There’s a reason they say “toddlers are a-holes.” It’s because they can be extremely challenging to parents. Not because there’s something wrong with them, but because of where their brain is at developmentally. They have so many wants, many of which can cause them real harm. And without them understanding that, I probably don’t need to tell you that you end up in a “battle” that you never intended to be in.
While there is a lot of parenting advice out there (and much of which can be helpful), that’s not what I’m going to share with you. My expertise is not in parenting—it’s in mindfulness. But here’s the secret: when you apply mindfulness practices that I can teach you to your life, you show up as a completely different mom, able to navigate so many of the most challenging moments with your kids (toddlers or older kids).
So with that, let’s dive in to how to be a better mom to a toddler.
I like to think of being a “better mom” as such a paradox: on the one hand, I want to learn and grow and improve my skills, while on the other hand, I know I’ll never be perfect and I’ll always be human.
Something that helps me navigate this is reminding myself, “I’m half mess and half amazing.” And as I improve the “messy part” there’s always more mess. So improvement is good just because I want to grow, but not because I’ll somehow be worthy as a mom if I get better at skills.
All of this is to say that while what I teach and practice can make a huge impact in your life, know that you already are the exact mama your kids are supposed to have, you already are enough.
Because the toddler years can be so challenging (the push-pull between independence of childhood and the dependance of baby), having strategies in your back pocket to help you show up as the mom you want to be can be life-changing (or at least day-changing!).
Here are my top nine tips to become a better mom to your toddler:
Centering yourself is when you make someone else’s behavior about you. For example, if your son is really upset he can’t eat a candle and is screaming about it, centering yourself would sound like you thinking this: “he is so disrespectful to me, I can’t believe he’s making this so hard for me.”
It’s a very natural human tendency to center yourself, but it’s completely unhelpful when it comes to relationships, and specifically parenting.
The truth is that your toddler’s actions have very little to do with you. They have everything to do with them—what they’re thinking and feeling.
Instead of jumping to what the behavior means about you, get curious about what’s going on for them.
Boundaries create safety and certainty for your toddler. While some boundaries may result in your toddler being upset, they’ll actually feel safer with boundaries than without.
I was helping a client recently who said their child was “trashing his room” when they don’t allow that in their home. I showed her that she can be the boundary by going into the room and physically preventing the child from throwing things around.
Whenever you share a boundary with your child, instead of saying “you can’t” say “I won’t let you.” This focuses on what you can control, which is you, instead of trying to focus on their behavior. (This also works well for older kids.)
In our home we have a saying that “all feelings are welcome, all actions are not.” Feelings and actions are not the same. It’s okay for your child to be really upset, mad, or angry. But it’s not okay for them to…. [fill in the blank with whatever action is not okay with you.]
It’s less about what boundaries you “should” hold and more about upholding the boundaries you do have. For example, if you don’t allowing trashing a room, what might you allow instead as an expression of emotion? This is something you can share with your child so they know how to express big feelings (e.g.: stomping on floor or screaming into a pillow).
You get to decide what boundaries you’ll have, but the key is that you must be clear about them and uphold them.
No feeling is “bad” and this is true even for the most challenging emotions. Feeling upset, anxious, worried, afraid, scared, disappointed, or mad are ALL okay.
Often as parents we want to talk our kids out of negative emotions (who doesn’t want their child to “be happy”?) but in so doing, we send the message that “the feeling you’re choosing is wrong.” This is invalidating and teaches the child they should choose a different feeling next time.
Think of your child being in a pool of whatever the feeling is (a pool of sadness, for example). Instead of trying to help them out of the pool (“you’re okay, there’s nothing to be sad about”), jump in the pool with them and hold them (“you’re feeling sad right now and that’s okay”).
Feelings aren’t a problem, it’s being alone in our feelings that’s a problem. Help your child separate feelings from actions, and help them process the feelings. (The more you model this at home, the better equipped you’ll be to teach your kids—this is what I teach you how to do inside Grow You.)
The logistics of motherhood lead to a lot of seriousness. If you’re like me, who tends towards the serious side anyways, adding in more play for you can be hugely beneficial in your interactions with your kids.
For example, if your toddler starts barking at you, instead of ignoring or saying something else, it would be barking back. You’re joining them in their arena and being silly and playing.
If you don’t like playing with your kids, there’s nothing wrong with you! This is so normal (and I’m right there with you from time to time).
Here’s a podcast episode that can help: When You Don’t Like Playing With Your Kids.
PNP time is “play, no phone” and it’s exactly what it sounds like—a designated time where you’re playing with your kids without your phone. This can be something daily for as little as 10 minutes. The idea is that phones can pull us out of the moment, and when the most important place for us to be is engaged with our kids, this can have a negative impact on our relationship.
You can try different lengths of time, different routines (daily vs. weekends, etc.) to see what works for you. The key is consistency. That you consistently spend time with your child for a period of time without your phone so they get your undivided attention.
Tantrums and meltdowns can feel so triggering not because of what’s happening with our toddler’s dysregulation, but because of what’s happening with our own dysregulation.
Your frustration tolerance is your capacity to be in frustration losing your sh*t. You can actually get really good at this skill of feeling the feeling of frustration without reacting to it. It’s finding the space between the frustration and the action (e.g.: yelling) and widening it. The key is that you want to widen it from breathing through and allowing the emotion, not from resisting it and trying to make it go away.
Get to know frustration. What it feels like in your body, specifically. This is the inner work of feeling feelings so that when they arise in your body, you don’t need to escape them. Said differently, when your toddler loses their sh*t, you don’t lose yours.
Mindfulness is awareness with acceptance. It means separating out your thoughts, feelings, and actions from the facts of your life. Then deciding on purpose what you want to think, feel, and do. The idea is that you aren’t necessarily positive all the time, but you are empowered, regardless of the circumstances.
Get started with my best mindfulness blog posts here:
Whenever you get it wrong, repair. If you yell, say you’re sorry. Don’t ignore it. Don’t dismiss it. Directly apologize for it.
The reason repair is so hard for us is because it requires removing the shame around the action. If you yell, it’s often the shame afterwards that feels the worst. Shame always encourages hiding and avoiding, which of course is the opposite of repair.
I like to think about it like this: I want to be the best in my family at apologizing and repairing. I want to model my humanness, which means apologizing for the actions that I’m sorry for.
Toddlers demand so much of your mental, emotional, and physical energy. If you don’t schedule your own self care away from your family, you’ll end up needing an escape just to feel okay.
Instead of letting it get this far, when you’re desperate for time away, plan on scheduling self care regularly, whether that’s in a daily journaling routine, a weekly girls’ night, or a monthly spa day. Self care is personal.
Grow You is my mindfulness community where I show you how to take care of yourself from the inside out by managing your mindset and your emotions in motherhood. Explore the membership here.
No matter how hard it is to be a mom to your toddler, you are the exact mama your toddler is supposed to have. The mere fact that you’re reading this and interested in bettering yourself says so much about how much you care and what a good mom you are.
Focus on connection and love, while upholding your boundaries, and you’ll show up as the mom you want to be, even during the hardest moments with your toddler.