As a way to help guide our au pair and make sure we’re on the same page I took some time to put together a little “toddler tips” basics/manual. Alex suggested sharing it on the blog since we have so many friends with tots, so, here it is, without much adjustment for other people.
Buuuuut, before reading it please know:
- The purpose of this was for our family and stresses values and discipline models that are important to us. We realize not all of these tips and values align with every other family’s structure.
- Of course there are hundreds more tips that I didn’t include/think to include. This list is relevant for our family right now and the needs we felt should be addressed. Surely as Ben gets a bit older we’ll add to the list.
- Our au pair isn’t a fluent English speaker so instead of having her read a book or a bunch of websites I created this as an easy-to-read manual that was specific to our family. That’s the spirit by which this was written.
- Most of the information, below, is from personal experience; however, some things I learned/tips I got are from The Danish Way of Parenting and parents.com.
Basic Info about Toddlers
Toddlers are trying to figure out the world and become independent little people. Their moods change very quickly as a result of developmental changes and limitations. Their brains are not as developed as adults and they have trouble reasoning, understanding consequences and danger. As their caregivers, we’re responsible for setting fair limits, loving them, keeping them safe and teaching them.
- Toddlers (and children) are inherently good – they are supposed to push boundaries and test the rules. They’re not trying to misbehave or be manipulative. This is how they learn.
- Embrace it with patience – it’s fascinating watching a toddler try to figure things out.
- Toddlers can’t communicate their wants and needs as well as they want to.
- It’s our job to remain calm and help him explain what he wants.
- Toddlers don’t understand the concept of time and don’t have much patience.
- Use this to your advantage and distract him – sing a song, read a book or fill the sink with bubbles.
- Tots have trouble controlling their emotions. They have very strong emotions and don’t know how to deal with them.
- Acknowledge that he was having fun in the sandbox and doesn’t want to go home and that it must make him angry. Help him learn label his emotions.
- Toddlers have trouble switching from one task to the next.
- Tell him what to expect next – “now we are going to get your hands wet, then we will put soap on them. After we put soap on your hands, we’ll rinse it off and then dry off your hands with a towel.” This teaches coping skills.
- Toddlers test boundaries to see what they can get away with and what’s acceptable. He’s not trying to be manipulative – he just doesn’t know.
- Teach him what is okay and what’s not. Be patient when he is testing the limits. It’s how he learns.
- Tantrums are very normal for toddlers – it is part of how they are figuring out the world.
- Help him calm down by remaining calm yourself, patting his back, and acknowledging that he must be very upset or disappointed. Don’t give into what he was upset about – talk him through the disappointment. Work through it together.
Our Family’s Philosophy
Above all, our parenting philosophy is pretty simple – we want to provide a nurturing, loving environment for our children to grow up in. We want our kiddos to value themselves and others, be empathetic and hard-working people. We want our children know it’s okay to fail – that’s how we learn.
Empathy: This is a concept that is extremely important to our family. In the US, shaming and judgment are more prevalent than empathy and we are working very hard to be a family that prioritizes empathy and compassion rather than pointing out the flaws in others.
- See the good in others – pointing out positive traits in people helps us focus on the good and for it to become more natural. “Do you see Shoshana sharing her toy with her brother? She is so sweet. That’s so considerate of her.”
- If another child is misbehaving or throwing a tantrum mention “maybe he was tired or hungry. Sometimes people get grumpy when they’re hungry or miss their nap.” This avoids negatively labeling another child.
- Validate his feelings – his feelings may be different than yours. Acknowledge his feelings by saying “I can see that you’re really upset that it’s time to be done painting.”
- Avoid telling him how he should feel – don’t say “you have nothing to be upset about – stop crying” and instead say “I can tell you’re upset. Can you try to tell me what’s wrong?”
- Read books about feelings or notice the expressions on other children’s faces in stories or in real life. Talk to Ben about the emotions the characters might be feeling.
Encouragement versus praise: We want Ben to become resilient, strong and well-adjusted. It’s important to us that Ben have a growth mindset, which means that the way he thinks about things and himself can change. For example, if something is difficult, he should practice so he can improve, rather than thinking it’s too hard and he’ll never be able to get it. We also want him to realize that if he does something well it’s because he worked hard, not because he’s smart.
- Encourage hard work, learning a new skill or trying something by himself.
- Say, “Wow – you did that all by yourself!”
- Get his validation: “Look at that painting you did! Do you like it?”
- Instead of saying “you’re so smart!” (please never say this to Ben!) say “I can tell you have been working really hard at practicing counting. You’re really getting the hang of it!”
