stuff that works: toddlers

toddler parenting tips blog

Parenting a toddler is awesome. She is adventurous, hilarious – ‘bubble poo’, ‘no please!’ & ‘cold toast’ (bread!) – and endlessly affectionate. During my recent coughing fits, she drops whatever she is doing to come and tenderly pat my back. I find little plastic pigs in my shoes in the morning. She collects things in her day and says, Daddy will like that!, & saves them to show him.

But she is also, of course, exhausting. It is a battle of wills and stubbornness with someone who is just like me, except she has extra reserves because she gets to nap every lunchtime. What’s mine has to be hers, I am never ever allowed to use my pink noodle spoon, and sometimes when I change her nappy, you’d think I was rolling her in bees.
Like all parents, I keep trying. I fail a lot, sometimes spectacularly.
Occasionally something works – works so well, I feel compelled to share it with all other toddler parents, everywhere. So here it is: all of my greatest parenting wisdom, in a very short list!

Pens with the lids all chained together! So simple, but such genius – no rolling pens, no lost lids so no drying out, no favourite colours left on the floors of cafes and trains. AND you can hang them up to store them! Whoever thought of this ought to be a MILLIONAIRE, but at less than £5 a pack, I’m guessing they’re not.

toddler parenting tips

Chocolate chips – Is it inevitable that all children will love chocolate? Orla certainly does, to the point of requesting it at breakfast or in the middle of the night. For when I can actually say yes, I’ve discovered the magic of a small bowl of chocolate chips. She feels like she’s getting ‘lots’ of something, and it takes her a while to eat them, picking them up with her careful little pincer grip. I’m not sure when this will wear off, but for now, it’s a great trick to cut down on the amount of sugar she consumes in one sitting!

Socks in all the same colour. Matalan sell all white socks in packs of 5. I’m throwing all the rest away – these are bleachable, go with everything and are automatically always in pairs.

Start with a positive. A big thank you to my friend & work mentor Elaine for this tip; when you have to say no, start with a positive. Eg, ‘Yes, we’ll do painting after lunch’, as opposed to ‘no, you can’t paint, it’s time for lunch.‘ Little ears will hear the negative at the start of the sentence and immediately react; using a positive keeps the peace and keeps them listening.

toddler parenting tips

Frozen bananas. DID YOU KNOW that if you freeze a banana then blend it, it looks exactly like icecream?! After reading this recipe I rather dubiously gave it a go, but it had Orla completely fooled! I added a teaspoon of honey because freezing tends to mask the sweetness in things, somehow. She thinks she’s getting a treat, & I feel happy she’s had something wholesome.

Retro-fit parent bike handles. Orla has a Tash quad bike, which she loves, but after a couple of walks up the hill to the pub we began to see the real reason so many parents buy those huge push along ride-ons. Bending to push her ourselves is back-breaking! After a bit of research I found some options: the ‘push me home’ handle for bikes and trikes, a few possibilities on ebay and some options via special needs cycle makers, like the one that we went for. (It’s heavy duty enough to push an adult weight, so great for anyone with older children with mobility problems too ).

More choice.
There’s a lot in a toddler’s life that they cannot have a say in – schedules, work days, nappy changes, car rides. I find these moments of imposition run much more smoothly when I’m giving Orla lots of choice in all the other parts of her life: what to wear, what to eat, how we spend our play time together. It doesn’t need to be totally unstructured – a choice of two is enough to give her that sense of empowerment, and also happens to be a great language-boosting activity too – ‘do you want sparkly shoes or blue boots?‘.
In the same vein, I try to say yes to her ideas as much as possible – even things like showering in her pajamas one day. My parenting-reflex was to say no, but I caught myself in time to let it be. We giggled a lot, she got to be the boss & try something new, and she’s never asked to do it again!

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More time. More than toys, more than playgrounds and glitter and pink things and even, unbelievably, more than the iPad, what every toddler really wants is more of our time. The best possible toy for a child is a willing and fun adult. It’s good to remind ourselves of that sometimes :). That being said…

A banana makes a remarkably good emergency iPad stand. They’re sort of non-slip (ironically).


Aaaand that’s pretty much all I’ve got. Have you stumbled across a piece of parenting genius? Got a toddler-hack I can try? Let me know in the comments below, or over on my Instagram post.

  • Natalie Baker

    I like this post a lot. I was taught the ‘yes you can after xxx’ thing at work years ago, I still use it now! Another tool I was given was to say ‘Brush teeth first, then play lego’ (or whatever) as it sets the order up, informs the small person what is coming next (good for predictability) and helps with transitions too. It also ends on a good note. Some kids I worked with would hear “Yes you can have chocolate…” and not be able to focus on the rest because they were too excited. It really depends on how they hear.

    My other tip is to say ‘thank you’ allllllllll the time. I had a bit of a debate with family recently around not enforcing manners. I am of the school of thought that kids will do it happily in their own time when they understand the meaning of it. I think intention and sincerity trumps habit, and the best way to help them get to grips with it is to show them how lovely it is to be thanked. Thank them, thank your partner, thank the dog if you have to. It has the knock-on effect of making you look for things to be grateful for too!

