Being a toddler parent is HARD. Every day is a new challenge, but at the same time, every day is a new adventure and it’s so wild to see how quickly they grow, learn, and evolve! It’s true that every age is the best age, and it just keeps getting better–but with new phases always come new challenges, too! I can’t believe in just four months, June will be two. 😭 She’s feeling and acting every bit of a two year old already, so I thought I would pull together some tips and tricks that have helped me, as well as some crowd-sourced life-hack tips from you all, too! (If you missed part one of the crowdsourced life hacks, see this post!)
If you’re in the thick of toddlerhood, I hope these tips can help you too! Remember, nobody ever has it figured out. And if they claim they do–they’re lying. 😂
13 Life hacks for parenting toddlers
1. Streamline transitions at much as possible:
Transitions are really hard developmentally for toddlers. Imagine if someone just came up to you in the middle of you doing something, picked you up against your will, and made you do something else. Now think about having to deal with that 15 times in a single morning, except that you can’t speak, and you haven’t developed the right tools to process the transitions emotionally and it feels like your world is melting over and over and over again. That sucks!
There are lots of ways to help cope with transitions to make them easier (this is a helpful article) but June is still so little, it’s hard to implement those in a way that make sense for her just yet. Of course, we try, but the reality is that there are SO many transitions within just one morning routine alone, that I thought it would be easier for both of us to try to pare down the transitions as much as possible, while still helping ease her through the transitions that are inevitable. It’s much less daunting to deal with, say, 5 transitions as a little kid than 15.
This is basically the theme of most tips you’re going to see in this post–ways to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. This has made our lives SO much easier lately, and I hope these help you too! Approaching every “routine” through the lens of “paring down” the transitions, the easier it has been for both of us, and the less stressful, and more rewarding parenting is!
2. Put your toddler to bed in their outfit for the next day
Alternative: lay their outfit out the night before, and change their clothes FIRST thing when you’re changing their diaper.
One of the hardest transitions of our morning routine is getting June dressed. Trying to get her changed after breakfast was always like a three ring circus full of meltdowns, but this trick has changed our mornings. Do away away with pajamas and just put them to bed in their clothes for the morning. Truly, this sounds bizarre, and I even thought it sounded a little awful the first time I heard of a parent doing it, but then I realized, the clothes I send her to school in are basically glorified pajamas anyway. (She’s wearing comfy matching sets, it’s not like she’s wearing jeans!) so if it’s going to feel the same to her, and make our lives easier, why would’n’t I give it a try?
It is a GAME CHANGER. Try it. When you walk out of their room with them ALREADY read to go out the door, you’ll feel like a super hero and it just eliminated like 10 awful steps from your morning routine. I finally convinced my friend to do this and she texted me the next morning like 🤯.
Added bonus: this cuts down on laundry big time, because you aren’t washing pajamas nearly as much!!
(Tip: If they’re eating something messy for breakfast, just take their shirt off to eat and put it back on before you pull them out of the high chair.)
3. Get yourself dressed and ready before getting them out of the crib
This is the other thing that was really stressing me. I was having to fight with her to get her changed and ready, and then having to figure out how to watch her while I was getting myself ready (while she inevitably tore up the entire house and left a huge mess). Now, I get out of bed, immediately change and make myself presentable enough for school drop-off. Ideally I will be up before her to have a little time to myself in the morning.
Other times she wakes up early and is fussy and wants to get out of her crib before I’m even out of bed. That’s fine, she can wait, and it’s a helpful exercise in patience anyway. If she’s really cranky, we will give her a milk cup to drink to buy us some time while we speed change. Bottom line is that you can’t always control whether or not you’re up before they are, but you can control whether or not you’re ready when you go to get them!
4. Give them milk or a healthy pouch while you’re changing their diaper first thing in the AM
Speaking of milk, and things that triggered meltdowns, June REALLY hates having her diaper changed these days. She doesn’t want to lay on her changing table, and she would immediately start kicking when we took her out of her crib and laid her on the changing table in the morning. Again, this is where something like a little milk in a sippy cup or a healthy pouch will come in to keep her busy and curb her hanger. (I love Once Upon a Farm’s pouches–they help sneak in veggies and have no added sugar! JESS30 will get you 30% off on their website! They are an Instagram sponsor but this blog post isn’t sponsored, by the way!) As soon as I started doing this, voila–no more power struggle on the changing table!
Tip: You can also do this with a bottle if your baby is younger and starting to hate having their diaper changed!
5. Put on music in the morning and at night (or anytime they’re usually cranky).
I have yet to meet a toddler who doesn’t love music, and it has the power to shift June’s mood immensely. She loves singing and dancing, and it helps US start the day in a better mood too! (We usually play our own favorite upbeat songs, but sometimes will mix in some Frozen or Encanto or whatever she’s loving lately. It doesn’t have to be kid music!)
6. Make a smoothie to sneak in more protein and veggies in the AM or snack time.
Some of you said morning smoothies are an essential part of your routine to sneak more veggies into your toddler’s diet! I love making a green smoothie for myself and June, too! (When I have time.) I love the Blendtopia smoothie starter kits from Whole Foods.
FYI, you can also batch them and pour them in your toddlers cups (I have these smoothie cups for June) ahead of time and store them in the fridge!
