Episode 4: Tips and Strategies for Parenting ToddlersJun 10, 2023
Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Elevate Motherhood! Thank you for being here! I hope these words will be a blessing to you! So today we are talking about parenting in the toddler years. There are lots of angles I can come at this conversation and thankfully we have a whole podcast now so we will continue to go more in depth in future episodes. This is kind of like a summary of what I’ve learned so far, and what I would tell a younger sister or a best friend who is maybe a few years behind me in parenting. This conversation is geared at the toddler years because that’s what I’ve been living through day by day for the past several years. I have warned you guys that I’m an enneagram 1 and an over-thinker. I realize some of the thought I put into some of this is excessive. I can’t help myself. Sometimes my sister jokes with me that she doesn’t want to read the parenting book, because she knows I will and she just wants me to give her the cliff notes. So here you go. Here’s the cliff notes! It’s still pretty long because I love thinking and talking about this stuff.
So starting off I think it’s important we remember these toddlers or young children or babies are actually real little humans with brains and feelings and soul and memory and we are trying to teach them to make the right decisions, trust the right voices, and ultimately become an independent human being. These are not little loud robot machines that we are trying to get to be quiet all the time and be perfect, miniature adults.
I know there are a million ways to parent and a million different personality types of children, if there was a magic formula, everyone would do it, but there’s not. I do listen to and follow so many parenting experts on social media, and I’ve read several parenting books and honestly there isn’t one that I just take every single thing they say as the word of God. I take what I like and throw out what I don’t agree with or what doesn’t align with the principles my family has. Even some of the people I’ll quote today in this episode, I’m not suggesting that you follow every thing they say. But I do learn some good things from these people. I’m sure even from your own parents, there are some things you loved that they did and you plan to do the same for your own kids, and some things you won’t do exactly like your parents. There can even be multiple moms and multiple families really doing their best and really trusting the Lord and really listenting to the holy spirits prompting on their parenting, and they may be doing some things a little differently than each other. We can and should have grace for our fellow moms even if they are doing some things differently than we are.
But the angle I want to come from here is- approaching toddlerhood and parenting by practicing what we preach and getting our mindset right. Having realistic expectations, being intentional and not just reactive, Being an example in the way we talk and conduct ourselves, acting like Jesus. Not just telling our kids what to do, showing them.
And to start down this path we first have to take a step back and consider the mindset we use to view parenting. There is a book called “Parenting” by Paul David Tripp and I really love it. He starts the book by talking about the difference between parents who believe they are owners of their children and parents who believe they are the godly ambassadors for their children. He says parenting doesn’t take place in grand moments but it happens on the fly when we aren’t really paying attention and encounter things we didn’t expect to deal with that day.
He says ownership mindset parenting is shaped by what we want for and from our children. Parents in this category think it’s their job to turn their children into something. They want to parade their children in public to the applause of others. They aren’t concerned about what their child’s craziness says about the child necessarily, but what it reflects about THEM as the parent. They are often angry and disappointed in their children, and the children struggle to carry the burden of their parent’s self worth.
And the category of parents he promotes is what he calls ambassador parents who know the only power they truly have is what God provides. They understand they are nothing more than representatives of someone greater, wiser, more powerful, and more gracious, and their daily work isn’t to turn their children into anything. They know they are called to be instruments in the hands of the one who has the power to rescue and transform the children in their care. They understand parenting sinners will expose them to public misunderstanding and embarrassment, somehow, someway. They accept the humbling messiness of the job God has called them to do. They understand that if their children grow and mature in life and godliness, they become not so much their trophies, but trophies of the savior that they have sought to serve….
Wow right? So eloquent. I’ll stop reading this book to you and you can go get it for yourself! But getting my mindset right helps put every situation throughout the day in perspective. If you’re in the mindset of thanking the Lord for this season of life, and realizing some of your biggest prayers have been answered in the form of your children, it’s easier to get through the day to day with a good attitude and with your heart focused on the right things.
