I have raised three people through the toddler years and I’m working on the fourth now. Over the years I have discovered some things that seem to work really well—some of them are things I wish someone had told me. So with that in mind, here are a few tips for raising toddlers:
Give ‘Em Choices
Let them make choices as much as possible. Give them options where however they choose, it’s “OK.” This is a battleground age, and if you never give them chances to start exercising the rationality God has bestowed upon them, they will simply react and rebel.
I’m not saying let them pick what they want for dinner. But provide them with options to choose from. “Do you want broccoli or green beans tonight?” And let them pick, and then make them stick to their choice. You are not raising a “child,” you are raising a man or a woman, and the sooner they learn to evaluate options and live with their choices the better.
Plus, they are at a natural age where they are starting to know they can do things (this is the “I can do it myself” age, remember). If you never or rarely give them an option to choose, they will resent that and it will manifest with fits. This requires that you relinquish your own desire to control some details, and for some of you, that will mean mortifying sin.
Keep ‘Em Busy
Give your toddler things to do that will keep them busy without sticking them in front of a screen. Here are some ideas:
- Give your toddler strawberries, but do not remove the tops. They will remove the tops and a plate of strawberries will take them a while to eat through. Their fine motor skills will be trained and you’ll have a short break.
- Let them help you with the things you do around the house. They can hold and turn screwdrivers (and even swing hammers), and they will mix ingredients or set a table. They have an innate desire to feel a part of things and contribute, so find tasks that are just above their level and be prepared to clean up some messes. They will spill…teaching them how to clean up spills is part of rearing them! Modeling a godly attitude when things don’t go your way is even more important
- Train them to entertain themselves without a screen, or use screens educationally. Children who find reading or puzzles interesting end up entertaining themselves quietly. Instill in your toddler an interest in activities that don’t involve screens. Give them age and skill-appropriate activities where they problem-solve. Amusement can be fine, but toddlers have no reason nor skill to limit it. That’s why they throw a fit when you turn off the iPad even though they got to play with it “a lot.
Be ready for lots of messes. They seem to have fun getting dirty sometimes, don’t they?
Take ‘Em Places
Your toddler has no concept of money. So expensive trips to theme parks or zoos may not be wise for you, but taking them places that are within your budget is good. Take them to the park where there is a playground once in a while. Show them nature trails. We enjoy just going to a local pet store where we can walk around and look at live animals. Pack snacks, diapers, a change of clothes and a water cup and you’re good to go. Everything is NEW to them so they are excited wherever YOU take them, even the grocery store!
Lead ‘Em Lovingly
Your toddler is looking to you for love and security. Be excited about spending time with them. Take him or her places and let them contribute. Give them a list of things to look for at the store and praise them for finding them. Let them win games, and let them lose some too. And be a leader to them.
They will try to control situations. Lead them anyway. I told you to give them choices earlier…sometimes the choice is “do this or be disciplined.” Expect them to sit quietly during prayer and at church. Treat them like human beings and not like animals. We don’t expect animals to ever learn to ask to be excused from the table—you may expect your toddler to learn this. Shower them with kisses and hugs, and spend time with them where you choose what’s next. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked my toddler if he’d like me to read him a story and he says “no.” Frankly, he has no idea what he wants. But if I tell him I am going to read him a story, he may balk at first, but usually, once I begin he gives up his fight and gets involved.
Show ‘Em Jesus
Something you have to come to terms with is that your toddler is a child of Adam and bears the stain of original sin. He is condemned before a holy God and, without Jesus Christ, destined for Hell. As busy as life is with toddlers, other kids, ministry, job, sickness, etc., you need to make time to teach your toddler about Jesus.
And honestly, it’s not that complicated. Sing hymns over and over with him or her. Read the Bible to your precious little one. Don’t worry if they don’t understand it all or not. The key is to bathe them in the Word and prayer and instill in them a memory for good Christian hymns. God’s Spirit will do His work in His good timing, and the time for your work is NOW. Repeat the same verses over and over to them at bedtime. Sing Amazing Grace for the 1000th time. Read ANY Bible story they request!
And live a life that is worthy of the calling to which you have been called. Your little ones will spot hypocrisy fast. They will see the contradiction between what you say and how you live if you are teaching them diligently from the Word. So take seriously your own need to mortify sin and be sanctified.