8 Tips for Life With Toddlers

Updated on July 11, 2019
J Schatzel profile image

J. Schatzel works in healthcare administration in rural upstate NY and has a master's degree in history.

Life With Toddlers

Every child is different. Every child–parent/caregiver relationship is unique. However, all toddlers are learning, absorbing their surroundings, and looking to you for cues as to how to behave/respond. Here are some of the things I have learned from my children, in case you should find it helpful!

1. Avert Tantrums at Stores by Taking a Photo for "Next Time"

I see so many toddlers in stores throwing tantrums, crying, shouting, and grabbing items off the shelves. I feel for the parents, as you can see them trying to hide from the judging looks from other shoppers as they quietly try to correct the toddlers’ behavior. Maybe I am just a lucky mom who hasn’t had this behavioral issue. Or maybe this simple trick has prevented more chaos than I could have imagined!

Have Your Child Help Take a Picture of What They Want

When my 2-year -old would ask for something on a store shelf or point at something we didn’t need and start getting agitated, I would ask for his help taking a picture of the item so we could “remember next time” because it isn’t on our grocery list today. It worked EVERY single time.

Once I had forgotten my phone in the car when this popped up, but I had my grocery list and a pen, so I asked him to describe it for me so I could write it on the list. This worked as well!

An elderly woman behind me in the checkout lane watched us do this when my son was asking if we could take home the balloons tied above the register. She was in awe when, after we took a picture, my son waved and said, “Bye balloons, see you later!” and was perfectly content to let me finish emptying the shopping cart. “The wonders of modern parenting!” she said.

2. Get Your Child to Help With Cleanup Time

When my son was about 18 months old, he wanted to put his toys back into his toybox as soon as they were out of it. He enjoyed cleanup time, and he would dance and hum along to the cleanup song they sang at daycare.

By the time he was a little past 2 years old, he started to do things like stick toys under chairs or beneath couch cushions when it was time to clean up. If I said to put them in the toybox, he’d be upset that playtime was over, and he'd refuse. Or he’d pretend he didn’t hear my request and continue playing. I decided to see if I could make cleanup time into a game, and I was thrilled to see that it worked!

Make Cleanup Into a Game

I would ask for him to put toys of a given color, shape, or type into his toybox. “Let's put all the animals in the toybox, and make it a farm” and “Help me find all the yellow toys for the toybox” quickly turned our previously lengthy cleanup process into a quick and fun game. He changed from being frustrated that playtime was over to being happy to continue playtime even while cleaning!

3. Help a Picky Eater With Incentives and Fun Foods

My oldest son was a great eater when we introduced him to solid foods. There was nothing he wouldn’t eat! In the puree form, everything seemed tasty to him, and he’d eat anything we offered. Once he started eating finger foods, he grew very picky, very fast! He would eat mashed peas from a spoon, but he would delicately pick the peas out of his mixed vegetables when served whole. I used a couple of tricks to get him eating a wider variety of foods.

Disguise a Disliked Food Until Your Child Realizes They Like It

I “hid” foods he claimed he didn’t like within other foods I knew he would eat. Butternut squash was mashed and whisked into pancakes. Banana was mashed and scrambled into eggs. Peas were served with breakfast, and we called them “berries.” After he ate them happily, the next time I called them “pea berries.” The next time, I called them “peas.” Now he loves his peas and will ask for them!

Use Foods They Like as Incentives to Try New Things

I used smoothies as an incentive. My son LOVED wearing his earmuffs and holding down the blender button with mommy. He was happy to dump in the spinach, blueberries, and any number of foods he otherwise wouldn’t touch to blend into a smoothie. He was thrilled to drink his smoothies and excited to be trusted with a cup with no lid to sweeten the deal!

I used muffins as a way to ease some foods into his diet, to test if he would eat them or try and pick them out. If he tried picking them out, I’d say, “You liked strawberries in your smoothies. If you pick them out of your muffins, we can’t put them in your smoothie next time.” He’d quickly change his attitude and keep eating his muffin.

Tomato sauce was also a great way to get a broader range of veggies into my son’s diet. Chopped vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, and okra went undetected by his picky palate. Mashed pumpkin, squash, and turnip were mixed in and went unnoticed. Spaghetti squash was swapped in for pasta.

Try Other Fun Ways of Presenting Food

Cauliflower was riced and used in stir-fry. Cookie cutters turned sandwiches into pumpkins, Christmas trees, and tractors. Quiche filled with veggies would be served as “rainbow eggs.”