So beyond the mindset there are some practical things we can do and I’ll share some things I’ve learned over the years that have helped me as a parent. One easy thing that has helped so much is to literally bend down on my knees and get on my child’s level as much as possible, especially with teaching or correcting. Think about how it would feel if a giant person was just towering over you speaking loudly. That might be so intimidating that nothing they say sticks because you’re feeling a little scared. If that giant person bends down and speaks eye to eye in a normal tone, I think it would be more well received, and I’d feel more human.
Another way to communicate better with toddlers, or just get along day to day better with toddlers is to slow down. They just aren't as fast as adults. Their legs are shorter, their attention spans are shorter, their desire to do things as quickly and efficiently as possible just isn’t the same as an adult. I think when at all possible, don’t be in a hurry. If you realize that every single time you’re leaving the house to go anywhere, you end up frustrated and late, maybe you can start getting ready to leave 20 minutes before you need to leave instead of 5. I remember at our old house we had stairs and it took my son what felt like FOREVER to go down the stairs, and I remember one day catching myself saying “hurry! Let’s go!!” and then I thought, why? Why am I rushing him and being frustrated with him? I’m not in a hurry in this moment. Look how tiny his legs are. He’s distracted by the designs in the hand rails. He’s honestly not doing one thing wrong. I can slow down and let him be a toddler. Reminding ourselves to slow down when possible will spare some frustrations with our toddlers.
A common time toddlers have a hard time is transitioning between one activity and another. I do think it helps to give them a warning, like, “okay, sis! It’s almost time to leave grandma’s house. We have time to do one more thing. Lets go finish that puzzle and then we will clean up and leave.” And stick to it. This advice doesn’t work if you regularly tell your kid you’ll leave in 2 minutes, but you say that exact same thing 10 times in a row and you only mean it one out of the ten times and then you’re mad when you say it. How are they supposed to know what you mean if you don’t mean what you say?
That leads me to the next tip I’ve learned- mean what you say and say what you mean. My husband and I try really hard to be good about this and be careful with our words. If we say, “if we leave now we will go get ice cream!” you better believe we are going to go get ice cream. If we say something like, “come back here right now.” You better believe we are going to chase that toddler down if they run away. Along these lines, we have to be careful to not just throw words around and give empty promises and empty commands. Then, is it really their fault if they don’t believe you or listen next time you’re throwing your words around? They’ve learned you don’t always mean what you say. This was something my husband and I really had to work at when our first child was a young toddler, we’d tell each other- follow through! To the best of your ability, commit and follow through to what you say to your child. Of course things change and sometimes our best intentions don’t work out. This is real life, use that as a time to explain to your child why the plans are changing. Treat them like they are important enough for an explanation and they will learn to understand that things happen.
My daughter is just over 2 years old now and sometimes what she CAN communicate to me surprises me, because she’s still young and learning all her words. And I sometimes wonder- how many deep thoughts she has that she CAN’T yet communicate to me. When I think that way it makes me feel more compassion towards her and her sweet little young mind and spirit. How many times we hear a young toddler crying or whining and we don’t stop to think there are probably logical thoughts in their head that they can’t communicate with words. We really can’t underestimate how much our toddlers are aware. Let’s treat them like they matter, slow down, take the time to explain things to them, and follow through.
One practical way to do this is to be realistic in our expectations. I am in some facebook moms groups, and I really have noticed how many messages I see that say something like “my 18 month old is so naughty! Never listens, always throws, always hits, won’t ever do what they know they should do! What am I doing wrong?” And I think all these moms probably didn’t see all the other very similar posts and responses, but I wish they did because they would see how common this theme is with 18 month olds. That age really is just kind of wild. This is a pivotal stage for them. Your 18 month old isn’t bad. They are learning. This stage takes so much repetition and redirection. Yes we should still teach them, yes they are old enough to start learning, but yes that really may take what feels like 400 times. That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong or your child is choosing to be bad just because they are still throwing the remote after you have told them multiple times. Try to learn from some experts what are normal expectations of the age of your child. Treat them well, don’t underestimate them or necessarily have low expectations, but have reasonable expectations when it comes to what your threshold of frustration is for yourself.
