Parenthood can be an art. This art involves patience (understatement of the century). This art involves love and care beyond imagination. And to some degree — on some level — this art is, at its core, the art of manipulation.
I mean, sorry, but really… It’s about training our kids to be decent people. To take basic care of themselves. To respect us and others. To be healthy. To enjoy life.
We are training them for something that we have come to understand time and time again to be, sure, challenging, exhausting, and scary at times, but also fun, beautiful, and full of companionship, if you just look at it in the right way.
It’s life, and as we get through it and teach our little loves how to do so, as well, it can be helpful to develop some strategies, and to hear what in the world other parents are doing in order to get their kids to do the basics.
When I’m not writing about babies and parenting, I’m living this stuff as a mom to two toddlers of my own. And so, based on the daily (beautiful) battle that is my existence, as well as the wisdom of other moms, I present to you some rather fool-proof hacks for getting kids to do these 20 things. (Thank us later.)
20 Ready To Ride
This one is at the top of my list for good reason. In the last, say, three weeks, my youngest has taken up a little game that is really, really annoying.
See, one time when her papa was trying to click her into her car seat, she realized she could get a reaction and prolonged attention if she stood up in the seat, smiling and procrastinating as she refused to sit her butt down.
I didn’t give her the reaction she wanted. It was tempting to laugh, or to show obvious frustration as she monkeyed around when I was trying to overcome that one last obstacle to getting out the fricking door, but instead I calmly explained what she needed to do and gave her one last chance to do it on her own before seating her myself.
Oh, and I used the ever-popular countdown method: “OK, last chance: 3, 2, 1… plop down!”
And when she sits right away with no games, she gets abundant praise.
19 Clean Those Pearly Whites
No joke: My kids beg to do “brush-teeth” time, and if they don’t get to floss first, they’re pissed. I think my main “hack” is that I’m big on dental hygiene and am sure to floss and brush twice a day myself, so of course they want to also.
My other tricks? We started using a washcloth to rub the gums of our newborns. We moved on to teether brushes for a nightly rub, then transitioned to brushing their early teeth ourselves at least once a day, and then gradually let them join the effort and moving toward twice-a-day full-on brushings. No gap in brushing action as the months passed.
Here are some ideas from a mom writing at Babble.com: Have them go through the Happy Birthday song (twice) in their heads to actually brush enough, let them brush “on the go” (not just in the bathroom), have them show off their brushing skills to the family pet, use The Disney Magic Timer app to make it a fun game, let them pick out their own brush, play their fave song, show them their teeth in a mirror to explain the connection between the brushing and the appearance of those teeth, or use good old-fashioned bribery.
18 Drink From A Bottle
Because parents to toddlers may be wading through so much chaos that they don’t even have time to read something like this, let’s be sure to include something for expectant or brand-new parents, too: baby stuff.
A huuuuge and hugely common struggle new parents have is babies refusing to drink milk from bottles.
It’s time to return to work, or just be apart from the baby for some amount of time for some reason, and instead of drinking from the bottle like they would the breast, they refuse. They might clamp their mouths shut, turn away, or even scream and cry.
My pediatrician, as well as anything I’ve ever read (as well as my own experience), tell me this: Introduce a bottle as soon as breastfeeding is firmly established but not at all too long after that.
If you miss this sweet spot, you may have an impossible-to-win battle on your hands, one with high stakes for many working parents.
17 Drift Off To Dreamland
This one could be an entire article on its own, but I’ll do my best to hit some key points, which I’ve learned over these last few years as a mom of two.
Start early with some form of sleep training (encouraging your baby to learn to fall asleep alone / self-soothe). Establish a set bedtime ritual and stick to it. They then know what to expect.
Put them down at the right time, when they are ready and drowsy, but not overly tired (many adults have probably experienced some form of insomnia from being overly tired, I’m willing to bet).
Anything I’ve ever read says people sleep better in a room that is cool, quiet, and dark. Makes sense, right?
Recently, though, I’ve realized my littlest one sleeps longer (particularly for naps) with that much-celebrated-in-parental-circles “white noise.” We just realized a noisy old fan we had to use one hot week did the trick and have pretty much never turned if off ever since.
