are flopped forward in this awkward way, and they never last more than 45 minutes. Results: crankiness in late afternoon :(

I'm not going to judge you for doing what works for you - trust me when I tell you I'm not at my best every day. But if you are having behavior problems and "bad days" that just keep multiplying, take a look at your schedule and try to figure it out. Is it you or them, or both? Are you taking care of yourself? Are you eating and sleeping well? You're still going to have to negotiate whether they can wear the Batman cape AND the sparkly shoes to the store, but hopefully it will feel more sane. Go forth and parent!

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