One of my examples of this is when my son must have been almost 2.5. my daughter was a newborn, and there were a few times in a row of him running off in parking lots or something like that. I was super frustrated and of course scared by those situations. One of my best friends has a degree in early childhood education, she teaches pre-k, and has 2 kids similar ages to mine, so I went to her for advice and told her what was going on. She said something so kindly and so spot-on,. she said, I think he is showing you he’s not ready for that kind of responsibility yet, you probably need to just hold on to him from the moment you get him out of the car. He wasn’t just purposely disobeying me and choosing to be “bad”, I was just having an expectation that he couldn’t match yet. Maybe because I had a new baby I was expecting him to be bigger than he was at the time. Maybe he was rebelling in a way, but me continually setting up the situation in a way to let him rebel and put himself in danger and make me feel scared and angry wasn’t helping anything. I needed to hold onto him longer and let him practice listening to direction in safer environments before he was given that responsibility in parking lots.
I have also heard that toddlers like “jack in the box” moments. So like, anything that gets a big sudden reaction. That could be good, you know toddlers LOVE making people laugh and light up when they realize they are being funny. Or it could be negative, they do something that gets a BIG reaction from their parents, they are interested by that. It doesn’t mean it’s coming from a hateful place trying to upset someone, they are just figuring out the world and getting these jack in the box moments or reactions is part of it. Hearing that explanation kind of helped me realize where they are coming from in those moments, they are seeking a reaction, not necessarily trying to make you upset.
One thing that Ralphie from Simply on Purpose says is, water the flowers, not the weeds. And she means pay attention to the good stuff. Positive reinforcement. Water the flowers and they will grow. I think this kind of ties in with the jack in the box thing. If you can ignore something that isn’t really harming themselves or anyone else, maybe that’s sometimes better than giving them a big rise. One of my best friends told me this as advice when I was about to have my second child, too. She said, if you see your toddler doing something they shouldn’t be doing (as long as they and other people are safe) when you are caught up with the baby, maybe just act like you don’t see it. That is kind of different than “seeing it” and allowing it. Maybe they don’t see you looking so they aren’t learning, “this is okay” but also you aren’t really having to deal with it in the moment because it isn’t really an emergency or a threat to anyone or themselves. Like if they are dumping out a box of puffs or something. Yelling across the room- HEY! NO! DON”T DO THAT! When you aren’t really able to enforce anything , is really just creating a jack in the box moment. Maybe you can ignore them for a second, look away so you aren’t allowing it, and then walk over there when you can and say something like< “oops! Looks like you made a mess! Puffs belong in the box so they stay yummy and you can still eat them! Help me put them all back in the box and then lets play with your train!”
You have probably heard the quote- How we speak to our kids becomes their inner voice. If you heard my episode 3 “faith in practice” I mention it there too- how we speak to our kids becomes their inner voice. We have such a huge responsibility as parents. A high calling, as I like to say.
One way to do this is to not speak negatively about them. I like to call this “speaking life” or “speaking words that align with your prayers.” And it will be the theme of an upcoming episode. But for now, let’s try our best to not speak negatively about our kids. One phrase I love to use is “she’s still learning!” She’s still learning to be gentle with her hands”, is so much nicer and life-giving than saying “she’s just a baby she doesn’t know how to be gentle yet!!” Or when my daughter is trying to count to 10 and says it wrong, and my son is frustrated saying NO that’s not right!!! it comes across more positively to my son AND my daughter if I say “she’s still learning to say it correctly, you know how to count really well, you can help me teach her, let’s say it again all together so she can learn!” instead of “she’s a baby she doesn’t know how to count yet! You’re big so you know, but she’s a baby!” That doesn’t make her feel good. I want to build up her confidence and encourage her to keep trying and keep learning. Try it and let me know if it helps your family, say, “She’s still learning …” or “he’s still learning.”
