Raising a toddler takes a really deep level of commitment. It also takes a very intense amount of love to get through the more challenging parts of these early years. Happily, that love is the most natural thing in the world: the love a parent has for their own offspring. (Thanks, nature!) But getting through the toddler phase can seem like a never-ending vortex. It can feel like the tantrums and refusals to eat will never end. Fortunately, there are a couple of tried and true methods to get through the toddler years.
Personally, the timing pretty much couldn’t be any better on this one for me. My first is just starting preschool and my second is just about to enter that magical time that starts somewhere around that second birthday, which yes, some have chosen to call the “terrible twos.”
Yep, it’s hard. But it’s also a stage of life that I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to get to experience with my two little loves. I’ll be really sad when it’s over, so much so that I can barely bring myself to type that.
I kind of like to see it this way: Being a parent to two toddlers has tested me but through my experiences, I’ve gained strength. I have found new confidence. I have mad skills that I never even knew existed before, one of those being the ability to stay calm through some of the most intense hysterics.
I understand more of the frustration, stress, and hardships of the world than ever before, but also see the profound beauty, love, and humanity that connects us all.
Yep, being a parent during these toddler times is the real deal, and I’ve been living it intensely as a work-from-home mom these last many years.
With your fam’s pediatrician as your official guide, plenty of snacks on hand, and the patience of a saint, go boldly forth, with these 20 ways to survive the toddler phase, according to fellow moms.
20 Don’t Ditch Nap Time
I know at least one mom who even considered paying to have her toddler in childcare full days rather than half days just because he wouldn’t nap at home and would when he was at his school.
I totally get it.
My own little one stopped napping much earlier than any other tiny tot I’ve ever met, well before hitting that two-year mark, in fact, as I recall.
But here’s my suggestion: Never give up on nap time.
I noticed that even though my toddler wouldn’t actually snooze, and still doesn’t, if there wasn’t that quiet time/alone time, things didn’t go so well the rest of the afternoon.
Plus, it’s when I get a lot of work done!
19 Straight-Up Bribery
Whenever I would have a tough toddler issue, whether related to getting someone to stay in bed or use the potty, our family pediatrician would bring up the “star chart.”
Basically, you reward the desired behavior with a sticker, positively reinforcing the outcome you want to see.
If it sounds like training, that’s because I’m pretty sure it is, but hey, that is a big part of my job as a mom!
In our house, we’ve found pretty good success with this, especially once our older tot was more like 3 and older and really “got it.” Once a certain number of stars are collected, a prize is earned, such as a new toy.
It has helped us to shift somewhat from all of the “don’t do this!” or “do this!” to “hey, if you do this, you’ll get a prize!”
18 Seek Out Small Potties
I’m pretty proud of this one and have never read about it anywhere else before, but it was a total game changer for me in my quest to successfully get through life as a mom to a toddler.
The little practice potty at home? Great. She’d go in that thing any time, starting when she was remarkably young.
So she was out of diapers, but we were limited to only very short outings away from the house, as she was not about to tackle that huge porcelain throne in a tiny stall, surrounded by strange sounds like noisily whirring hand dryers…
That’s when it hit me: One of the public places we regularly visited had a separate little bathroom for young kids, complete with a smaller-than-average potty.
I talked it up as one “just her size!” and in no time, she was completely used to using public toilets. So much more freedom for me…
17 Always Bring Snacks
Although it can feel like things are complicated when I’m trying to make life work as a mom to two toddlers, I love being reminded just how simple it all really is.
More specifically, my two tiny humans, little mammals that they are, get hungry quickly and easily.
So many times when something seems wrong, they are out of sorts, or about to have a tantrum, it turns out they were just really hungry.
Now, this can be frustrating when you’ve already offered snacks and meals moments prior, but that’s why I always have multiple snack options on hand, be they in the family van, the pantry, or the diaper bag. My favorites lately include peanut butter for a bit of protein and staying power.
16 Pick Those Battles
I think this one came straight from my family pediatrician’s mouth, who reacts to any worry I have over my toddler’s behavior with so much confidence and calm because he’s seen it all before. He knows that this specific time is so fleeting and always reminds me, “Pick your battles.”
What really makes sense to me about this is that it must be hard to be just a little person trying to figure out how to be independent and to be told “no” when it comes to so many things.
It took practice for me, but especially once we added a second little one to our family, I got better and better about allowing more freedom. Sometimes, it’s like, if something isn’t dangerous or all that big of a deal, I’m not going to fret over it or make it into a big issue.
Letting go of some of that urge to control feels good, too.
