Trial by fire. That’s what it was. I had three children in under 35 months. I lived in a haze of diapers and feedings and tantrums and occasionally my own tears. The toddler years are exceedingly precious, but by the same token, they are exceedingly difficult. After getting all three of my boys through their toddler years, I can look back and see that the rules I made for myself applied to all three, and really, all toddlers. So, don’t drudge through the toddler years on your own; learn from my mistakes.
There are really just five basic rules to get you through this, and if you keep them in your heart, you’ll do fine, enjoying this time as you were meant to enjoy it.
1. First and foremost, your toddler may not look or act like your sweet baby anymore, but s/he is certainly not a big kid either. Your toddler needs gentle, loving guidance from you. Toddlers don’t just automatically know wrong from right, nor do they do things just to annoy you or out of spite, defiance, or anything similar. They are experimenting and testing the waters. In all reality, your toddler wants desperately to please you. Keep that in the back of your mind on your most trying days, and you’ll be able to teach your child appropriate behavior kindly, without hitting, yelling, or any similar unpleasantness.
2. If you do not want a public tantrum (and really, who does?!), do not set your child up for one. Do not take your toddler out when s/he is tired, hungry, cranky, or sick. Do not take your toddler to a place that is excruciatingly stimulating even for older children (character-themed pizza places, anyone?). Weigh very carefully their needs against your wants – you don’t really need new drapes right this minute, but Lucy probably does need a nap this minute. Always have snacks and drinks available, too, for those unexpected appearances of the hungries/thirsties.
3. Toddlers are all unique people with unique feelings and unique problems. They all develop on their own personal timelines. There are averages, certainly, but they are just averages. If your child is ahead/behind/completely average, don’t set too much stock in it. Keep your pediatrician updated, and of course, if you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, insist it be checked out. I had one child who talked early, knew his ABCs and his colors and could count by the time he was 18 months old. I had another one who was writing his name around 15 months of age, but he didn’t talk until he was nearly three (at which point he started speaking in multi-syllable words and full sentences). Both are completely normal children.
4. IT IS NOT A CONTEST. OK, maybe this should be the number one rule, actually. But raising a toddler is not a contest. It doesn’t matter if your child is tying his shoes while the little girl down the road is unable to poop on the potty chair. It really doesn’t. By the time your kids are adults, no one (but you) will even remember those things. Whatever your child does, whenever s/he does it, it will almost assuredly be on their own timeline. They are most likely completely normal, not Neanderthals OR prodigies. I know, we all want to think our children are geniuses, and to us, they are … but in reality, even geniuses are children with children’s needs. See your child as an individual, not as a gifted child, not as a delayed child, just as your child, with whatever special needs they happen to have (and truthfully, all children have their own personal special needs).
5. Finally, it is over before you know it. I cannot emphasize this enough. Our first two children were a blur, born less than 14 months apart. Our third was spaced a little better, and my husband and I often found each other looking at each other, wishing desperately we had had as much fun with our oldest boys as we had with our youngest. We missed out on so much. We obviously had fun with them and enjoyed them, but not in the same way, and not on an individual level, really. Don’t let our regrets be yours. Enjoy every moment, take lots of pictures, and journal every big step and lots of little steps.