- Avoid saying “Great job!” and instead, focus on the achievement.
Be a role model: model the behavior you want to see. If you want a toddler to calm down, be calm yourself (he’s definitely not going to calm down if you’re angry or worked up!) – crouch down, speak softly and this will show him that he is safe.
Positive attitude: remaining positive, even when your patience is being tested, is a skill that requires practice. This is also a life skill that leads to resilience and hard-work.
- Be careful about what labels you give a child/toddler (what you say about a child) – labels can stick around forever. Choose positive labels. (Example: Say “he knows what he wants!” Instead of “he is so stubborn!”)
Hugging and affection: it is Ben’s choice if he wants to give someone a hug. Please ask him if it’s okay if you give him a hug. Respect him if he says no.
Basic Tips & Ideas
Provide choices: toddlers (and children of all ages) want to feel like they are in control. Allow them to make some of the choices during the day.
- Instead of saying “do you want to brush your teeth?” Say, “it’s time to brush your teeth – do you want to use the green toothbrush or the blue toothbrush?”
- When leaving the park (of course after a warning!) say, “it’s time to go home now. Would you like to carry the bubbles or the chalk?”
Anticipate transitions: changing from one activity to the next can be difficult for tots, especially if they might not like the transition.
- Explain what is going on and what is going to happen next.
- Give a warning – “it is almost time to clean up your blocks so we can go have lunch.”
- He wants and needs to know what to expect will happen next.
- If you’re taking him away from something fun, be prepared with distractions.
- If it’s nap time and mom and dad are around, make sure Ben has the opportunity to say good night to mom and dad and that he knows it’s about to be nap time. This will help with the transition.
Set limits: the toddler years are spent figuring out boundaries. Tots need to know what is okay and what is not okay. It’s critical to set limits for them so they can learn.
- Consistent routines help tots to know what to expect, which makes it easier on everyone.
- Use “Freeze!” at the park or outside if Ben is running and won’t stop. Tell him to “freeze!”
- Think of what is good for him, not what he wants/doesn’t want.
- It is okay to make him wait – this teaches him delayed gratification, patience and that he doesn’t get what he wants when he wants it.
Involve him: getting Ben involved in regular chores, like laundry, selecting his plate for lunch or putting away toys teaches him valuable life skills, including responsibility.
- Have Ben hand you the silverware when emptying the dishwasher. Bonus: count how many spoons he hands you, etc.
- Ben can put away his pajamas in the drawer or help sort socks.
- Have Ben put his dirty clothes in the laundry basket, or put all of his laundry in the washing machine.
- Make it fun to put away toys – “can you find all of the blue blocks and put those away first?”
Always remain positive: tell him what you want him to do instead of telling him what not to do.
- Say “please use your fork to eat your broccoli” instead of “stop banging on the table with your fork.”
- Instead of simply saying “no” or “stop it” tell him what you want him to do.
- Any attention to behavior is attention, even if it’s negative. Focus on the positive.
Creative play: one of the best ways for Ben to learn is by playing. It is our goal to provide new opportunities for him to explore the world.
- Go outside! Jump in puddles, look for worms or ants on the sidewalk, play in the shade if it’s hot, wear mittens if it’s cold and warm up with some hot chocolate or steamed/warm milk. Play outside every single day.
- Get messy – of course be smart about this and don’t ruin clothes/rugs/anything in the house, but it’s okay for Ben to stir flour into cookie dough and make a mess; it’s okay for his hands or his face to get muddy or covered in paint (washable paint, soap and washing machines were invented for a reason!).
- Try something new:
- Let Ben touch and feel different things – get a small empty box and fill it with sand or shaving cream or bubbles and water or dried pasta or ice.
- Practice learning colors by getting different colored paper (example: red, yellow and blue paper) and corresponding toys (example: red, yellow and blue blocks) and having Ben put all of the blue toys onto the blue paper.
- Paint with a fork or a cotton swab or your hands instead of a paintbrush.
- Play sorting games – put all of the teddy bears in one pile and the stuffed dogs in another (group different animals, shapes, colors, sizes, etc.)
- Trace shapes with cookie cutters.
- Find creative ways to practice counting, the ABCs and learning colors and shapes.
Talk!: Explain everything and talk, talk, talk. Tell him what you’re doing, point out something on a walk, ask if he sees the bird flying out the window. This helps him build his vocabulary. Talk to him all day long. Especially in Spanish!
Read!: Read to Ben every single day. As much as you can. Tell him what’s going on in the pictures. Ask him to point to different things in the pictures. This helps him build his vocabulary.