Dear Moms of Toddlers,
I see you. I see you parenting with all your heart. I see you delighting in everything your little one is learning.
I see you having a hard time. I see you chasing your wild child through the grocery store, having decided in a moment of bravery to take the chance and see if the toddler antics could be contained this time. Will it be adorable and pleasant? Or will you get kicked in the face by a flailing two-year-old because you simply can’t allow them to scale the shelves in the cereal aisle?
I see you using your sweetest voice, reminding your toddler, “Please use gentle touches,” “We can’t eat dog food,” “It’s time to go now. I know you are frustrated.”
I see you picking up your screaming child and carrying them out of the room, store, restaurant. I see you leaving because it’s really your only choice.
Related: 10 Tips to Tame a Tantrum
I see you at the playground, constantly on your feet, chasing your little one around, trying to stay one step ahead of this tiny human who is still a baby and suddenly in a bigger kid body.
Because that’s what toddlers are — babies in bigger kid bodies. Hence the erroneous title “Terrible Twos.”
I see you at the playground, unable to blink before your toddler picks up a handful of sand and launches it at their playmate.
I remember when it was me chasing my baby-big-kid around. I looked at other moms, sitting, socializing, drinking their coffee, checking their phones. I wondered how. How do they get to be distracted? How do they get to take a moment of rest? How is the playground a break for them?
I have good news! It will be a break for you one day, too. There will come a time when you can happily let your child play without direct supervision for an extended period. The day will come when you will be one of those moms socializing or sitting and taking a break while their child wanders off to play.
It can be exasperating sometimes. Your toddler communicates. They speak, they have preferences, they’re delightful little humans who seem like your best friend half the time.
The other half, not so much. “Why did you just have a gigantic, irrational, embarrassing meltdown when we had been having such a good time?” you might wonder when a play date or trip to the grocery store becomes much more chaotic than you had anticipated.
A toddler is much closer to a baby in terms of brain development. They don’t have much to offer yet when it comes to emotional regulation and impulse control. This is why lessons need to be repeated, this is why environments need to be toddler-proofed, this why their emotions get so huge.
Too often our society does not have room for toddlers. Too often a tantrum is seen as “bratty” behavior, rather than a totally normal, developmentally appropriate, although unfortunate phase.
Toddlers do things which, if we did those same things as adults, would have us categorized as huge jerks. Sometimes it can feel like your kid is being a jerk. But they’re not.
As the saying goes, they’re not giving you a hard time; they’re having a hard time. It’s frustrating, undoubtedly, but getting frustrated at a toddler for being unable to practice emotional regulation is the same as getting frustrated at them for being unable to learn a foreign language. It’s not personal. It’s brain development.
So what can you do? Pretend to be a Sunday school teacher with the most never-ending pool of patience in all the land. Use your sweet voice and repeat, remind, and toddler-proof. Take nothing personally, and try to smile through it.
I’ve heard the questions before: “My toddler won’t stop touching the dog’s water bowl! No matter how many times we tell him no, he won’t stop touching it! What can I do?!?” The answer is: move the bowl. That’s the only option. Every toddler in the world will touch the dog food bowl. They are tiny scientists who must explore everything. There is no disciplining, training, or punishing it out of them.
Soon enough, though, your toddler will be three, four, five, six. And they will outgrow it. Children get more and more independent every day, and eventually they will need very little from you. Sit with them in these moments for now; the moments will be over before you know it.
Image credit: Photographer Jaci Kulish