I also think along these lines another parenting tip that helps our relationship with our child is to not speak about them as if they weren’t there, even if they are 1 or 2. They know so much of what we are saying before they can speak back. So if we are saying to our friend in front of our kid “he kept me up all night! I am such a wreck today because he won’t sleep. I can’t keep doing this! He’s the worst sleeper!” Maybe you could get the exact same message across to your friend without speaking that your kid is a bad sleeper, say something like, “He’s still trying to figure out how to sleep through the night. We didn’t get much sleep last night so bare with me today. What tricks worked for you at this age?” I also think telling embarrassing stories about your kids is really not going to help anyone. Especially in front of them. How would you feel if your best friend kept telling everyone about the time you couldn’t figure out something basic, or you had an accident, or something else demeaning. We shouldn’t do that to our kids. I think we should repeat the stories that are great about them. And don’t retell stories that make them feel bad. Treat your kids like you would anyone else, they deserve respect too. They’ll start to believe what we say, so if we talk about moments of growth, strength, kindness, athleticism, creativity, they will become those things. If we talk about weaknesses, embarrassments, struggles, failures, they will identify in that way. Assume they can hear you and understand you and speak to them and about them positively.
Another positive phrase I love I learned from Dr Becky at Good Inside. She says- they are ALWAYS a good kid who just might be having a hard time. They aren’t giving you a hard time they are having a hard time. No one feels great when they are crying and throwing their body around. That feels yucky. They are dysregulated. They aren’t giving you a hard time in that moment. They are having a hard time in that moment. This phrase helps me interact with my own toddlers. I don’t consider it negative to ask them when they are super upset, “are you having a hard time?” Or I’ll even say that to one kid about another kid, “look, sissy is having a hard time. Let’s see how we can help her.” or “look, your brother is having a hard time right now. Let’s use quiet voices and check on him and see what we can do to help.” They are good kids having a hard time. They can get through it WHILE being a “good” kid. We can help them. And we can help them know that they can keep identifying themselves as a “good” kid.
I heard another analogy that during those big dysregulated moments we have to be the pilot and keep flying the plane. We can’t be so disrupted by a tiny person’s behaviour that WE start dysregulating and letting them fly the plane. We fly the plane. We are in charge of our words and behaviour no matter how our child is acting. Dr Becky also says sometimes whispering is better than shouting. The kid is equally taken aback by a whisper that it helps them calm down. Whisper_”hey, come here for a second, let’s figure out how we can calm ourselves down.” Can and will probably work better than “PLEASE STOP CRYING!! BE QUIET!” I’ve said it too, I promise. I know some of this is easier said than done! But it helps me to hear examples like this which is why I’m talking through all of this! We are all in this together. We just have to keep modeling to our child what they should be doing. Us remaining calm helps them to calm themselves down. If they feel like they are so powerful they can derail the attitude of their parents, that is a scary feeling to them. f we are yelling at them, how do we expect them to be more emotionally mature than us and be the ones to stop yelling. We need to SHOW them tools they can use. Deep breaths, talking in quiet voices, stepping away from a situation. A lot of the parenting experts I follow recommend not trying to teach IN the moment of chaos. Their minds are hijacked and not able to fully receive instruction. So most of the time I try to just help them get their body calm and safe and then readdress the situation later.
One phrase I learned from Mr. Chazz that I have had to tell myself several times is “when parenting in front of an audience, what matters most in that moment is your relationship with your child.” Have you noticed that things that may not trigger you in the middle of the day at home all the sudden make you feel super upset when your parents are around, or youre at a restaurant? Yes, we need to teach kids as they grow up that certain behaviors or volumes of voices or jokes are appropriate at home and that might be different than when we are in public. But ultimately, it’s up to you in that moment in public or in front of any type of audience, to drive the plane, parent YOUR child, stay in that moment with them. Don’t let the audience throw you off and act differently than you normally would toward that kid. Think about how confusing and scary that would be for your kid, all the sudden mom’s completely off track and acting strange, now they are going to have a harder time calming down. And, if we can’t parent the way we normally do when an audience is around, maybe we need to also rethink our parenting strategies. “When parenting in front of an audience, what matters most in that moment is your relationship with that child.” Help them, be the parent, fly the plane.
