So you’re going to have a toddler! Advice for moms of one-to-two year-olds

I shared how I asked for baby advice before Beatrice was born, and when it came time for her first birthday, I found that I needed some more advice! My baby was quickly turning into a toddler, and I need to do some homework before we developed bad habits and got ourselves into a mess. So I went back to my same group of trusted, been-there, done-that mamas, and asked for helped.

In addition to the regular advice I had two particular questions for the group: what to get her for her birthday, and how to manage her growing hair. (Keep it constantly trimmed? Barrettes? Bangs? Why isn’t this covered in the books?!)

My sample size was four moms with a collective total of five girls and two boys. (I tried to ask only those friends who actively had a toddler). And I did get some conflicting advice… it seems for some kids the toddler years were hard and then the preschool years easier, but for others, it was the opposite.

I was so grateful to have a glimpse into what my year held for me and what I’d need to study up on. We’re now at 15 months and it’s so fun seeing her vocabulary and language comprehension grow, as well as her physical and social skills. But yes, there is also the feet stomping, the food throwing,  the chair climbing, and many other things that ensure that I fall asleep exhausted every night!

Here’s what they said!

EATING

Toddlers are pretty notorious for their picky eating (and/or lack of eating). My youngest is a pretty good eater in general, but she certainly has days and meals where she just refuses to eat (and she still won’t touch vegetables of any kind). I tell myself quite often that she’ll eat when she’s hungry and she won’t starve herself.

You have to roll with it at dinner. If your child is picky, don’t push it. We give her the gummy bear multi-vitamins, she eats the occasional bite of veggies, and we don’t have battle royale at the dinner table.

My toddlers were not at all picky and with the exception of it being a giant mess, dinner time was much more pleasant than it is now. So my advice on dinner is enjoy it while it lasts. Toddlers are adventurous eaters who want to try what Mom and Dad are eating. They might spit it out, but that’s okay – they tried it. But it is completely not worth stressing about what your toddler is or is not eating. They perfectly self-regulate. I’ve had an 18-month-old eat four meatballs at a sitting and then refuse any protein food for a week. Ditto with broccoli-all of a sudden he can’t get enough. Their bodies know what they need and we’d all be healthier and better off if we could retain that skill! When a toddler is full, he stops eating.

HAIR

Our girls have always had fairly decent amounts of hair…so I’ve done the trimming myself. Neither kid wanted anything to do with headbands or barrettes as a toddler, so I cut in some bangs so that it wasn’t always in their face. My youngest is better about it now, so I’m letting hers grow out. I started trimming hers when she was about 1.5? That’s when it started to get really long and shaggy. It’s super fine, but there’s only so much “baby mullet” I can bear to look at.

We started at about 6-9 months but only because she had a terrible mohawk and we had no choice. We tried bangs but the upkeep was too much, lots easier to grow them out and clip them to the side or pony them up. The barrettes that you bend to open or just pinch to open were easiest for my husband to figure out (FYI).

Beatrice with her first ponytail.

REDIRECTION, STAYING FLEXIBLE, AND SEEING WHAT WORKS FOR YOUR KID

The biggest challenge at this age is that they are very curious and therefore do all kinds of things they aren’t supposed to. They also like to test their limits and do things they aren’t supposed to over and over to see your reaction. You hear a lot about “redirection” at this age, i.e. when they are doing something they aren’t supposed to you are supposed to redirect their attention to something else (rather than scold them or just remove them from whatever they are doing). I was pretty good at doing that with my oldest and it worked well for her. My youngest is a completely different story, she is a very selective listener and if she wants to do something she’s not supposed to she completely ignores any attempts at redirection. So… I just take her away from whatever situation it is and if she fusses about it I just let her. She eventually moves on and finds something else to do (that she’s not supposed to). So, I guess my advice is to try different approaches and figure out what works best for your child.

One thing that works great is distraction, it’s so easy and so effective. Try not to say no too often. If she’ going for the oven, say “hot”, if she’s heading for the stairs say “owie” or something. They hate to hear no so don’t use it unless you have too, it only makes her want to do it even more.

I struggle a lot with discipline. I learned, however, that you have to always be willing to give up on a technique you think should work but doesn’t. Case in point: My oldest responded very well to time outs. We began between 18-20 months (though I would argue now we should have done it later), and when she broke one of the “three rules” (more on that later), into the chair she went. She sat, quietly, and it generally cleared up the bad behavior for at least that day, which in toddler time is forever. My youngest, on the flip side, learns nothing from time outs – she screams, kicks, runs out of them, bangs her head on the floor, and generally has no idea why we’d do this to her. She learns nothing because she’s too busy losing her mind about being in the time out to begin with. So, with her, I simply give her choices — either you stop hitting mommy, or you’re in the time out. Threats work with this kid, don’t ask me why.

TANTRUMS

My son had lots of tantrums and frustrated meltdowns, and all toddlers do, but you just have to help them through it. They don’t have the emotional or communication skills to know what to do with their frustration, and they don’t have the premeditation skills to think “if I throw this tantrum I will get my way.” That comes later and you’ve got to be vigilant about that.

Tantrums will happen! Don’t feel bad, don’t get embarrassed, and most of all, DON’T GIVE IN. EVER! The key is to stop them before they start. Our daughter has never responded to punishment but positive reinforcement will pay off like you won’t believe If you can’t stop it, remove them from the store (or where ever you are) and ignore it. If you are at home, leave the room and ignore it. She will eventually realize this won’t get her very far.

FOCUSING

We have the “three rule” system in our house. Pick the three biggest things you can’t live with as part of their behavior, and focus on those. Now, granted, that’s not a perfect system, because you have to correct bad behavior, but with toddlers you could seriously yell at them for everything. So we have whining, biting/hitting, and shrieking on our list for our toddler. These change as they get older (our oldest works on respect, truth, and responsibility), but they seem to get that there’s three rules you just don’t mess with.

TOYS

  1. Little People (unanimously!) (Bee loves the songs they play, and of course Adam and I know every word to “Tow and Pull” and “Stop and Go” as well by now.)
  2. Big wooden piece puzzles, especially those with the knobs to hold the pieces.
  3. Tomy Eggs
  4. Cell phone
  5. Curious George board books, the “That’s Not My ___ ” series from Usbourne Touchy Feely Books, and any board books with flaps or that make music. (“That’s not my kitten” is probably Beatrice’s favorite book)
  6. Classics like stacking toys, nesting cups, balls, blocks and anything with buttons.
  7. Simple role-playing toys that mimic what they see adults doing (tea set, vacuum cleaner, etc.).
  8. Pushing/riding toys 
  9. A play kitchen (they grow into it during the year). (Bee got one from her great-aunt and loves it!)
  10. LeapFrog music table (Another favorite. Bee likes to play her favorite songs and dance to them).

Bee with the neighbor’s doll stroller. She’s not interested in dolls yet, but very interested in pushing things.

PARTING WISDOM

At about one year, I stopped reading too many reference books, but I did find the “What to expect” toddlers book helpful every once in a while. Mostly when I wanted to know if the aggressive and bizarre behavior was normal (It was. Every time. Toddlers are nuts. But funny.)

Never attempt to rationalize or “discuss” with a toddler. They won’t get it, and you’ll end up drinking too much.

There is generally an explosion in verbal communication during the 12-24 month time. Try to get as much of it on video as you can so you don’t forget it. It’s definitely a super cute (but super frustrating) age!

Toddlers are big kids by day, babies by night. It’s pretty much awesome.

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Comments

  1. First-time mom with a 14 mo boy… this was helpful! Thanks!

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