    PS your instagram makes me smile!

    • Aha! Sounds like you and I work in similar day jobs – it sounds like you’ve worked in early years and possibly special needs? I’m in Speech & Language therapy 🙂

      & yesyesyes to modelling the manners you want to see! The second anyone puts pressure on Orla to say or do something, she stubbornly refuses. Plus, the world expects little people to use their ‘good manners’ far more often (why is this? It annoys me!), so we need to be modelling it in that high-frequency use too if we really want them to speak that way. Laughed at thanking the dog, because it’s so accurate!
      Thanks for the insta-compliment. Do I follow you on there? xx

      • Natalie Baker

        Possibly? Lipsontoast – I’ll add ya!

        Yeah used to work with kids with autism, learned so so so much! And had an amazing time. And then went on to work in secure which was also amazing. And good for teaching me to zen, though I have had to relearn it all over again, so different with a baby!

        • Aha! I suspected as much when you mentioned ‘now & next’ and transitions ;). R & I met when we were working in the same special school 🙂
          I could definitely do with some lessons in Zen. Babies are a whole new type of challenge!

  • Natalie Baker

    Oh and another thing! (You seem to have inspired me this morning!) Unpeeled bananas are BRILLIANT to write/draw on in biro!

    • GENIUS! This is fast becoming a list of ‘101 ways to entertain a toddler with a banana’! 😀

  • BritW

    “…rolling her in bees.” Hahahaha–DEAD. On the floor.

  • CaliMel

    My mom used to make me banana milkshakes as a kid all the time [it was just frozen bananas and milk, no ice cream], so I bet the banana ice cream tastes really good! Love your ideas. and I spy the green camera that took forever to get there by boat I think? I still think of you when i see those mint green cameras!

    Saying Yes after such and such is a great idea.

    • Oh I should try that with Orla too – love these sneaky mama tricks! 😀
      and YES, the dream green camera I was so obsessed with and you totally made come true! 😀 Well remembered! See, it’s still loved and used so was totally worth it! haha x

  • Faye Larsen

    Pens with the lids chained together?! I feel this could be life changing in our family. Where did you find these wonderful things? Really wonderful tips, I particularly agree with the fact that our time is what they actually really want. I went to a parenting talk last week on building resilience in young children and the key premise behind the whole thing was that parents should give children their attention when they are behaving appropriately rather than when they are misbehaving/having a meltdown. All too often we dash off to ‘get stuff done’ when they are entertaining themselves well rather than giving them some encouragement, even if it is only a smile and a hug. Instead we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to reason with them and giving them our attention when they are having a tantrum instead of removing them from the situation or putting them in time out and then talking it through with them at a later stage to enforce that it is not acceptable to behave like that. They quickly learn that to get want they want (us!) the best way to do this is by playing up. It was certainly food for thought xxx

    • I know, right? They should give them out at birth as far as I’m concerned!

      Totally, totally with you on the positive reinforcement stuff. I guess we’re lucky that we both have a lot of behaviour management training from our jobs in special schools, because it comes in so useful when parenting a toddler! It’s definitely all easier said than done, of course… x

    • TheDaydreamerDiary

      Hi Faye and thank you for sharing – your comment is an eye opener and I intend to read it again tomorrow morning and think about your words regarding the WHEN and HOW of giving time and attention. I am afraid I am one of those giving more attention during tantrums… And I am definitely working on NOT sneaking out when they are playing to iron, wash a pile of laundry etc. The question here is: what’s really important? Laundry?!! I guess one never ceases to learn and babies/kids are great at teaching us who we are. Food for thought (and implementation). All best to you!

  • TheDaydreamerDiary

    Ooooh your post made me smile so much, thank you, thank you for sharing 🙂 Good to read your words! I also, selfishly, pat myself on the back for having implemented the “Start with a Positive” and the “More Choice” options as soon as the “Season of the NO” started with my eldest. And they work, I totally confirm. I will be stealing from you the banana recipe for a start, especially since with the first sunrays in our sky I did get already a few requests for ice cream. I feel this one will be very useful in the months to come! Follwing along with the chocolate chips idea (not so easy to find around here…), I use little bowls full of cereal chips – a fistful is a feast (and they do not stain, but you’ve got to love crumbs) 🙂 Here’s to parenting!!!!

  • I say ‘no please’ 🙂

  • The banana tip is genius, Definitely trying for myself and the kids as I have a sweet tooth

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  • Katerina Folkman

    “More choice” is a brilliant tip and reminder. I was doing it subconsciously, going along with her crazy ideas as long as it is safe for her. Just took a bath with her recently with both her and mine clothes still on!! 🙂 And I really like how you noticed the boost to the vocabularly. Wonderful tips, will be sharing it with my friends and moms here too.