I know we all want to be connected and engaged with our children during their earliest and most formative years. But, sometimes we also need to stand in line at the grocery store, pump gas for the car, or sit in a doctor’s waiting room. Wouldn’t it be nicer to do that without a wailing two year old expressing their discontent with the situation?
Unfortunately, children around this age tend to view the world exclusively through the lens of their own wants and needs.
This can make parenting frustrating, but imagine how equally frustrated your child is. While it’s difficult to follow the ever changing toddler mood – one minute giggly and affectionate, while the next they are crying and scowling – it is simply the outward expression of their attempts to gain some sense of control of their feelings, impulses, actions, environment and body. In addition, toddlers have limited means of communication – so they are trying to understand their world but simply don’t have to tools to effectively work through their struggles or even talk about them.
Honestly, it’s a set of tasks that many adults still struggle with, so why do we expect our kids to have mastery of any of them?
Now, that’s not to say that we should be at their precocious whims. Buy there are certain things you can do in those moments where you are trying to complete a task and are swimming upstream against the terrible two’s. The first I was to tell you about is called the ABCD’s of toddlerhood.
The basic concept is that you need to be prepared when you are out trying to run errands or complete tasks with a toddler in tow. Just like the boy scouts bring matches, rope, and tents when camping, you need to bring a few essentials with you and your toddler. Every item should do one of the following:
Amuse, Bribe, Comfort or Distract. A,B,C or D. Think small – small toys, pocket storybooks, or bite sized snacks are all things that are good at keeping little fingers busy and alert minds occupied. Do a search for “quiet books” – you can make or purchase small activity books that are designed to occupy kids with hands-on activity, such as moving dolls through a story book’s cloth pages with velcro.
Another option is to change how you are interacting with your toddler. I might start to quietly sing one of my daughter’s favorite songs, or remind her of the frog we saw on the porch last night, or even simply point out what’s around us as if it’s amazing. I’ve never caught anything other than smiles from other shoppers as I excitedly point out the items on the conveyor belt moving by, and it occupies my little one enough that we can move through the line with a little less struggle.
Restaurants are a special challenge, because at around age 2 a child’s appetite goes way down as their growth slows. This often means that they are done with a meal within 15 minutes. A restaurant requires sitting in one place for at least that long before you even see a bit of food – and we adults don’t finish quite so fast. For a little one, it can probably seem like an eternity of just sitting – which is not something they tend to do well! So, in addition to the menu coloring page, and our ABCD bag of tricks, my husband and I have each been known to simply pick up our daughter and go for a walk outside the building. We accept that there are limits to her attention span and that sometimes we have work within them rather than try to force them to fit our convenience.
Of course, these aren’t long term solutions. But the thing is, toddlerhood isn’t a long term problem.
Eventually, our kids will gain the ability to cognitively reason through more complex situations and understand that certain events happen in a logical sequence that soon enough comes to an end, allowing us to move on to something else. In the meantime, save yourself the emotional turmoil and frustration of trying to reason with your toddler. Soon enough they will be reasoning with you about why you should let them borrow the car!