Raising toddlers is hard work. It brings a whole new set of challenges. I felt ready and prepared for those challenges. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the transition from parenting a baby to parenting a toddler. Of course, Now Boo is a bit older, ‘no’ is a very well used word in our house. Boundaries are much more clearly and firmly defined. This post was written when she was still very little and wasn’t quite ready for strong discipline. She very much needed a gentle approach …
When to start saying no to your toddler
Actually, I try not to say no. But I’ll come to that later. But now that Boo isn’t a baby I do have clearer boundaries in place. Boundaries to keep her safe. Boundaries to keep her healthy. Boundaries to help her emotional development. But I found the transition to toddlerhood really confusing. There is a wealth of knowledge about raising babies. And a wealth of knowledge about raising toddlers. But I couldn’t find much telling me when or how to make the switch.
So I turned to my village: my friends and family who are full of wisdom and love. I trusted my instincts. And I trusted Boo. Here are some things I have learned so far:
1. There are some things that are really inconvenient to us as parents, but really important to your child’s development
Mess: using hands and feet to squeeze, squelch, splash, throw, crush, roll … it’s all brilliant for babies and toddlers. When babies and toddlers play with their food, they aren’t being naughty. They are being scientists. They are performing experiments to learn about the world around them. I actually embraced this right from the start. I let Ivy splash in water. She played with her food when I followed baby led weaning. She used finger paints. She played with sand. She explored.
But now she is older the potential for mess is much greater. It’s suddenly not great for me. This morning she threw her coloured rice everywhere. It even ended up in my knickers. I can’t blame her – it looked really fun. But this kind of mess is not OK. So we packed up the activity and Boo had to help tidy (see photo above – swiffer mop for the win!). I didn’t tell her off. It’s part of her learning. But I set a boundary that making it messy everywhere is not ok. I said, “Oh dear. There’s a big mess. Time for us to tidy now.” The mess needs to be contained or it’s game over. She knew that and accepted that game had finished. Reading about developmental stages for toddlers has really helped me to keep my cool in many situations that I find really trying. Mess is just one example. But recognising that her needs are different to mine is really helpful on those really tricky days. Deciding how I can address those needs and keep my sanity is how I set boundaries that work for both of us.
2. Remember they are only toddlers and don’t follow the same social rules as adults.
My mum taught me this after she watched one of Boo’s swimming lessons. I should know this; as a teacher, I’m constantly thinking about age related expectations. I know the importance of praise. Boo spent the whole lesson refusing to take part in the activities. She wanted to hold on to the edge and practise pushing off. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to have the naughty child. She could talk and express what she wanted so I knew she understood when I said what I wanted her to do. I felt like she should be taking part.
But she was only 18 months. She had learned a really exciting skill that she wanted to practise. Mum reminded me after the lesson that I should just be amazed at her achievements and remember she doesn’t have to take part in it all. She’s too young to understand that she should be listening and following instructions. It was a really freeing moment for me. I stopped seeing her as wilful and naughty. She became a brilliant little girl who amazes me with her accomplishments. And actually, the more I show how much she amazes me, and the less I worry about her conforming to my social expectations, the happier and more willing to join in she has become.
3. Find another word for ‘no’
This gem came from my bestie, Nat. My parenting guru. She said that she stopped saying no and instead said uh-uh and made a hand gesture. This was a game changer for me. I felt like Boo was too young for discipline, but needed to have boundaries. I didn’t know how to assert boundaries with very young toddler. You can’t explain in words. They don’t really have any concept of consequence. How to I express not to do something without saying ‘no’? I didn’t want to start telling Boo off. I didn’t want to start using my cross teacher voice. It was too soon. I also really didn’t want Boo to start resenting the word ‘no’. It’s an important word. But easily hated and ineffective when it’s overused. So even now I reserve ‘no’ for times when Boo’s safety is concerned. Boo understands that she needs to change what she’s doing (drawing on the floor, eating cat hair, throwing mugs down the stairs) if I wag my finger, give her a stern look or say uh-uh. She’s almost 2 now so at times I need to intervene when she really wants to push boundaries. But I don’t spend all day saying no. I’m not teaching her to hate that word.
4. Consistency doesn’t mean always or never
This one came from the lovely Sue. We were in a sweet shop with her gorgeous children. The sweet shop was magical. FULL OF ALL THE SWEETS. Floor to ceiling. Every colour. Every flavour. Amazing. We all wondered round in awe. And then we left. And no one whined, complained or had a tantrum. Sue said that her children understand that ‘not now’ doesn’t mean ‘never’. Sometimes is an OK part of parenting. It’s OK for children to know that they won’t always get what they want. But also that they won’t never get what they want.
Consistency in parenting is so important. I find it hard. I find it mundane always doing things the same. I can’t follow a recipe because I want to make adjustments. I like changing things up but felt I had to do everything the same for Boo so that she had a secure attachment. Thanks to Sue I realised that things don’t always have to be the same to be consistent. Now, I will happily take Boo to a toy shop and let her wonder round excitedly looking at all the toys. Sometimes she gets a toy. Sometimes I ask her to put it back. And we never have tantrums.
I honestly still have so much to learn. Reading blogs, speaking to my friends and family, reflecting on how things are going… it all helps. I think I’m doing OK.