One of the equally frustrating and endearing things about toddlers is how in the moment they are. Running upstairs to grab a jacket isn’t a quick chore – it’s a trek in which the toddler must walk like a monkey while carrying a toy dinosaur who stomps his way up alongside him. And you must follow exactly one stair behind – close enough to reassure that you’re coming but not too closely as to seem as though you are rushing the monkey.
This can be frustrating because although the monkey thing is cute like the first 10 times, by the 11th time, you cannot help but think, “Oh, just walk up the stairs like a normal person!!!”
Toddlers don’t want be rushed. They’re not worried about schedules or time commitments. Every single thing they do all day long (picking a seat at the dinner table, lining up the stuffed animals on the bed) is part of some grand performance that they are determined to get just right.
So yes, it’s frustrating. But it’s also endearing. Toddlers remind us that life is about the little things. That although our to-do lists seem important, life is mostly supposed to be enjoyed. Somewhere along the way into adulthood, we forget that it’s fun to launch dirty laundry into the washing machine, so toddlers come along to show us that chores are only chores if you view them that way.
Naturally, I looked for a way to use this in-the-momentness to my advantage. Therefore, my newest Toddler Parenting Strategy is as follows:
Find one thing each day that we can get excited about, look forward to, and that I can use as motivation/bait as needed.
Before Ryan goes to bed each night, I tell him one special thing we’re going to do the next day. Sometimes it’s well thought-out in advance; sometimes I come up with it on the fly. Sometimes it’s all about him; sometimes it’s a positive spin on a chore that we need to do regardless.
He loves having something to look forward to. It helps him go to bed easier, and it’s the first thing he asks about – without fail, without exception – the next morning. If I tell him we’re going to fly to the moon tomorrow, I’d better be prepared to pull out the rocket ship the next morning, because dude will hold me to it.
But I don’t need to tell him we’re going to fly to the moon. Because he is equally impressed with much more mundane things.
Sometimes, he tells me what he wants to look forward to. If I tell him that – gasp – we get to go GROCERY SHOPPING TOMORROW! YAY! … He’ll gasp in response and say, “And I get to pick out a LOLLIPOP!”
Uh, sure, ok, good idea.
This refocus on the little things has made us both a lot happier during the day. It makes him feel important, that I’m planning things especially for him. It’s positive reinforcement for good behavior. And I can use it as leverage to get him out the door faster when I’m in a hurry. (Quick, get your shoes on so we can go the grocery store before they run out of lollipops!)
I could still do without the monkey-up-the-stairs charade, though.