15 Distraction Is Key
This one is from a dad, a very special dad in my life, in fact. I checked in with him about how the heck we survive life with our toddlers, and with very little hesitation, he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Distraction.”
When we give in to the drama of a tantrum, try to have a mature and rational conversation in the midst of tearful and barely discernable drama, it just gets worse.
What works? Moving on. He noted that for some parents, things to try may include, “TV, something shiny, ANYTHING.”
Our approach is usually a very simple form of this: redirection. We help them move on with a silly song, a tickle, a change of scenery, or a toy.
14 Find Eating Inspiration
It honestly came as a surprise to me how much my life would be about preparing food and getting my little ones to eat it.
I guess I didn’t quite grasp the volume of it, or that it might sometimes be challenging in some ways. But I soldier on, with three meals and two snacks and then some for two toddlers, each and every day.
Needless to say, it can be easy for me to feel uninspired every now and then, and that’s why I would recommend seeking toddler food ideas elsewhere every now and then.
I like to talk to the other moms in my life, both online and in real life, and I’ve also found that I can discover new fun foods to try offering at potlucks and parties, some of which then become family favorites.
13 Claim A Break
I’m not great at this one, but especially now that our second is far more a toddler than a little baby (and nursing much less often), it’s getting easier to claim some time apart, for myself.
Now, funnily, this time often necessarily involves me going in a separate room and writing like the wind for two hours, but you know what? I always feel better afterward.
Yep, whether it’s doing some necessary “adulting,” such as sitting in solitude at the café, meeting a friend for a bit of fun, or whatever works for you personally, having some time to just do you can, in my experience, make a world of difference.
It’s intense to be with these little ones so much, and man, it’s like even a few minutes apart makes them just 100 percent cuter and more amazing in my eyes as soon as I come back.
12 The Great Outdoors
So for a while, I actually worked full-time from home while also caring for my baby, who then, of course, became a toddler. People couldn’t believe it. And I mean, yeah, it was kind of crazy, but we made it work, as everyone does with life in one way or another.
The main flaw with the system, though, is that we did not get to spend as much time outside as we needed to. I’ve observed the energy of even very young toddlers to be astounding.
When mine spends even an hour or two being active (or even just being) outside, it’s as though our whole lives improve that day, from their sleep to their moods to their eating and beyond.
11 Transition To A Little Table
This may be a double-edged sword, I suppose, but I’m really glad that we ended up getting our little toddler dining table when we did.
My older toddler was still dining in a high chair but clearly big enough to sit in her own small chair, and my younger one was still sittin’ pretty in her high chair.
I saw meal times get easier and happier once my older tot got to sit in her own seat, no longer confined. It helped us to shift the attitude of mealtimes toward enjoying, being satiated, and then deciding when she was finished on her own.
Now, of course, my younger tot wants to sit at the kiddie table much of the time, more and more often. I like that the transition will be a positive one in all of those ways I already mentioned, but it does mean accepting that she can simply get up and wander off if something distracts her…
But again, overall? Love it. And great for art time, too.
10 When Fun Is Free
You know what? Kids are expensive. Even though I said I’d do everything on the cheap, from clothing to activities and beyond, there are still just so many costs that quickly add up.
Diapers, food, preschool(!), toys, clothes, and more…
One way I’ve somewhat succeeded in affording the whole thing is to skip doing a bunch of programs and activities that require dollar signs and regularly attend community programs for young children that are FREE.
My favorite is our local library story time, and we’ve been seeing the same moms and babies there since shortly after the little ones were born, so it gives me a sense of community, too.
My kiddos have been practicing participating in a group setting for a long time already!
9 Pick An Activity
While I really do need to watch the purse and so mainly choose free community events for my little ones to socialize and learn, I ended up taking on a strategy that I think worked pretty well with my first tot.
I was working from home and we didn’t put her in childcare at all, but we knew that we wanted to provide a year of some sort of preschool for her before she entered kindergarten.
Sensing that just going straight from being home all the time to being dropped off at a center might not go so smoothly, I made sure to enroll her in at least one activity during the year before preschool, a little class in which she would be taking instruction from a teacher without me right there.
Even though I was just right outside, in this case, it introduced her to the idea of being apart from me with a trusted adult and learning with other kids.
It worked, and our start to the school year was pretty seamless.
8 Don’t Ditch The Mom Group
As time goes on and moms return to work, have additional babies, and more, mommy groups can sometimes sort of peter out, or separate into smaller groups of close friends.
I decided to do everything I could to keep at least some activity going with my own, even if mainly just online or checking in with texts, once I’d had my second baby.