16 Stay In That Toddler bed
Getting my first toddler to stay in her bed was a nightmare. From what I’ve heard, this is common.
We tried totally bailing and putting her back in a crib. We tried putting a baby gate up in her doorway (she’d go mess around in the bathroom and even start coming down the stairs). We tried what everyone says to do, keeping a neutral face and leading her back to her bed each time she got up.
The only thing that worked was… bribery.
Our doc called it a “star chart,” and if a kid is developmentally ready, they might actually put two and two together and realize that if they perform the desired task / behavior, they’ll get a shiny sticker. Mine also gets a new something-special when she collects 5.
15 Partake In Potty Time
First of all: See above. The star / sticker chart has been one of my main go-tos as a parent to a near-preschooler. It’s really just all that has seemed to work for some of those particularly frustrating things that I have to get her to do.
For us, it was getting number 2 to join the potty party that was the big hurdle. Every kid is different.
As far as using the potty to begin with, here’s my hack: Have it around long before you would ever really expect them to want to use it.
Both my first and my second little one started using it almost as soon as it was around.
For encouragement to use the real toilet, having a lightweight but sturdy stepstool has been key, as well as a built-in smaller child seat that folds down when needed: extra reassurance for that tiny bottom.
14 Nom A ‘Vitey’
I used to think vitamins tasted gross when I was a kid the age that my oldest child is now. Blech. I can still recall that chalky, ascorbic-acid-flavored little nugget now as I type this. (Shudder.)
Happily, vitamins have come a loooong way.
While we first used the drops our pediatrician recommended as standard for babies, we’ve now been able to switch to (along with as healthy and well-balanced a diet as is possible, given that they are, well toddlers)… the gummy vitamin.
First of all, I started presenting them like they were a fun treat: I give them as dessert after lunch. I pack one along to give to my older child as a “special treat” when I pick her up from her childcare program.
13 Love Reading
What’s wild for me to hear is that some parents struggle to get babies and toddlers to just sit in their laps and take in a read-aloud story. Part of me gets it — because they’re babies.
But at the same time, I guess the way we did things just sort of worked out to encourage our babes to loooove reading from the get-go.
First of all, we started holding them in our laps and reading aloud from Day 1. Okay, maybe like Day 3.
But also, I’m realizing that we’ve never tried to force a quiet story time when their mood is clearly suited to, say, rambunctious play, or eating, or already being asleep.
When the mood is right, and the kiddos are feeling ready to sit still and cuddle, we read and read and read some more, and we always have.
They view it as the happiest treat and can’t wait to climb into our laps for another book.
Oooh, also, local library story times.
12 Eat A Darn Sandwich
I found that my little ones love to eat meals in separate elements.
I mean, sure, they’ll do the mac with the cheese, the toast with the butter, and the cereal with the milk, but mainly I’m putting together lots of plates of separate little pockets of this and that, so that they can pick and choose what looks good at which moment.
But then also, I’ve discovered a way to get them to eat a classic combo of foods all at once, like big girls: The cookie cutter.
Let’s just say that a PB&J becomes pretty irresistible when it’s shaped like a pretty heart. “Why did you make it like that?” my oldest asked the first time I did it. “Because I love you!” I replied.
It did the trick, and I make this, now, at least once or twice a week.
A dino, airplane, or train might be the hit around your house.
11 From Scribbles To Scribe
This one just sort of worked out, but I thought it might really be a neat trick for other parents to try.
My oldest has, for quite a while now, shown a great interest in being able to form the shapes of letters. I think many kids come to this stage, where they want to hold a pen or crayon and “write,” first scribbling and then trying to actually learn how to make letters.
To assist my little one with understanding how to write the first letter of her name, to start with, I described what it looked like using nouns she already knew.
For example, for “A,” you might say, “Make one mountain… Good! And then draw a straight line right across the middle.”
This in combo with showing them how you do it and of course pointing out which letters look like what, I’ve found, is a great place to start.
10 Higher Level Of Calm In The High Chair
My first little one would sometimes get quite upset in her high chair.
With my second, I took a different approach. I wanted to make sure that she never, ever came to associate that seat with drama, tears, or being made to do something she didn’t want to do. (Although I’d done my darndest to accomplish this with my first, it was somehow just easier to actually, and religiously, put it into practice with my second.)