Another trick to help toddler years and help teach our kids that they matter, and help acclimate them to new environments is to prepare them for what’s about to happen. We sometimes forget that these new tiny humans actually DON’T know how to act in all these different settings. But talking it through with them is respectful to them, sets up the chances that the scenario will go positively, and takes away some of the shock factor for them. Here’s a script example of what I would say to my own kids on their first day of swimming lessons. Hey guys, today we are going to swimming lessons. You each have a special teacher that will be teaching you how to swim. They are so good at their jobs and we can trust them to keep you safe. I’ll be staying here the whole time with you, I’ll be on the other side of the glass window. You can look up to me and wave! It’s okay to sometimes feel unsure of a new situation, but you’re a brave kid and you can do hard things. I’m so excited to watch you swim! I’ll drop you off with your teacher, and then I’ll walk away so you can swim, and then I’ll come back to get you. I always come back to get you.” This is most likely going to cause the situation to go better than just walking in and dropping them into the pool with a stranger. Or I could even prepare them by showing them videos of swimming lessons before that day. You know your kid so you know some kids get more hyped up and fearful with big explanations, but I do think some type of preparation is better than just complete shock. So many things we do easily in life are actually situations where kids just don’t know how to act and I have found it so helpful for them to be prepared. So for example teaching them how they should act around a little baby. “Babies are still getting bigger and stronger, so we have to make sure we keep any germs away from them. Big kids can sometimes have germs and not even know it. So we won’t touch babies on their hands or face. We won’t touch the baby at all unless their mom says we can. We have to speak so quietly around babies. We don’t want to scare them with our big loud voices. Sometimes if we smile at babies, they will be so happy and smile back! Maybe we could try to make the baby smile. Babies are still learning how to communicate and talk so they cry when they need something. It’s okay if babies cry, their mommy will know how to help them.” Something like that. Or going to a restaurant, sometimes I prepare them with a role-play with questions like “okay kids, we are going to a restaurant! Is it okay to be super loud and crazy at restaurants? NO! is it okay to get out of our chairs and run around? NO! It’s important that we sit quietly so we don’t disturb other people who are there trying to eat their food and talk to their family. We’ll use our inside voices and play with the toys we brought.” Conversations like that help to keep it lighthearted and them know what to expect and how to act BEFORE they are in the moment and getting in trouble for it.
I also sometimes think about how we expect a kid to just like walk into a new situation knowing no one and no idea of what to expect and we just expect them to be like quiet and happy and confident and friendly and if they are anything less than that we are feel upset about it and embarassed. Like I personally don’t exactly thrive in brand new environments with a bunch of strangers. And I even usually know what to expect. So like dropping a toddler off at church for the first time, of course they might feel a little weird about it and want their mom. We need to have grace for our kids who have to enter these situations all the time, in some seasons, every place they go is new to them. We’ve been here a while, we know what to expect, we’re teaching them. It’s natural that they feel safe with us, that’s good. We can teach them how to feel safe in other safe places too. It can take some time. Same for them needing our reassurance in the night sometimes. Yes, we want sleep, Yes we want our kids to learn how to sleep, but let’s have some compassion for them while they learn. It’s natural , supernatural design that kids need their parents as they learn to navigate the world. It’s our honor to help them.
Another way I like to help ease my kids into new situations is to introduce them. Like the swimming example, I always try to ask the teacher’s name and introduce my kid to them. I would say, Hey! This is Sammy! What’s your name? Hi Miss Laila! This is Sammy! You guys are going to have so much fun today!” and then walk away. I like to make sure the adult knows who my kid is, and I like for my kid to know I’m leaving them with someone I trust, and that they can speak to them by name if needed. I would do this at school if they have a new teacher or at church nursery with a new teacher, stuff like that.
