Toddler Tips: The Tiny Tots

(Toddler proof barrier: This is the way my living room sometimes looked when Patrick was a young toddler and the older kids didn't want him wrecking whatever they were bulding.)

There is an age between the time when a baby starts toddling (and is officially a 'toddler') and when they develop the will to be able to understand and obey directives.

This is the stage where they will hurdle head first down stairs. They will wiggle and squiggle to get down and want to run in church. When you take them to a party, your only job is to make sure they don't pull off tablecloths, pour someone's forgotten drink onto themselves, pick up every object and put it in their mouths or fling it, tear out all the pots and pans, play in the toilet and run, run, run.  It is a time of intense activity, it is a time when a mother's heart drops at least once a day when she sees what could have potentially happened with those active feet and hands and tipsy body.  It tests the patience on those hard days and it takes lots and lots of energy.

It is important to remember that they are wired for exploration and discovery.  It's really as if their brains and bodies are making them try again and again. Movement in and of itself is critical at that stage of human development. There are connections with the brain as exploration of one's world takes over with great energy. The little one is truly driven to explore and manipulate his surroundings. The child is self constructing herself from all that surrounds her. It is her drive toward independence!

Here is my advice:
-Keep in mind that this is a short period of time that requires intense parental guidance. It will get easier!

-Do everything in your might to place them in hard environments as rarely as possible.  Make your home environment as safe as possible, so you can relax a little and they can explore. Your home with this age should be your oasis-where the toddler can explore all he or she wants and not have to worry about hearing no, no, no constantly or being under your thumb so that you cannot get a thing done.  I usually barricaded stairs and made sure bathroom doors were closed (and yes, older kids forget sometimes!) but I put lamps up, kept drawers and cabinets that were down low full of things I knew were safe for them to explore, and rubber banded the ones that weren't ok, and let them have free reign.  Dr. Sears calls this creating a "yes" environment.

In my experience it was never enough for them and just frustrating to keep the toddler in one "play room"-they wanted to follow me and I wanted to be able to move somewhat freely around my house. To me, cleaning up a mess of pots and pans. or Tupperware, or a craft basket filled with yarn and paint brushes for them to explore, was easier than constantly keeping them away from things, and it also bought me precious time to cook or clean or help with homework. I just cleaned up the messes as I went along the day, embracing that this was the stage we were in right now.

-Pay attention to YOUR patience level. It is okay to say no to trivial outings and events and environments that might just push you beyond your patience level, and your little one beyond their ability to stay still.  There will be time for these things in the future! When they are necessary, knowing ahead of time that it wasn't going to be a time when I could fully socialize and accepting that it would be hard work made it easier and gave me more patience.

-Redirect, redirect, redirect. Distract and divert.

-Don't project into the future. Just because they don't listen to "no" now, does not mean they will be naughty rebellious children and teenagers.  They aren't purposely trying to drive us mad, nor are they at all old enough to be manipulative and conniving.  Be patient, be present, be "on the ball", and have fun with them.  They can still learn "gentle", "hot", "no touch", "yucky" etc, but it will have to be repeated and we will have to be engaged, not yelling across the room, expecting them to obey.

-Stay calm. Calm parenting makes for calm children. They are still just babies!  They are so so trusting and loving and easy to smile. They don't need strict, punitive discipline, this will backfire. They need tender loving care, and a settled, appropriate environment while they explore their world.


  1. I love that bit from Dr Sears to create a Yes environment- such a positive way to look at it (vs baby proofing which sounds so restrictive). We did the same as you - made life easier for sure. My older kids could only play with tiny toys during nap times or in a place that was closed off (love the barricade in your family room - hysterical!). I can't stress this enough - events for your older kids can be so hard for little ones. I see parents getting frustrated or having to walk the halls and miss a concert or sports event. Take turns staying at home with the little ones - the parent at the event can be fully present for your older child and the little one can relax in a familiar environment vs everyone frustrated or diverted. So much easier to divide and conquer. Same thing with family events - we would go for a short time or whatever- there are plenty of opportunities after they grow past that time intense period of constant attention. Whatever I thought I missed was outweighed by a quiet afternoon with baby/toddler( and maybe a nap or quiet time for mom!)

  2. I love this post. I'm in this stage with child #4 right now and I have dreaded its coming for months. It's just so hard! The messes created by my "yes" environment house make me anxious and drive my husband crazy. It's so important to remember this is just a season. Love your tip to pay attention to my personal patience level...which seems to be pretty low! Thanks for your words and all your tips, I love learning from your experience!

  3. Amen! I told Dave just today that for the first time ever, Simon pushed me to my patience limit before Nora did. He's just into EVERYTHING. He can climb anything, figure out any child safety or prevention I try to put in place, and he's so determined. Today he covered his shirt in gak and colored all over his face with marker while I was changing a diaper. Then he broke a sibling's favorite toy and catapulted off the couch onto another toy and hurt his foot. He almost pulled a whole bowl of flour off the counter while I was baking and tripped down the bottom third of the steps before dinner (and that's just a few of the many instances today!) Sigh... thanks for the encouragement!

  4. At 20 months, redirecting doesn't work anymore for my little. He knows what he wants and has a strong enough will to keep at it. Trying to redirect just makes for louder, longer crying/hitting fits. He is old enough to understand "no" and simple explanations though.

    He wants to "cook" at the real stove and is big enough to move a chair over to the stove to accomplish his plan. Or he sees me cooking and saddles up alongside me. I just roll with it and hand him a wooden spoon. ;) Creating a space for him to learn and explore and imitate shows him respect and encourages his independence.

    It is, as you say, "a short period of time". Let's make the most of it... for their sake and ours mamas!

  5. When I started reading your blog, I had two children. Now I am 43 and we have five - ages 23 to 2. I found myself getting frustrated with #5 a lot and it was because I had forgotten all about toddlers. Thank you for the loving encouragement and reminder that this stage passes all too quickly.

  6. Do you have any tips on 5/6 year old boys, who have been strong willed, angry, energetic, emotional, loud, up and down with moods since birth??? Not meaning to sound sarcastic or silly, I'm genuine with any seasoned mother tips.

    Love all your wisdom on here, i defenitely don't have any mother mentors within my family, but lots of lovely women at church. Always looking for more guidance :)