From the start, I taught her (both kids, actually) the sign for “all done,” along with the words, and I was as responsive as humanly possible when she wanted more of something. Also, when she started playing instead of eating or said or signed that she was through, I promptly cleaned her up and got her down.
No fuss, no muss, and no tears in the high chair.
I figure you can’t make a kid eat, but you can teach them to enjoy meal time and decide when they’re done.
9 Use A Public Potty
So you’ve mastered going pee, at least, on the little training potty. Or, er, your toddler has, I mean. Maybe you’ve even starting sitting on that big, glorious porcelain thrown sometimes.
And then, there’s the public restroom.
It’s not always clean. It’s often noisy, with loud, rushing flushes, strangers making various sounds, and of course the dreaded hand-dryer.
How in the world, then, do you get your toddler to sit and do their business in there? But you sort of have to, because you are potty-training, and yet you also must eventually be able to leave the house.
It just came to me one day: The public library where we went to storytime most weeks had a little bathroom in the children’s section complete with a smaller-than-average toilet. It wasn’t the really mini type you see in some daycares and preschools, but it certainly was much more approachable.
I acted so excited that there was a potty “just your size!!!” — and it worked. My toddler warmed right up to it and from there quickly started going in whichever toilet we happened to be near.
A whole new world of freedom opened up.
8 Try A New Food
First of all, I was recently given a book, or my toddlers were, anyway: an anthology of short Daniel Tiger stories, and there is one all about trying a new food. For this age group, that stuff (presented by the sweet young tiger cub originally presented in puppet form in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood back in the day) is captivating, and it makes sense on their level. So you might check that out (as well as tales about parents coming back to pick you up from school, parents and toddlers taking the time to breathe and count before reacting negatively, and more).
My tricks for getting little kiddos to eat are… eat something yourself without really offering it, and if you are clearly enjoying it, they are gonna want a piece of the action.
The other thing, I found, to remember is not giving up. You might have to offer a new food many, many times before they try it or before they like it. Try to remember that whatever small portions you’re wasting in offering it are probably worth it to guide your child into being a healthy eater.
Also, I just offer as much variety as I can, and nudge myself to get different stuff at the store when I realize we’ve been in a same-stuff-every-week funk.
Ask your friends what they’ve been eating / serving, too, for inspiration.
7 Leave The Scene Of The Fun Without A *Scene*
Listen up, because this is a big one. It might be the most practically important point in this whole list, actually. It’s how to get your toddler or young child to leave, say, the park without throwing a fit, having a tantrum, crashing into a meltdown, screaming at you, and generally causing an unpleasant scene for everyone.
It’s the one, the only, the 5-minute warning.
Each parent might have a different tactic, and I actually often go right to the “2-minute warning,” but here’s the approach that seems to work like a charm.
You realize it’s almost time for you to hit the road, you notice junior is fading, or it’s almost lunch time. That’s when you say (making sure that your tot is seeing and hearing you), “OK, Junior, let’s do 5 more minutes.
When about 3 minutes have passed, it’s time to give the 2-minute warning, and from there the 1-minute warming, then staying firm (no matter what) about it actually being time to leave.
Once they realize it’s happening no matter what, I’ve found that they accept the ritual of it and start skipping the fit more often than not.
6 Practice Participation
I’ve seen kids be dropped off at daycare or school kicking and screaming, or at least crying uncontrollably. I’ve seen little ones cling to their caregivers when everyone else is joining in for the tiniest of dance parties (or group games, or some other fun activity).
So how to get a little one to actually dive in and participate in that group participation activity? I have one answer: Practice makes perfect.
I mean of course I’d say that genetics, parental behavior, and personality in general play big roles. But what worked great for us (and, by the way, led to a smooth-as-butter drop-off for the first day of preschool) was beginning to attend structured group activities from a very early age.
With some kids, it takes a loooot fo patience. Diving in and participating however much you can really helps, whether it means hokey-pokeying like no one’s watching or acting like you just won the lottery when you found which shape the mouse on the felt-board was hiding behind at library story time.
I found that if you don’t force it, the participation will come.
