Toddlers are Tough…But They’re Right About a Few Things

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A toddler holding yellow and red play dough.Terrible Twos. Threenagers. Toddlers have a pretty bad rap.

And I get it! I’ve lived through three of them already, and my fourth child (who is three and a half right now) is giving me a run for my money. The wild emotions, tantrums, impulsivity, stubbornness, are tears are exhausting.

It often feels like it’s my job to teach my three-year-old how to be better: better at listening, better at sharing, better at waiting for his turn, better at using his words. He needs to learn how to “grow up” by consistently going to the bathroom on the toilet, putting on his clothes, and cleaning up his toys when he’s done playing. Every day it feels like he’s still got a lot to learn, and I still have a lot to teach him. It can feel like a perpetual struggle.

But you know what? Even though I’m the parent, the one who is “older and wiser,” the one with the answers and the expectations, I have a lot to learn too. And one of the best people in the world to teach me is my toddler. Just like my toddler is learning from me, here are a few things I can learn from him.

1. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind.

Toddlers have this one down pat. Even if they don’t have the language they need yet, toddlers will let you know they want something by pointing, dragging you over, and yes, crying. I’m not saying I should cry to get what I want. But I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for things either. Often, I’m too worried about what everyone else wants or needs. It’s ok to ask for what I want and need too.

2. Be persistent.

My three-year-old may have no idea how to do something yet (put on a shirt, open a snack, ride a bike), but goshdarnit, he is going to do it anyway, and he is going to do it by himself. He can be frustrated and upset, but he will still keep trying. Often in time, he does get it, and then he is so proud to show it to everyone else. His persistence can be exhausting to watch, but it is also admirable.

3. Spontaneously tell people you love them.

My three-year-old will often shout out apropos of nothing, “I love you, Mom!” He’ll hug his siblings when they get home from school like he hasn’t seen them in months. He runs to my husband with a hug when he gets home from work. Showing love is something toddlers are really good at with their snuggles, hugs, and kisses. When’s the last time I showed so much excitement to see someone I love rather than just a quick hello?

4. Wear what’s comfortable, not what’s in style.

My older son hated pants because they always fell off his waist, and he hated buttons and ties. Do you know what did stay up? Pajama pants. So he wore them every day. Toddlers are the kings and queens of mismatched outfits, Halloween pajamas on Valentine’s Day, costumes as clothing, favorite t-shirts worn every day. They are nothing if not comfortable and confident in what they wear. We could all learn from this one.

5. Include snacks and time to rest in your day.

Toddlers may resist naps and downtimes as much as adults, but it’s plain to see how important they are. If there is no downtime in my toddler’s day, he’s a hot mess by dinner time. The same goes for meals and snacks. Hunger very quickly turns to “hanger” in toddlers. The same goes for me if I’m honest with myself. I’m often so busy, so I don’t take time to eat or sit down for a minute. Then I, too, am a mess by dinner. Like I make my kids eat and rest, I should do the same for myself.

6. Get excited about little things.

Toddlers are excited about the most random and small things: leaves falling, dogs walking by, the freeze dance song, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. It’s a good reminder to look out for things you love in your day and celebrate them.

7. Do things you enjoy.

My three-year-old can play with his toy hammer or Hess trucks for hours. He loves wrestling with our dog. He loves playdough and painting. It’s pretty good to be a toddler and to have time to do the things you love. We should all do more of that.

Do you feel like you are always the teacher? What things can you learn from your kids when they are in a challenging stage?

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Kate S. is a mom at home in Fairfield with her 4 kids (2 girls and 2 boys) and one puppy. Kate's sister introduced her to Chris, whom she married in 2010. They welcomed their first daughter in 2012, a son in 2014, another daughter in 2016, another boy in 2018, and finally a puppy in 2021. Kate and Chris's parenting motto would probably be, "Just take them with you." As a family, they continue to enjoy activities like skiing, kayaking, and hiking by taking turns to teach the older kids or strapping babies into backpacks. Kate can be found out and about exploring with her kids, volunteering at their schools, or laughing with other moms at the beautiful chaos of life with children.

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