I remember before I had kids, one of my husband’s older cousins had a daughter who was maybe 2 or 3 at the time and her dad was explaining to her, Courtney is getting married to my cousin Jordan. Certain people who love each other will have a wedding and they get married! Then she will be Jordans wife! Just like your mom is my wife. And Jordan will be her husband. And I was like blown away at how thoughtful he was being by explaining all of this to her when it seemed like maybe she was too young for all of that. But she wasn’t. She followed and probably felt really special that her dad was paying attention to her and teaching her. I took that moment with me and decided I would always do the same for my kids. Someone younger than me who doesn’t have kids actually complimented me on this one time and it brought me back to that moment. He said, “I always admire how you explain things to your son.” It’s not that hard! We of course use the most age-appropriate words and information, we don’t need to overload them, but we can include them on basic things and explain things to them.
This next tip kind of breaks my heart because I have got it wrong so many times and it feels embarrassing to even admit it, but look AT your kid. Before you’re rushing them out the door, what are they doing? Are they on the last step of building a giant tower? Does their show have 1 more minute left? Would you like someone to pull you away from a situation like that? When it’s time to go, look at them, what are they doing. Go to them and join them in the moment. Say, okay great! It’s time to go! Where can you park that car so you’ll see it when we get back? Or okay wow what a great tower! Can you stack one more piece on top! Wow it’s so tall! I can’t wait for you to show daddy when he gets home! Let’s go to the car!” that is so much nicer than totally blaming them when they melt down when we are like dragging them away from something that is important to them without us making the effort to see their world. It will help you love who your toddler is. Another time to look at them is when they aren’t doing what you want them to do. Why haven’t they put their shoe on when you’ve asked them 20 times. Maybe because they are really struggling with the laces. Or maybe they have been looking for the other shoe that matches. Look at them. Why are they not eating their food, maybe because they don’t recognize one thing on their plate and it all looks foreign to them or maybe they are having trouble with their fork. Look at them. It will give you compassion. Your kid isn’t trying to give you a hard time. But maybe you can help them avoid having a hard time sometimes. Look at your kid.
One of my best friends is like an expert at speaking to children in a way they will understand. I have learned so much from her. I’ll try to get her to come on an episode with me in the future so you guys can learn from her too. But One phrase that she uses with her older toddlers and young kids is “be direct.” And I think that is so valuable for kids to learn. People don’t know what you want unless you tell them or ask them. Be direct. Don’t cry and whine and pout. Be direct, be kind and polite of course, but be direct. Say what you want to say.
Okay I told you guys I can talk forever on this subject. There is more where this is coming from, believe me. So I’ll end with this summary- let’s walk the walk. Let’s be models and examples for our children. Jesus was an example for us, let’s be an example for our kids. Let’s show them what to do. Show them how to calm down. Show them how to speak kindly to people and respect people. Let them learn from our example instead of just what we tell them they should do. Please listen to the episode before this, episode 3 “faith in practice” and tie all of that into what we have talked about here. There are a million ways to keep all of your parenting God-centered, using scripture as words overflowing from your heart and mouth. That’s my highest recommendation, of course.
And let’s keep in mind our goals. Are we looking for the fastest short cut to get our kids quiet all the time and acting like miniature adult robots? Or do we want to kindly show them how to make their way through life, make good choices for themselves, understanding we need to use our patience as they learn. Please consult your wise counsel on parenting, read your bibles to know God’s heart, and love your kids as you remember it’s a high calling to raise them.
Before we end the episode, I’d like to say a little prayer and blessing for you. Dear Lord, thank you for these listeners. Thank you that they have open hearts to continually be learning themselves, and becoming the parents you have called us to be. Help us to hear your voice, know your heart, and let all our instruction come from your wisdom. Proverbs 22:6 says “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he’s older he will not depart from it.” We are asking you for that, God. Give us all the fruit of the spirit as we raise these precious kids for you, Lord. Amen.
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Thanks for being here, friends. Until next time! Let’s elevate motherhood!
The goal of this episode is to help moms love the toddler years. Courtney shares some of her favorite parenting strategies she’s learned over the years. She talks about intentional mindsets for parents, as well as practical strategies for handling specific parenting scenarios.
Proverbs 22:6 “Train a child up in the way he should go, and when he’s older he will not depart from it.”
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