Why It's Okay to Hate Your Toddler

Hating toddlerhood?  You're not alone.

This is an actual post from a parenting group I belong to on Facebook.

Swear. To. God.

At post time, there were 171 Likes / Comments…and counting!

If you’re one of umpteen parents challenged by devilish little ones, you’re clearly not alone. Frankly, what’s not to hate? Toddlers are irrational, highly emotional, demanding – and completely powerless over their lives. A perfect storm, particularly because they possess ZERO capacity to act reasonably once they’ve hit their limit (or sooner, depending on the provocation).

It's just how they roll.

In developmental terms, they have the vital job of exploring their vast world – and asserting their (presumed) mastery of same – by any means necessary.

Fortunately there are some very effective parental workarounds for the conundrums that beset toddlers and their handlers. In this post, I share some of the most exasperating questions I hear from clients, as well as my tested and proven methods for taming the oh-so-terrible 2s and 3s!

Why can’t I stop the meltdowns?

Kids throw tantrums because they’ve completely exhausted their physical and/or psychic capacity. When we put toddlers in situations that exceed their capacity, we invite catastrophe.

That makes Rule # 1 for stopping the meltdowns to be mindful of your toddlers’ limits – and don’t exceed them.

Rule #2 is to prioritize the “red rules” – those things you and your co-parent (and other caretakers) agree are non-negotiable and always enforceable. For example, considering most toddlers are sapped by bedtime, do you really need a list of 5 hygiene-related tasks every night? Could simply brushing their teeth be the one must-do, leaving flossing, moisturizing and the like for those days when they’re in a more agreeable mood?

Rule #3. Stop talking and start doing. Even just 30 seconds of this video gone viral proves the point.

 While having a deep convo with your kiddie may seem like the in-touch-parent thing to do, “processing” with a 3-year-old is a complete waste of time and oxygen.

Picking them up and buckling them in the car in their pjs, if necessary, so you can get them to daycare and you to work? That they understand in a heartbeat.

 If I let my toddler win an argument, aren’t I teaching them that my rules don’t count?

See Rules #2 and 3. 

Plus, pick your battles. Give your children choices so they can learn to assert some control over their lives. You’ll be surprised to see just how empowered they feel when they get the opportunity to select from two options.

Don’t be surprised, however, when they select door #3 - from which you haven’t proffered a thing. But if that option doesn’t put them in danger or isn’t truly inappropriate, let it go! Rain boots on a sunny day? Plaids with stripes? Who cares! Allow your toddler to assert his or her independence on things that ultimately don’t matter.

Why is my toddler so temperamental and whiney?

Most toddlers who present that way have exhausted their capacity and you’re seeing the manifestation of that. Much of the time, whiney kids are actually hungry or tired or have some other physical or emotional need you can fulfill.

And yes, sometimes toddlers are just whiney. Remember, though, their lives are all about are wresting even a miniscule measure of control from a situation in which they are generally powerless. So when they whine or scream No about something you ask them to do, they are simply trying to assert their independence.

 Why are transitions so difficult for my toddler?

Toddlers like routine. In new or unfamiliar situations, they’re simply less resilient.

When you interrupt your established routine with a new activity or a trip, they often deal with their anxiety by whining or tantrumming. So prepare them for the transition as much as possible.

An upcoming trip? Try this: “We’re going to Grandma’s tomorrow after our Mommy and Me class. You’ll get to sleep in your cousin’s room on a special cot. Do you want to bring your bear or your blanket… or both?”  Talk about the upcoming activity in a positive way, and share the fun they will have as a result.

 Is it ever OK to spank my toddler?

In my opinion, it is never, ever okay to hit a child. I’ve raised my voice at my kids. I’ve bribed them. But I never spanked them.

Why not?

It’s not an effective strategy. It doesn’t teach them anything, except that mommy or daddy can be scary.

If you want to spank your toddler because she isn’t listening, for example, forgo the swat and figure out another way to teach him to listen. As the adult, it’s your job to experiment with multiple ways to make your point so your child learns what you expect from them.

Speaking of raised voices… save your SUPER voice for truly dangerous situations. You want your toddler to hear that voice and freeze.

 How should I respond to my very picky toddler when it comes to food?

Again, choice is helpful here. Keep healthy foods cut up and accessible.

Make new foods available. Don’t try to cajole your kids into eating them, but be sure they see you eating them! Try not to give them their staple favorites at each meal, or they will be inclined to shy away from new options. Be willing to keep trying, but know it may take a while for picky toddlers to adjust. 

I promise they won’t starve themselves, however. Eventually they’ll get hungry enough and will eat something you’ve provided. If you’re still not sold, there are plenty of picky-eater tricks to try online.

