4 Ways to Help Toddlers Navigate Their World

I read a really great article on The Huffington Post the other day. Maybe you saw it, too.


It was called, “5 Reasons Being a Toddler is the World’s Toughest Job” by Melissa Sher of Mammalingo.


I loved how Melissa helped readers see the world from a toddler’s perspective.


She touched on several points that make life difficult for toddlers – not knowing what the rules are before they’re broken; not having control over their schedule and meals; being afraid because they don’t know how the world works; and not being able to fully communicate.


Simply becoming aware of these things can help parents avoid taking their toddler’s behavior personally, and I’d like to delve in a little deeper and offer ways to help toddlers with these difficulties.


1. Stop assuming your child knows the rules.




If you’ve never specifically said, “No drawing on the couch” – or even if you HAVE – chances are your toddler won’t know or remember.


When he does draw on the couch, don’t yell at him. You might be angry, that’s understandable. But take a deep breath and remind yourself that this is how kids learn. Calmly explain that markers are for paper only, and have him help you clean the couch.


Reinforce the rule by asking, “Where do we use markers?” and elicit the answer from your toddler to make sure he understands.


If you find that he continues to draw on the couch or the walls, calmly take away the markers, repeat the rule, and let him know he won’t have the markers for the rest of the day. As Hal Runkel of ScreamFree Parenting advises, “Let the consequences do the screaming.”


2. Give your toddler some choices.



Most parents find toddlers challenging because they’re constantly engaged in power struggles. So, here’s a secret: give them some power and you won’t have as many struggles.


One of the basic needs of all humans is a sense of autonomy. When we let kids decide some things for themselves, they’re often a lot more cooperative. In fact, the more opportunities kids have to make decisions, the more they’ll cooperate when you make decisions.


Just a caveat: too many options can be overwhelming, so limit the choices to two or three.


3. Show empathy.



Many people underestimate the power of empathy. I know first-hand that it’s difficult to show compassion when my buttons are being pushed or my child is screaming her head off.


Rather than being understanding, some parents try to fix the problem or talk their child out of feeling a certain way (i.e. “There’s nothing to be afraid of” or “Oh, stop crying. It’s not a big deal.”)


When kids feel understood, they quickly calm down. They no longer feel the need to keep acting out their emotions through crying, whining, or hitting. They feel heard and validated by the people who mean the most to them.


Expressing empathy with a toddler sounds something like, “You’re angry! Boy, are you angry! You’re so angry because you want those cookies and Mommy said, ‘No.’ That can be so frustrating!”


Yeah, I know it sounds corny. But it works! And the more you practice, the more natural it’ll sound.


Resist the urge to tack the word “but” onto the end as in, “…but you already had two cookies” or “…but I told you earlier that you couldn’t have any.” Empathy builds connection and the word “but” breaks it.


4. Become a detective.




Since toddlers literally don’t have the words to communicate what’s bothering them, parents sometimes need to play detective.


Try not to assume your child is just being difficult when he starts pulling off his shirt. Figure out whether the tag is scratching him and use your words so he learns how to tell you the next time.


Toddlers really do have a tough job, but hopefully these tips will make life easier for everyone.


In the comments below, tell me how you’ve used, or will use, one of the tips above. Your input is really helpful to other readers who may be dealing with similar challenges.


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Showing 3 comments
  • Yael

    Thank you so much! Now before summer time it’s really good to refresh my memory that he is only 3.

  • Clare Greig

    So timely. Poor little mites – they don’y know – it always gets easier when they can speak and communicate. Great post

  • Nicholette von Reiche

    Oooh loved this article Pam.

    I do most of them, but can always do with some reminding and re-phrasing. I know that when I am frustrated, my toddler’s frustration is 10x more and I try and see life through is curious, perplexed eyes.

    Thank you for another great article.

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