toddlers scare me.

Toddlers terrify me.

I have never been much of a kid person. I babysat as a teenager and worked in the church nursery and at VBS growing up, and I have always liked babies. They are cute. They are fun to hold. They cry sometimes, but it’s nothing a boob or pacifier or bottle or change of diaper or scenery or a nap can’t fix.

Toddlers, however, absolutely scare me to death. They have strong emotions and limited communication skills; they are like babies, except they can walk and exert their wills and opinions and throw fits and still need their diapers changed and oh my word, do I miss exclusively breastfed diapers.

And here’s the thing: Sam is a toddler. He walks sometimes, he says words, and he throws a fit when I brush his teeth.

I love him to death. He’s an amazing, funny, cute kid. I’m not crazy about other children, but I love mine.

But can I just say that I am entering the next phase of motherhood with much trepidation? I just got the baby stage somewhat figured out, you know?

I don’t know how to handle tantrums, and I know his tantrums now as a 1-year-old are nothing compared to the full-blown meltdowns of 2, and 3, and 4 (and 5, and 6…etc). I don’t know how to train him in obedience.

Like, we have this lamp in our front room. He broke one lamp already, and he keeps going for this lamp like it’s magnetic and he’s iron. A firm “No! Hurt the baby!” is met with a giggle and that impish grin as he goes for it anyway. Redirection is met with a tantrum — short-lived, yes, but a tantrum none the less. We have started, in addition to the firm-nos and the redirection, giving him a little swat on his (well-padded, diapered) bottom. It’s mostly meant to be a “Hey! Listen to me when I tell you no.” That seems to be working a little better — he’ll start to go for the lamp and stop and at least think about it for a second before going to play with something else, or going for the lamp anyway.

I’m okay with this method. It seems to be working, like I said, but then some voice inside my brain, the voice of the brainwashed member of the attachment parenting cult I used to be, starts in. And I get scared again. Am I doing the right thing? How do I get him to listen to me and to stop when I tell him to stop, immediately? I’m wondering this for his own well-being — when he’s 3 and running pell-mell for the street or something, and I yell for him to STOP I don’t want him to giggle and run out in the street anyway. You know? It’s my job to protect him, even from himself.

I’m just trying to be consistent, and to outlast him in any battles of wills. Which right now isn’t too hard to do, but I’m thinking might become more difficult as he gets older.  I also just try to talk to him a lot — I think he picks up a great deal of what I am saying, even if he can’t always respond back, so I just make life a running commentary: You can’t touch the lamp because it could hurt you and I love you too much to let you get hurt like that; we have to brush our teeth because having good dental hygiene is important, isn’t it fun to brush our teeth like Mama and Daddy do? I know you don’t want to be in your car seat but it’s non-negotiable, sorry. We’ll get out as soon as we get to the grocery store, etc.

But toddlers scare me. For real. Some people are great with toddlers and little kids and yet the thought of having teenagers makes them stay awake at night worrying. The teenage years? Don’t scare me. Well, much. I think Sam will be a pretty cool teenager (and by “cool” I don’t mean “socially cool” because his parents were not at all, and I am going to try my darndest to make him polite, kind, empathetic, godly, etc, but not “cool” by the standards of today’s young people), even if he will eat us out of house and home.

How do I do this next stage? And how do I do it well, not just survive it? I don’t want to just survive mothering a toddler. I want to be intentional about how I discipline and teach him. I’m sure there will be days where I just hope to make it out alive but overall, I’d like to have a more optimistic outlook than that.

I guess I say all that to say this: if you have young children, and I don’t fawn over them immediately, don’t take it personally. I just have no idea what to say or do with kids. And now I have one. Fortunately, I think he likes me, and I like him, so hopefully it’ll turn out alright in the end.

And I’ll pray a lot, to fill in the gaps and the areas where I screw up.

Any tips for disciplining a toddler? Any tips for not just surviving but thriving in the toddler stage of parenthood? Tell me stories. I need stories.

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13 responses to “toddlers scare me.