 I’m a stay-at-home parent. What do I do with my toddlers all day long?

Toddlerhood can be especially tough for stay-at-home parents who don’t love this age. If you fall into this category – as do a lot of cerebral and verbal people who want their kids to get their puns – I want you to feel permission not to love these toddlin’ years.

Regardless of your predilections, the same solution applies. You’ve got to find ways to use your community. Meet up with other moms of toddlers. The kids need toddler-to-toddler interaction, and it also helps them to hear from and interact with other adults.  

Leverage every low- and no-cost opportunity your community provides – and there are plenty. Libraries. Bookstores. Toy stores with play stations. Indoor malls.

Distraction is what you’re after.

If you need to spend the morning at the service station while your car is serviced, pack a bag with 15-20 things that will amuse your kids for at least 5 minutes each. If you need to take a shower – give your toddler a morning bag with several toys, keep the bathroom door open and scrub-a-dub.

Toddlerhood may make you feel imprisoned at times, but remember…it’s not a life sentence. These few years – and all those adorable things your kid says and does – will be over before you know it. 

When is the best time to make the transition from crib to toddler bed?

Hold out as long as you can! I wouldn’t take a toddler out of a crib until they demonstrated a full ability to climb out of it. In fact, pad the area around the crib and wait until your toddler’s dismount is a perfect 10!

I kid.

If your toddler can be in a crib comfortably and safely – I say leave them there. Why make the transition before you need to? Their development will not be impaired. When you think about it, a crib is just a toddler bed with safety rails.

Whenever you decide to make the switch, make sure the rest of their life is relatively calm, and do what you can to ease the transition for your toddler.

 Is co-sleeping okay?

Co-sleeping is an individual decision. I personally think it’s better for parents to be alone and for toddlers to learn to self-soothe, so it wasn’t the right choice for me.

Most experts say it’s OK if it doesn’t create tension between parents – and as long as the child isn’t totally dependent on co-sleeping.

 Should I make a point to interest my children in non-gender-traditional toys and activities or let them choose?  

It’s always important to be thoughtful about the toys you’re bringing into the house. Truth is, though, I bought my older son dolls, and he used them as projectiles. He even pretended carrots were pistols.

My other son, born after my daughter, did play dolls with her – until the day, unprovoked, he declared those days were over.

Interesting, from the ages of 2-4, that same son carried a purse (black patent leather with a pink heart!) that held all his little toy planes and trucks. He just liked to have his belongings with him. At 4, he unceremoniously traded in his purse for a knapsack.

 

It’s safe to say toddlers absorb some gender-identify info from a variety of sources, including toy stores, and opinions on gender-specific toys vary widely. My opinion? Be mindful of what you buy –and of your own bias – and then do what you believe is right.  

 Is there a right or wrong time to send my toddler to preschool or daycare?

I’m going to fall back on the “personal choice” option here. Well, that…and an honest understanding of your tolerance level for this stage.

If you have the freedom to be home and explore the world with your kids…

If you (generally) love doing so…

And you’re good with giving your toddlers ample opportunities to socialize with other toddlers…

Then feel free to keep them at home with you. What’s important developmentally is that kids begin to practice individuation from Mommy and Daddy at this point of their young lives – but they don’t need to go to school to do so.

If you’re not in love with toddlerhood, or you need coverage, by all means, enroll your child in a preschool or daycare program that gives you the respite you need to be the best parent possible when you trek home, toddler in tow.

Here’s the crux: You don’t want your child to get to kindergarten without being socially exposed to other toddlers and adults. Beyond that, do what works for your family -- although I’m not sure I’d endorse the following option (also a FB entry.)

Why is it so hard to remember that, as the parent, I am in control?

I understand that it feels as if you are being held hostage to your toddlers’ irrational demands. But feelings aren’t facts.

Naturally, you can’t lock them in room and walk away. Your job as a parent is to stay in control despite their protestations (NO! I can do it myself! Mine! “Listen to me, Linda!”)

Toddlers aren’t the only ones with finite capacity for life’s frustrations. Parents, especially the caretakers of toddlers, don’t get enough sleep and may not be eating as healthily as possible. But even when you are not feeling particularly resilient, it’s important to continually remind yourself that you ARE in control.

Here’s the last word on taming your toddler: When things don’t go according to plan, don’t negotiate, legislate!

And enjoy the ride!

 

How to Support – and Set Limits - for Toddlers, Tweens and Teens Post-Divorce

 

In a previous post I outlined the top four reasons co-parents need to be extra vigilant post-divorce. To recap… co-parents ought to do whatever it takes to make the period immediately post-divorce as secure and protective an experience for our children as we can.

BUT.

As vulnerable, anxious and upended as your children’s lives may be, divorce isn’t an excuse for bad behavior.