See, I knew how comforting it was to have support past those early baby times when toddlerhood parenting was upon me.
It’s just so nice to hear that so many other parents with kids about the same age are going through the exact same thing.
My most recent example was when we were feeling unsure how to stay strong with nighttime potty training, and some fellow toddler parents at a potluck just happened to bring up their strategies with it (including layering sheets and water-resistant covers to make middle-of-the-night linen changes easier).
7 First, The Self
When I’m having a hard day, it is that much harder to be a calm and happy parent. I have found that it takes a lot of patience (understatement of all time) to be the primary caregiver for two toddlers each and every day.
And boy, oh boy, have I learned that I better do what I can to be in good shape, in general, myself, the better to do a great job momming it up.
That’s why I’d say, based on my own experience, that, knowing this is can be a really challenging time, try to take care of yourself, the better to feel well and be capable of having perspective, of staying calm no matter what…
For me, nutrition, exercise, having at least some time to do my own thing (usually write), and music are key factors.
6 Calm Words Always
It is not always easy to keep your voice and composure cool as a cucumber when a little person is hollering at you, sometimes even physically lashing out at you.
Maybe one of the best tips I can give, based on my own journey as a mom to two toddlers, is to not give the reaction that they may seem to be seeking and to model the more desirable and appropriate way to interact with other humans.
I like to model always using my words, keeping them clear and calm, and expressing a variety of emotions, all across the spectrum.
5 Celebrate The Sunny Side
The most success I’ve had with getting things to go smoothly with a toddler is to give plenty of positive attention, just in general and as praise for behavior that I like.
It’s like, if a kid is only getting a big reaction for doing something they are not supposed to do, what do you think they will be likely to do more of, ya know?
Having some time when I or my hubs can focus completely on them, listening attentively when they are trying to tell me something, making them feel loved and special… It all really seems to work to help our family function more… nicely. And it’s fun for me to let them know how special they are to me.
4 Still Snuggle Bugs
Babies may be in your lovin’ arms so much of the time that it feels sorta weird when they’re not, but then, suddenly, they’re much more mobile and much more independent toddlers.
I’ve had moments of realizing that it feels like it’s been too long since I just sat cuddling with my little one, as though we were missing that physical closeness of parent and child that was so ever-present when not as many months had (quickly) passed.
I’ve found that no matter what, though, we can always get in some nice comforting closeness through reading stories together, and luckily, this was a habit we established very early on.
Before nap time each day and also in the evening before bed, I sit with both of my babes in my lap and read and sing for a while, and even though they’re getting older and more capable every day, it helps us to keep feeling close, and to wind down for sleepy time.
3 Enlist A Helper
Now, I actually don’t mean enlisting outside help — although I’ve heard that’s great, too. What I’m referring to by enlisting a helper is giving your toddler little jobs and tasks to do.
When I can sense that mine aren’t too sleepy or hungry or grumpy to pay attention and be given a little assignment, I include them in my fancy and glamorous world of being a real, grown-up mommy by having them throw away a diaper, press out the pizza dough, wipe down the table after lunch, or help sort the laundry.
Really, from the age of just 1-year-old, they could actually provide some assistance.
My tots like being included, having the attention, and feeling like they are contributing.
2 Allow Independence
I can imagine it being a little tough to want so badly to be able to do everything you see the adults around you doing and not be able (or allowed) to do it yourself.
Then there’s all that stuff mom and dad say you can’t do because it’s dangerous (or, well, annoying…).
So if there are things that I can let me toddlers do on their own, we go for it.
We have all enjoyed having shoes that they can quickly master slipping on themselves, making it that much easier to get out the door each time, for example.
As soon as my little fashionista wanted to pick out her clothes and dress herself, I was ALL for it. Heck, she even dresses her little sis now sometimes, too!
I figure it helps her feel like she has some more control, and also helps her learn.
1 Stand Your Ground
I realize it might seem a little contradictory on the surface, but hear me out. I know I’ve talked about loving letting my little ones do things on their own when they’re interested, and picking my battles to make life easier for everyone, but at the same time, my key to parenting toddlers is consistency and routine.
There are some things that will always go the same way. There are some things they will not be allowed to do at any time — because they’re dangerous.
I stand firm about the bedtime routine and schedule, for example. When it’s meal time, we all sit together at the table to dine (or sometimes, at a picnic, on our blanket).
Some of it’s for safety, some of it’s because it is what works practically for our family, and some of it is that I realize that it’s comforting to them to understand what will be coming next and to know how it’s all going to work.
Reference: This one mom-of-two’s experiences.