  1. Seriously, they scare me too. And to think I’ll have 3 of them all at once freaks the bajeebies out of me! Cian is just over 2, Teagan will turn one in a few weeks and our next is due in June. I’m struggling with the discipline thing SO much right now. Toddlers are just super strong willed. I’m finding consistency to really be the key. If Cian thinks he’s the one in charge… i’m a goner. So making him understand that mommy and daddy are to be obeyed has been a huge help to us. And prayer. And some crying. And more prayer. Haha. 🙂

    A friend referred me to http://www.raisinggodlytomatoes.com/ch04.asp …haven’t had the chance to read all of it yet, but what I have read has been helpful. We’ll see.

    Anyway, great post. Summed up my feelings perfectly. Prayers for all of us mommies with toddlers!

    • Tim and Alissa Birkel

      Yeah, some of RGT is really, really good and helpful. Some of it seems a little too extreme for me, but mostly it’s good stuff.

      I can’t imagine having more than one! Prayers for you, mama!

  2. I super dislike raising godly tomatoes and found it to be far too rigid 😦

    That said, I figured anything that would cause pain (i.e., play with the outlet, touch the stove, etc.) should, well, cause pain. I’m a big one for natural consequences. So we used to do the bum swat, or a quick flick on the hand, or a quick (not hard) pinch on the back of the neck really helped associate ouchy with something that would really hurt, especially when reinforced with “ouch!” or “hurts!” Just a little shock, a little ouchy, nothing mean or abusive. Kind of like getting a shot to keep from getting a worse disease, you know?

    I thought I had the ‘come when I call you’ thing all figured out, but my second child proved me wrong. :/ Hopefully someone has good insight for you, because it’s not like my Ginger is disobedient across the board, that particular command seems to cause her the most trouble.

    • Tim and Alissa Birkel

      Yeah we are still working on coming when we’re called…so far Sam is like, 0 for a million. 🙂 I’m not always sure he understands me…but then I think, oh hey understands everything.

      I’m all for natural consequences, too, but he broke one lamp already and I’m really worried about him getting seriously hurt if I just let him break the lamp.

      • I don’t mean natural consequences like that…I’d never, for instance, sit idly by while my kid grabbed a hot burner or something. I meant along the lines of ‘this activity’s consequence is pain’ and communicating that without letting them actually stick a fork in the outlet. 😀

  3. Oh Alissa I can relate! I am sending you an email right now. I’ll pray for you!

    • Tim and Alissa Birkel

      Thank you! Your email was great — I forwarded it to Tim and had him take a look at it, too. Very helpful stuff.

  4. I’m the opposite- I babysat & taught Sunday School & did VBS, and my favorite age was always 3 to 5. The kids were old enough to understand and often communicate, but hadn’t hit school-age yet, when they get attitudes. Babies scare me more- I was always afraid I’d “break” the fragile creature handed to me.

    I’ve look at the Raising Godly Tomatoes site before, too, and agree with Mrs Taft. It seems too far on the other end of the spectrum from AP- even if AP isn’t what works for you, going to the other extreme isn’t necessarily the right answer.

    • Tim and Alissa Birkel

      Yeah I agree — some of RGT is too extreme for me, but some of it is helpful; i.e. being consistent and outlasting them, etc.

      If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year, it’s that babies are remarkably resilient. I was always afraid I’d break other babies, too, but it’s different with your own somehow.

  5. Toddlers frighten me–actually, all children between the age of 1 and 4th grade frighten me. I’ll write a more thoughtful response at some point (the dishes wait and my toddler is watching me to see when I’m not looking so she can shove cereal in her mouth without using the spoon), but I’ll pretend to have some helpful insight for you.

  6. I agree on the natural consequences suggestion. If Ethan (18 mos) is climbing on the couch and I’ve already said, “can you sit on your bottom?” 100 times–then I sit next to him and make sure WHEN he falls he doesn’t break his neck. That seems to have worked the best.

    We have used the time out technique for things like tantrums. We do not use a timer yet, but as long as he’s whining/fussing/screaming…he has to sit on the bottom step and when he’s done, he gets up.

    But mostly…I pray for my son and I pray for patience.

    • Tim and Alissa Birkel

      I have thought about implementing a time out type thing, very short (like less than a minute) when he is whining. We’ll see.

      Praying for an obedient spirit for him and for patience for mama sounds like a good plan!

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