5 tips to make the most of the precious toddler years

ah, toddlerhood.

challenging, glorious, chaotic, magic filled, stubborn to the bone, beautiful, fleeting, toddlerhood.

i was a nanny for several years before i became a momma. five years ago, i graduated from the university of utah with my b.s. degree in human development and family studies with a child life emphasis. (the field of child life focuses on decreasing the stress of a medical experience for a child...more on this in a minute.) i worked at a preschool for a few years as well. i've volunteered at primary children's medical center for years with the child life team. i wanted to share some wisdom i've acquired from these experiences when delicately meshed with the day to day realm of motherhood.

one // tell them WHAT to do, instead of what NOT to do.

this is one of the most revolutionary things i learned while in college and working in a preschool. i realize that i has the potential to sound nutty, because i laughed myself when i first heard it. however, it works. it is truly a game changer in your parenting and caring for a young child. so often we can fall into the trap of repeating "don't do that" or "stop doing this". it can be easy to forget little souls benefits tremendously from a simple, "hey, let's do this." for example, if you little one is running, isn't of losing your cool and yelling, "don't run!" you can gently remind them "hey, let's walk instead please." giving them an option is a huge comfort to them and clearly states what is expected of their behavior.

two // quiet tantrums with humor and redirection.

many times i've resorted to silly dancing antics in an effort to make miss s laugh so much that she forgets what she is mad at and can direct her attention elsewhere. redirection is one of my favorite tools in my arsenal of tricks. and laughter? we really can fix so much with humor.

three // involve them every chance you get; foster autonomy everywhere you can.

erik erikson is one of my favorite developmental theorists. he believed that we all go through stages, or crises in life. the first, from birth to one year is a trust versus mistrust dynamic we must all make peace with in our world. the second is autonomy versus shame and doubt. autonomy is basically self confidence, their faith in themselves. this is why toddler are so determined to do every little thing without our help. ;) when you can foster autonomy it builds up a strong, secure base that will last them through their childhood and well into adulthood. let them climb into the car by themselves, even if it takes a few extra minutes.

four // follow their lead.

sookie is my sensitive and emotional gal. first and foremost i remind myself (often!) to throw the rules out the window and listen to what her heart is telling me. it has never lead me wrong. i had blueprints in my head of what i wanted our parenthood story to consist of, and honestly? from day one i have made it important beyond all else to follow her lead. even if that meant going against decisions i thought were set in stone. go with the flow is a fabulous mantra here. and yes, it is perfectly fine if you have to remind yourself of this several times a day. chant it, over and over and over, until it is written all over your heart.

five // play.

kids learn through play. they discover truths about the world, they find the depths of themselves, they grow confidence in their physical and mental abilities. when adults join them in creative play, it immediately improves the quality and duration of play. when you use your imagination as a parent, it increases the scope of your child's imagination as well. one of my favorite quotes is jean piaget's "play is a child's work."

i would love to end this with lyrics from a song i am obsessed with right now, kate earl's one woman army. to me it is a gorgeous love letter to motherhood. :)

never knew what i was signing up for
knew it was hard
but not this hardcore

what i do, i do for you the best i can
build a life for you with my own two hands

i hope these tips have helped you! i was reminded last weekend of the tremendous power and beauty in the simple act of women supporting women, and i knew i had to finish up this post and publish it this week. in all honesty toddlerhood is hard, it is one of the most challenging things i've done in this life. however i really believe you can embrace the whimsy of it all and hold onto your sanity at the same time, all while building a safe and wondrous world for your child.

happy friday! :)

also, don't forget that google friend connect (gfc) is over as of july 1st. however! you can follow a happy girl on blog lovin' so you don't miss a post! :)
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  1. Thanks so much for these tips. As we approach the toddler years I am a little lost about how to handle the 'telling off'. Your approach of showing what to do instead of 'don't do this' is great. Thanks x

  2. This is extremely insightful! #1 really is a game changer. It's incredible how telling them what to do vs. what not to do can change the way a child behaves and reacts to you. But it does. So much.
    I, personally, need to work on #4. I am so good at trying to get them to take my lead. Thanks for the reminder that getting down on their level can not only strengthen that bond, but expand our own perspective on life as well.
    Fabulous post!

    1. it truly does! and believe me marybeth, i need to work on all of them. ;) it actually helped me a lot to write all this down and fully commit to doing my best at remembering to work hard at ALL of them. i'm glad this helped you. thank you so much for reading, i truly appreciate it! :)

  3. Absolutely! I was nodding my head at each one of these. Especially the "tell them WHAT to do not what NOT to do." That's something I've really been working on with my daughter and so far it's made a huge difference!

  4. Beautiful post, momma! And nice job weaving in Erikson's developmental stages. Every time I refer to them (teaching about adolescence this week), I am reminded of how simple yet brilliant the stages are - such a helpful rubric to understanding where our kids are when.

  5. These are fantastic tips! This is great. Thank you for linking up with us!

  6. I was thrilled to see a post written with eloquence as well as with brains. As a mental health therapist and as a mother of a 2.5 year old toddler your words rang true as well as being comforting. May I suggest you write more blog entries such as these? : )


  7. I am SOOOO bookmarking this for future reference! Great tips and one adorable picture!

    1. i truly appreciate it natasha! thank you so much!!!

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Love this post! Especially the bit about following their lead...I just love everything you said! Happy I came across your blog today!
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    1. thank you so much whitney for your kind comments! i truly appreciate you visiting! :)

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  13. After a particularly hard day with my 3 year old son, Thank You for having posted this. I almost cried I was so frustrated tonight...I think I'm going to print this out! New follower from TALU! Would love for you to check out my blog too! Have a great day!


  14. This post was just precious and your daughter is adorable! I truly enjoyed reading this list as my son is 2 and oh how fast it goes by. If i were to add #6 for myself, it would be to take more pictures/video. My hands are always tied I forget to stop and snap everyday moments.

    Stopping by from SITS Sharefest. :)

  15. Lovely post. Thank you for sharing. My son isn't a toddler yet, but I will keep these tips in mind for the future. :)

  16. Some great tips there. Love the one especially about saying what you expect them to do, not what to do.
    Thanks for linking to IBOT. Just letting you know for future that you need to link a new, previously unpublished post. Thanks :)

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  18. great reminder. I have a 2 year old and a 10 month old! Life is always busy:)Thanks for sharing!

  19. Sooo beautiful! I have an almost 3 year old and a seven month old. Life is def crazy! I love your words, and I'm a fan of Eric Erickson too!

  20. I love this, these are great tips! I'll have to remember them when my little one reaches his toddler years.


  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. great tips! I shall bookmark this post and many others for some day when I have children. thank you for sharing!

    I hope you have a beautiful weekend!

    I am visiting from Casey Leigh's link up.


  23. This post is perfect timing for me. I have a little 2 year old boy under my feet all day long :-) I'm going to pin this for when I need a reminder later. I'd love for you to share it over at Tell Me Tuesday: http://www.aromaofhim.com/2013/09/tell-me-tuesday.html

    Have a wonderful week!

  24. We use laughter to ease tantrums all the time. My youngest has wicked tantrums and we will start tickling him. Thank you for linking this post up at homemaker monday.

  25. Love this- it describes this magic time so perfectly – please can you share on Facebook – I have so many mummy friends who would enjoy reading this too :)

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