5 Pick Up Their Toys
I can’t remember which site or forum I found this one on because it was years ago now, but I do remember reading the words of one mom who decided to throw away any toys that her kids left out on the ground. She gave her youngest, still more of a baby, I believe, some leniency, but beyond that was unmovable in this approach — because she swore that it worked to get them to clean everything up.
Not really my style, personally. Instead, I give them some assistance, remind them of the fun activity we’ll get to move onto when we’re done, and make sure that we actually have established places for each item to go.
Singing a certain tune or melody seems to work well at daycares, I’ve observed, and I’ve found that’s a good one for many tricky parenting scenarios. There are few things a song or dance (or hug, or tickling) can’t fix.
4 Have Their Hair Brushed
Oh, man. The BATTLES my mom and I would have when she tried to brush the terrible tangles out of my hair. The smell of No More Tangles spray still lingers in my memory, haunting me…
Here is, therefore, what NOT to do: Don’t wait until hair is so tangled that it’s painful to brush it out. Don’t tackle the task while it’s wet and therefore even harder to brush or come out. If it’s just so tangled or matted that you are actually ripping it by trying to get a brush or come through it, don’t do it: Try it again once you and get it wet in the bath and put some conditioner in there, running your fingers or a large-toothed come through it as you pour a bit of water over to loosen everything up.
I brush my little one’s hair daily to avoid it ever getting really knotted. And my biggest hack, which I learned with my own long locks over the years, is to always start at the very bottom and brush all the way to the ends, then working up higher and higher toward the head.
I also let her do it herself once it’s detangled and even brush mine for me sometimes, to make it fun.
3 Get ‘Sunscreened’
I know “sunscreened” isn’t a real adjective, but that’s the word we use in my little household for how we all are, like, every time we’re going to leave the house.
I’ve got this process down to such a science that it’s actually almost backfired, with my little ones occasionally screaming out if they don’t get a turn to hold the sunscreen, too, or fighting over who gets to do it first. Sigh…
But it’s better than them fighting me as I try to get it on — that last crucial step to getting out the door before spending time outside.
I discovered those baby sunscreen sticks, which for me are muuuuch easier than spreading on lotion, particularly for the face. The one we ended up sticking (sorry… can’t help it) with glides easily over the skin and fits like a charm into my small purse.
Also, I started young, so they’re super used it and accept it as a routine necessity, along with wearing sunhats. If there were any spells of resisting, I simply stood my ground unwaveringly (even if it took great patience and stopping 10 times to retrieve said hat from the sidewalk).
2 Stay Calm And Carry On During Road Trips
The first very short car trip we tried to take with my first baby was a nightmare. I don’t even want to think about it.
Then, I developed some key strategies. I’ve — no joke — written entire articles about it, but I’ll try to drop the key knowledge I’ve learned on you here.
Keep a CD or playlist / station of sing-songy children’s music on standby, but only bust it out when you need it, so you don’t have to listen to it on loop for 3 hours. That is some soothing stuff (for them).
Pack a tote of toys and books to hand back one at a time as needed to pacify your little love (who is currently being a tiny, and NOISY, tyrant).
Do all in your motherly power to leave when they are ready to be still or maybe even drift off to sleep — when they’re fed, drowsy, and ready to doze.
Stop frequently, and plan for the extra time this will take. For potty-training toddlers, pack that plastic potty along! Sure beats trying to get them to go at the gas station, or reverting completely to diapers.
(As with all things parenting, your child’s pediatrician should be your go-to about car travel safety, ’cause duh!)
1 Be Polite
You know how there’s always that one kid who just comes across as rude? Maybe they don’t understand how to be aware of where others are or respect personal space. Perhaps they are demanding and harsh where they could be kind and gentle.
How to avoid? Model being kind and polite yourself, make a real effort to coach your kids to behave in this way, and be persistent, praising good behavior with positive reinforcement.
On the most basic level, I’ve found that kids use polite language out of habit when it’s used to and around them.
From the start, we’ve used “please” and “thank you” with each other (my husband and I) and with our little ones, starting even when they were little babies.
Just like every other behavior, they imitated us and picked it right up!
Not saying they won’t need the occasional reminder… ;)
References: This one mom-of-two’s experiences, Babble.com