I can practically hear you thinking, “Really?”

Really.

Many newly divorced feel guilty that the marriage didn’t work – and even guiltier that kids have to pay part of the price. But tough times…even as tough as divorce…don’t give your kids the right to process their feelings and emotions in ways that are disrespectful to you or their siblings, break house rules, or, well, break anything.

Here’s a news flash: Your divorce won’t be the last emotionally negative experience your kid has to endure. Bad things happen in life all the time. As parents, our job is to help our children develop tools that allow them to navigate difficult times. In fact, research shows that not only do most children of divorce have healthy adulthoods, it’s how you parent post-divorce that makes the biggest difference in how your children recover…not the divorce itself.

In this post, I wanted to outline the key behaviors your Toddlers, Tweens and Teens may exhibit post-divorce, as well as several ways to support them and, ultimately, your family, through the process. 

 

Toddlers.

The most resilient of the three age groups, toddlers can easily adapt to the new normal because they don’t have mindful reference points for pre- and post-divorce. What they may notice is that Daddy or Mommy isn’t around as much, and they may experience separation anxiety regarding the more-absent parent.

 

There are two basic signposts your toddler is feeling stressed: Shifts in sleeping and eating patterns, which you can address in your customary ways, and tantrums. Given their undeveloped prefrontal cortex, anxious or stressed toddlers often simply lose it.

 

What to do?  Offer your teed-off tots their “angry bear” or “angry pillow” so they have a tangible object to be mad at. And make it clear that hitting one’s brother or biting sister isn’t an option.  Be especially mindful that transitions can be challenging for toddlers, so consider that when planning the custody schedule.

 

Tweens. 

School-aged children tend to be the ones who are the most surprised, scared, and worried when you tell them you’re divorcing. They don’t know what to expect, and even if they did, they have little agency to affect it.

 

Tweens are also more likely to be highly vigilant about your feelings – and act accordingly. If they feel Mom is vulnerable, they won’t say they’re scared for fear it could make her more upset. Walking on eggshells becomes their go-to method for navigating what feels like shaky territory. You may also notice them isolating from both family and friends, as well as some changes in their sleep, eating, and energy habits.

 

What to do?  Validate their feelings. Give voice to their concerns. Make sure they know you’re aware they’re having a difficult time. Invite them to share their feelings. Encourage them to visit friends and engage in favored activities.

 

It’s important to keep the conversation going, because you never know what you’ll learn. For example, when I divorced 8 years ago, talking to my school-aged kids revealed they were particularly worried about their Dad, who had moved out of our family home. I reassured them it wasn’t a betrayal of me to check on their father.

 

Cautionary note: Don’t let your issues be their concern. Take the opportunity to share your emotional experience with measured, age-appropriate honesty. It’s possible to tell your kids you’re sad without revealing the level of devastation you may be feeling. For example, I remember those first few weekends they were gone I missed them terribly, but I didn’t tell them that.  I dealt with it with my friends and my therapist– and then happily listened to them recount their exploits when they came home Sunday evening.

 

Teens.

Your high-schoolers will likely be the least surprised of all. In fact, your announcement may just validate their felt-sense that all was not well with your marriage. But often their “aha” moment is accompanied by anger at feeling deceived.

 

More emotional outbursts and rebelliousness than “normal” – as well as a dip in academic performance - are telltale signs your teen is feeling the stress of the family rupture. And don’t be surprised if your friends-focused teen becomes even more so. They may even find a special comfort in their BFs – and their BFs’ homes.

 

What to do?  It’s crucial teens know that you and your co-parent are there for them. Assure them they can speak their mind, as well as have a little distance from you if needed, as long as they do so in respectful and agreed-upon ways. All kids, but especially teens, need to know they have a right to feel badly, but not to act badly. If they weren’t allowed to swear at you before your divorce (and let’s hope not!), they don’t get a pass to do so now.

 

BTW, post-divorce is a time when all kids should have the opportunity to talk to a therapist if they need to – or if you think they need to. In the latter case, even just a few sessions offer a safe and private place for kids to share their truth with an objective adult.

 

My kid seems to be doing fine. Should I be looking for signs of trouble?

Each child comes to terms with divorce differently. Some will be immediately sad, while others may need more time to process the information. Denial, sometimes coupled by the fantasy that Mom and Dad will reunite, is also a perfectly normal response.

 

Another cautionary note: A muted initial response doesn’t mean that things will stay calm or good. There are a lot of transitional moments post-divorce, and feelings and reactions can be delayed.

 

Naturally, no one would advocate divorce as a life-skills “teaching moment.” But in my personal experience and with my coaching clients, when co-parents stay alert, present and in good communication with their kids and one another, divorce can be a situation from which the entire family recovers.