Toddlerhood, which begins when a child starts walking, is an incredibly exciting time for parents and kids alike. Toddlers are primed to launch into the world with their new found mobility and explore farther and faster. Parents, on the other hand, are happy to see their kid reach an important milestone and start looking forward to potty-training and the end of the baby years. But while toddler development is astonishing to witness, it can also be a time of messy face and messy emotions.
As adorable and hilarious as toddlers are, the harsh truth is that the toddler years, between age 2 and 4, can be even more difficult than infancy. Because, while kids are learning to do more for themselves, their desire for independence clashes with their world. The upshot is a kid at odds with their own limitations, the rules of social decorum they’ve yet to learn and an environment that wasn’t necessarily built for them. In short, it’s chaos.
Harsh Truth #1: Toddlers Are Incredibly Gross
Toddlers don’t mean to be gross. They are not being gross maliciously. It’s just that their curiosity and vigor have yet to catch up to their motor skills and sense of propriety. But also, making a gross mess is good for them.
Unfortunately, the best way to deal with the constant gross-out is for parents to manage their own expectations. Parents who are expecting they will keep their home perfectly tidy with a toddler around will be greatly disappointed. It’s better to understand that toddlers will be gross and greet the inevitable with a happy heart.
Because gross is actually good for their development. Toddlers making gross messes are working really hard on motor skill development. Every time the squish something of rub something all over their face and hair, they are gathering important information about cause an effect. They are engaging in materials science. They are learning about their senses. So, in the abstract, the more gross messes the make, the more they’ll learn and the sooner they’ll move on.
Harsh Truth #2: Toddlers Will Break All Your Stuff
Until a child starts walking, most parents will have no idea that their valuables were in danger. Even those parents who thoroughly child-proofed their home will find toddlers-sized flaws in their system.A toddler’s curiosity is a powerful force. And one a kid has legs and momentum at their disposal, they will go straight for those forbidden and beautiful objects that were once in their line of sight but never in reach.
The long and short of it is that it may be time to put away the tchotchkes for awhile. Either that or invest in wall mounted shelving where the glass swans and delicate figurines can live until the kid has reached their 20s.
Harsh Truth #3: Temper Tantrums and Toddlers Go Hand in Hand
Babies get angry and frustrated sometimes, sure. Elementary school kids can get pouty. Adolescent children can get moody. But a toddlers signature emotional outburst is the tantrum. Every kid has them, and they almost all look the same. It’s a good idea for a parent to have a solid tantrum game plan before things kick off.
The reason toddlers have tantrums is similar to the reason they make a mess. Often their desire to communicate their needs is at odds with their ability to actually communicate. That can be incredibly frustrating. Also, their ability to think logically about a situation is undeveloped. The area of a toddler’s brain that helps control emotion and impulse is still being built. So while a tantrum might look and feel like a personal attack the parent experiencing it, it’s important to remember that the kid isn’t necessarily melting down on purpose.
That understanding of the universality and lack of intention behind tantrums should give parents a solid foundation on which to base their response. That response is often most effective when it’s quiet, empathetic and patient. Distraction sometimes helps. But, also, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with abandoning the shopping cart and heading out to the car until the tantrum blows over.
Harsh Truth #4: Sleep Gets Worse in Toddlerhood
It often feels like the second parents think they have this whole parenting thing down, a kid reaches a new phase and throws a wrench in the works. For many parents, toddlerhood is the first time they realize they’ll have to keep adapting. And often that realization comes at 3 am after walking a kid back to their room for what feels like the 100th time that night.
Just when a kid is getting the hang of sleeping through the night, they get the ability to walk around and make things more interesting. The sleep situation is often even more fraught when toddlerhood means a transition into a toddler bed.
Meanwhile, toddlers are often shifting their nap schedules, threatening to drop naps and throwing their nighttime sleep off. So parents can expect their child to start wandering out of their room at night. They can expect some sleeplessness too. But the important part is to stay as consistent as possible. Routine is key for toddlers in almost all things.
Harsh Truth #5: Toddlers Are Incredibly Loud
As toddlers find freedom in their feet, they are also learning to use their voice. Sometimes the volume of that voice will be wholly incompatible with their environment. And that can be frustrating for parents who feel that once a person is standing on their own two legs they should be able to understand social context clues. But toddlers are lousy at context clues.
Parents will have to teach kids where to use their loud voice and where to pipe down. That’s easier said than done. But modeling the proper behavior is always helpful. The best way for a kid to gain perspective is for them to experience a variety of environments where they can use different vocal volumes.
And if they don’t get it? That’s totally okay. They’re learning.
Harsh Truth #6: Toddlers are More Prone to Injury
Just because a kid knows how to walk doesn’t mean that they’re particularly good at walking. And that fact will be manifest by a wide variety of bruises, bumps and distant thuds and wails from far off rooms. It’s important to remember that toddlers are also pretty durable — they kind of have to be. And when they fall they’re usually not falling very far. So there’s no need to pad every conceivable corner in the home. At the same time, if a piece of furniture has a particularly sharp corner, it might be a good idea to move it somewhere safe or add padding.
Because toddlers are curious and fast, it’s important for parents to be prepared. Keep dangerous stuff locked up. Build a good first aid kit, and have the number for poison control handy.
Harsh Truth #7: Strangers Judge Toddlers More Harshly Than Babies
Because toddlers can walk and kind of talk, they just seem more capable than they actually are. Adults who see a toddler that isn’t connected to them in some way will easily forget that the kid melting down in the check out line has only been on the planet for 900 days.
What that means is that parents will get no end of crusty looks and unsolicited advice when their toddler is doing what toddlers do. That’s why the parents of toddlers need to lean into love and empathy. Because the fact is despite how hard it can be to raise them, toddlers are incredible.