4. Use Bandages to Stop Your Child From Scratching Bugbites

Once my son was old enough to keep a Band-Aid on without peeling it off and trying to eat it, I would put a Band-Aid over any bugbites to prevent him from scratching them. Without being covered, he’d mindlessly pick at a mosquito bite while playing. However, if we put a Band-Aid on it, he was happy to wear a “sticker,” and would leave it alone!

As a house without television, he was unfamiliar with the characters on his Band-Aids, but was happy to wear “Banana stickers!” as he called them, as we slowly went through a box of Minion Band-Aids over the course of one particularly buggy summer.

A cozy coupe I found for $2 at a garage sale, has entertained my son for hours at a time!
A cozy coupe I found for $2 at a garage sale, has entertained my son for hours at a time!

5. Get Moving to Get Exercise and Sleep Better!

There are a ton of free or extremely inexpensive activities to get out of the house for the day, or even for an hour. The more time outside my children have during the day, the better they sleep at night.

Whether it’s splashing in puddles, picking dandelions and clovers, or stomping through snow, they have fun and get great exercise, then sleep great at night! The combination of fresh air, sensory play, learning new things, and physical activity makes for a very happy toddler.

When the weather has been too rainy and cold for playing outside, we’ve gone to a shopping center to walk laps indoors. We went to a pet store to count and wave at fishies. We have gone to the animal shelter to say hi to the cats and dogs when dropping off a donation of old towels. We have gone to the local college library to look at picture books (Art History books are so much fun to look through with little ones!), and to a greenhouse to discover how plants grow.

6. Distract Your Child With Tasks When They Feel Overwhelmed

In my experience, toddler tantrums arise when a child has feelings bigger than they know how to process, and that they don’t yet have the vocabulary or understanding to communicate that feeling to you.

When my toddler is overwhelmed and starts to exhibit signs of an impending tantrum, I redirect by acknowledging his feelings, and distracting him with a new task. I ask things like “I understand that you are upset that Mommy can’t sit down and read to you yet. Can you help mommy with laundry, so we can sit and read soon?”

I have given him tasks like pairing socks, stacking washcloths in a pile, or trying to fold a towel. It gives him a physical outlet for the energy he was about to use to kick/hit/stomp, and distracts him from the feeling of “waiting for mommy.” I am sure to thank him when he successfully completes his task, and let him know how proud I am of him.

Before a haircut
Before a haircut
After a haircut
After a haircut

7. Make Haircuts Easier by Having Your Child "Help"

I have boys, and cut their hair at home with a pair of clippers (I use Wahl “Chrome Pro Classic Hair Clipper” kit, which was about $25). I have cut my husband’s hair for years, but baby and toddler haircuts were a whole new world for me!

As a baby my oldest son would sit well for haircuts, holding his rubber ducky (I chose a toy I could easily wash the hair clippings off of!). Once he was about 2, it was like a switch was flipped, and he acted terrified of the hair clippers. He suddenly was afraid to get a haircut, ducking from the clippers and crying.

Help Them Try Out the Clippers and Give a Toy a "Haircut"

I asked him if he could help mommy give him a haircut, and let him help me hold the clippers and run it down my leg. There was no hair there for him to be clipping, but he was none the wiser, and happy to be helping mommy. Then he helped me give rubber ducky a haircut. Then he sat well to have his own hair cut.

Find a Task for Your Child During the Haircut

The next time he was ready for a haircut, he did the same thing, leaning away from the hair clipper and whining. I asked him to help me give him a haircut (I let him hold one of the clipper shields we weren’t using), and again, he sat well for the rest of his haircut. For the next haircut, I asked him to hold the clipper shield before he even got a chance to fuss, and he was cooperative the whole time!

At the end of the haircut, I thanked him for holding the shield, and asked him to put it in the sink with the shield I had been using, to be washed off. He was so proud of himself for helping, and when he was out of the shower I showed him his haircut in the mirror, reminding him what a good helper he was, and telling him how handsome he looked. When my husband came home and asked “Did you get a haircut?”, my son excitedly replied “I helped! It’s handsome!” and I couldn’t help but laugh!

8. Keep Emergency Information on the Carseat

I keep a sticker with my son’s name, date of birth, my name and phone number, and my husband’s name and phone number, affixed to his carseat in case of an emergency.

Such a label sticker came with my older son’s carseat when we bought it, for use in case of an emergency. No such sticker came with my younger son’s carseat, but it was easy enough to write the information on a piece of paper, and use a piece of packing tape to stick it to the seat and keep the information from being rubbed off over time.

Another handy carseat tip: Keep the manual in the car glove box, not at home. If you're out someplace and have an issue with the carseat (or stroller!) it's nice to have the manual with you, rather than be trying to find wifi to look it up online, or searching youtube tutorials.

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