How to Be an “Unruffled” Toddler Mom


2My son was a delicious baby. I could snuggle him and breathe in his baby scent all day long. But, when nighttime rolled around, he was a terrorist—lulling me into a false sense of security with his dead-to-the-world sleep and then erupting into hysterics as soon as my head touched the pillow.

Now, my boy is a toddler, and one of my favorite humans on this planet. He is curious, quick-witted, and excited about all of life’s adventures. But I know that, at the drop of a hat, he might become clingy, quick-tempered, and toilet-averse. Every single second of his waking hours is filled to the brim with emotional intensity.

Being a toddler is no joke, and neither is caring for one. Those cherubic little devils know just how to push our buttons. And they mean to, but not for the reason you think! Testing our limits (and our patience) is a developmentally appropriate way for toddlers to seek answers to important questions.

Austin beadmaze

“Am I safe?”

“Are you with me or against me?”

“Is it okay to want what I want and feel what I feel?”

“Am I bad?”

As we all know (sometimes deep down), our toddlers are not “bad.” They’re trying desperately to feel secure and understood, and they’re testing us the best way they know how. The only way to “ace” these tests is to exhibit consistent, composed, and clear leadership. Of course, every one of us is going to fall short of that ideal, but, in my experience, staying “unruffled” is more effective at encouraging good behavior than any affirmative disciplinary method that exists.

Here’s how to do it.

onion gogglesGain perspective. If, hypothetically speaking, you’re in line at the post office with your toddler and baby, and your toddler waits until you’ve emptied the contents of your purse (looking for your left-at-home wallet) to take off his shoes and then cry when he can’t get them back on, you might feel like the universe has conspired against you to create this moment. Breathe. The fact that my your hypothetical child is melting down at the worst possible moment does not mean that he is trying make everyone in the post office feel uncomfortable. It means he is asserting his independence and autonomy but lacks basic impulse control and coping skills. He simply is not equipped to handle the situation he created when he whimsically removed his shoes.

When I manage to harness my frustration and handle a situation calmly and kindly, resolution always comes faster, and I always feel better about the interaction.

Try to see strong displays of emotion as good thing (or, at least, not a bad thing). Being a parent is so hard. We want our children to be confident individuals, but we also want them to do exactly what we say. What we need is to have reasonable expectations. To grow and gain confidence, our children have to disagree with us and feel safe doing doing so. So, don’t engage your toddler in an argument (always a losing proposition); try, instead, to acknowledge his point of view. It is okay for a child to want what he wants, even if you aren’t going to give it to him. 

Be preventative, prepared, proactive. During the toddler years, the most reasonable expectation is that your child will behave unreasonably. Be ready, and manage your expectations appropriately. If you know that back-to-back errands exhaust your child, put off Target until after bedtime or the following day. If your child turns into a pumpkin at bedtime, politely decline that invitation for a 7:00 p.m. dinner. This phase won’t last forever, and the benefits to you and your child are worth the inconvenience.

Fake it until you make it. Being a zen goddess doesn’t come naturally to all (read: most) of us. But we’re all capable of playing pretend. When you act as if the conflict you’re experiencing is one you have encountered countless times before and feel comfortable resolving, it is easy to stay calm and follow through on consequences. Use imagery, if it helps. Pretend you’re a CEO or a superhero or the nurse in a mental health ward. Whatever works. Eventually, you will stop pretending and not even realize it.

funny faceKnow your triggers. Every time my son whines, I have to check myself. Whining drives me CRAZY, and my first instinct is to react harshly. To keep that from happening, I follow a script: “Sweetheart, I can’t hear you when you talk like that. I will help you when you ask me nicely.”

We all need somebody to lean on. Whether it’s your husband, your mom, your best friend, or your coworker, it helps to have somebody whose shoulder you can cry on and whose outside perspective helps you find humor amidst the chaos.

How do you stay unruffled around your toddler? What are your triggers?



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here