7. Do their hair (or any other finishing touches) while they’re eating breakfast
Clean their face, do their hair, even put on their socks and shoes–whatever–use the time when they’re distracted by eating breakfast and contained in their high chair to your advantage!
8. Serve veggies and hummus before their main for dinner
When you first put them in their high chair for dinner, give them veggies with a dip like hummus or tzatziki (or ranch, or ketchup, or whatever gets them to eat their veggies!) FIRST. This obviously won’t work for every kid, but it definitely works for us! (A lot of times, not always–always try something a few times. It’s always a crapshoot! 😂) They’re more likely to eat veggies when: 1. they’re the only option available and they’re hungry. Otherwise, obviously they will choose to fill up on noodles and only noodles, for example. (I learned this trick in Bringing Up Bebe.) and 2. When the veggies are accompanied by a tasty dip. June loves hummus and I love that it’s healthy, but Tzatziki is another good option–and of course, ranch if all else fails.
9. Sprinkle LOTS of paci’s in their crib at night
I learned this from my friend Kate and it’s a trick also endorsed by Peaceful Littles. As soon as your baby is old enough to reach for their own pacifier, you will want to put this trick into action. If they’ve been waking you up at night crying because they can’t find one–litter and I mean LITTER their crib with pacifiers. Like, 8-10 of them. Every Paci you own–throw in there, and you will have no more night wakings for pacifiers!
10. A few tips for brushing teeth:
- Brush teeth in the bath to knock out two things at once (again, reducing transitions!)
- The Wiggles tooth brushing app and the Elmo tooth brushing song on Youtube will help get your little excited to brush teeth! (Do it with the videos!)
- If brushing in the bath doesn’t work, try having your kid lay down on the floor like this to brush their teeth.
11. If they’re unzipping their sleep sack and taking off their diaper, put the sleep sack on backwards.
This one is pretty self explanatory but it seems like a lot of toddlers go through a phase where they strip off their sleep sack, clothes, and diaper. (JOY.) 😂 Putting their sleep sack backwards so they can’t reach the zipper is a super easy solve!
12. Read them their bedtime story after you put them down in the crib
Despite having a pretty consistent bedtime routine, lately June has been having a REALLY hard time transitioning when it’s time to actually get in the crib–so much so that she melts down when we ask her which book she wants to read, because she knows what’s next is bed. She also was having a really hard time quieting down/sitting to read (and was still trying to sprint all over the house like a mad woman) so I tried putting her down in the crib and then sitting next to her crib to read the book. (This way she was contained AND she had something to look forward to after getting in the crib–it wasn’t the last step anymore) and this seems to have worked really well! Might be worth trying if you are having similar troubles!
13. Ask for help, tap out when you need to, and take time for yourself
I know this is easier said than done, but it’s so important to outsource wherever you can, hire the babysitter when you can, figure out how to get time away with yourself and also with your partner. Schedule it or it will never happen. Budget for it however you need to. Get creative (if a sitter isn’t in the budget, could you babysit a friend’s kid one night and then trade off every other weekend so you can both have regular date nights?)
Bottom line: You cannot build a good life for your children on a shaky foundation. Society might want you to think otherwise, but taking care of yourself isn’t selfish and it’s not optional. A childhood of being raised by happy, healthy parents is the best gift you could ever give them. So stop with the mom guilt already and get some fun, restorative things on the books!
Also, if you are losing your mind mid-tantrum, and you need to tap out–do so. (If you’re able). TELL your partner that you need them to take over and you need a second. (My friend Molly even has noise cancelling earphones she puts on when she needs to, and has her husband take over!) Everyone has their limits and parents get overstimulated, just like toddlers! Knowing your limits and planning around them is not a weakness, it’s a gift.
14. Repeat this mantra to yourself when they’re having a hard time: It’s hard to be a toddler!
I wrote a whole blog post on this, but mindset is really the most effective thing in my toolbox when dealing with an emotional volatile toddler. It’s really easy to watch your kid melting down for the 5th time that morning (over NOTHING) and think they’re being a manipulative terrorist–but they aren’t!
It’s HARD to be that little–to not be able to voice your frustrations, to communicate what you want, and to not have the ability to regulate yourself. (Hell I’ve had almost 35 years of practice and I still have a hard time regulating my emotions sometimes, why would I ever expect that of a tiny being who has been on the earth less than two years?)
I’ve found that taking a deep breath, physically getting down on her level, saying OUT LOUD and in a loving voice, “I know, it’s hard to be a toddler” (something about saying it aloud is very important) allows me to empathize with her rather than give in to the urge to fight against her. I know this is easier said than done, but it really works! If you can’t Jedi mind trick your toddler, Jedi mind trick yourself! 😂
It’s impossible to reason with a toddler who is flipping out, but you can help them calm down by being calm yourself, and help them move through it faster, which is ideal for everyone involved!
(Ask me how this is going when she’s able to talk back and tell me I’m ruining her life–I’m only anticipating it to get more challenging, but hopefully the more practice I have, the easier it will be? 😜)
I hope these tips are helpful–thanks to everyone who weighed in, and you are doing amazing! I know, because you took the time to read this, and that means you’re trying, and that you care! Your baby is so lucky to have you. Keep up the great work. Cheers!
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