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Ask any parent what he or she wants most for their children and the majority will say, “I want my child to be happy."

Yes, parents also want their kids to be safe and resilient, knowing the world can be an adversarial place and that in order to truly succeed in life—in whatever they aspire to do and be—they need to develop certain emotional skills and become well-adjusted.

They will also say they want their children to be “kind," “caring," “respectful," and often “successful" and “smart." These are all values that most of us share. Who wouldn't want a child to grow up to be kind, caring, successful, and happy?

But can we really make our children happy? Can we force them to be genuinely kind?



No. We really can't make our kids do anything. We can kiss them, love them, hug them and indulge them. We can sign them up for myriad activities, plan playdates and vacations, give them music lessons, Mandarin classes, gymnastics, soccer, and ballet, and do our utmost to get them into the best schools.

But think about it for a moment—is “happiness" really what we are after anyway?

This drive we have as happy-seeking, often overachieving parents begins early—our plump little babies are allowed to coo, cry, spit up, and awaken us at night until they are about one year and 10 months. Then, whammo! As soon as they reach 2 years old, suddenly and as if overnight, we have a whole new set of rules for them: we want them to behave, listen, follow rules, and “be nice."

And just as we shift our expectations of our no-longer babies, all hell seems to break loose. A switch is flicked and our sweet little ones turn into demanding, irrational, often defiant toddlers. We worry that if we don't clamp down on their “bad" behaviors now, they will have these behaviors forever.

It may surprise you to know that parents often—unwittingly, unintentionally—get in the way of their toddlers growing into the well-adjusted, empathetic, resilient, happy older children and adults they envision them to be.

Parents often think they are doing what is best for their children, when in fact, all they are doing is blocking the needs that are at the core of who that child is. And when we suffocate those needs, or even simply overlook them, when we, unwittingly or not, try to mold our children, and shape their behavior according to some preconceived expectations of who they are and who we think they ought to be, we stamp out and smother them. We deny them the crucial foundation necessary for every child to grow up well.

By getting in their way, we can inadvertently sabotage our children's development in, we take away their ability to understand themselves, to explore the world in a way that makes sense to them and encourages their curiosity. We truncate their motivation to learn. We take away their confidence to forge relationships, and most crucial of all, we interrupt their ability to develop the emotional skills necessary for them to succeed in school and in life.

I don't mean succeed in the way we tend to think of success these days: that they will become straight-A students, awesome athletes, accomplished artists, or the next great business innovators—though all of that might happen, too.

What I mean by success is this: a person who feels confident to explore the world around him with excitement and curiosity, who is not afraid to make mistakes, who feels secure enough to begin to make friends, and who feels well-adjusted enough to bounce back when she is disappointed. A person who can handle life is motivated to learn, stands up for herself, and cares about others. Sound too good to be true?

Not at all.

Toddlers do or say many things that from an adult point of view appear to be irrational, unsocialized, or even absurd. Indeed, many of our toddlers' seemingly illogical choices make us parents very nervous. We can get embarrassed.

Our response?

We tend to overcorrect them, or criticize them, or simply stop them. As adults, we see our toddlers' erratic behavior as needing to be controlled because they seem so out of control, which, from an adult view, they might be. This is when we tend to fall back on generalizations about the classic “terrible twos"—or threes or fours.

We see kids this age as misbehaving or rude or not listening or losing it or throwing temper tantrums over nothing. But when looked at with fresh eyes, these misbehaviors can make sense, even to us. Then you will be able to guide your child through it to a more socialized way of being. Eventually.

So what can parents do? There are six key ways parents can interact with their toddler. Parents can:

  1. Mirror back a sense of safety and relative order
  2. Listen to children instead of always talking at and directing them
  3. Give children freedom to play and explore on their own
  4. Allow children the space and opportunity to struggle and fail
  5. Work to understand who each individual child is and what he needs at a given age
  6. Provide children with limits, boundaries, and guidance

These simple actions give any child a strong foundation to grow during a time when they are just beginning to test and understand themselves in relation to others and respond to and manage their complicated feelings.

And guess what happens when we interact with our kids in this way? We suddenly become disentangled from the battles; calm and clear enough to respond to what our child is really needing at any given moment (rather than starting with what the adult needs at that moment); and flexible enough to give our kids choices while at the same time providing support and boundaries.

This excerpt from “How Toddlers Thrive: What Parents Can Do Today for Children Ages 2-5 to Plant the Seeds of Lifelong Success" is republished with permission from Tovah Klein.

Helping your 2-year-old learn to communicate and develop the social skills they'll need as adults is no easy task. Here are some of our favorite products that can help.

Slumberkins hammerhead snuggler

Slumberkins Hammerhead snuggler

Slumberkins are amazing tools for teaching little ones to name and explain their big emotions. They just happen to be disguised as the most snuggly, soft lovies we've ever seen. Along with their story and mantra card, Hammerhead helps kids articulate big feelings when tantrums or frustration gets the better of them.

$45

'It's Not Yours, It's Mine'

'It's Not Yours It's Mine' book

Challenges around sharing can be a major pain point with two-year-olds. This humorous and charming tale about friendship and sharing will help them better understand the importance (and joy!) of letting friends in on the fun.

$18

EKOBO step stool

EKOBO step stool

"I do it!" is a phrase you might hear twenty-six times before 8 am. Providing two-year-olds with a boost that allows them to be just a bit more independent goes a long way. (Bonus: you can flip this one over and use it for toy storage too!)

$29

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

[This was originally published January, 2019. It has since been updated.]

Lace up your shoes: A baby on the move means a mama on the move!

Scooting, rolling, crawling—there is no denying that their increasing mobility makes your life a bit busier.

Gone are the days when your baby was content to hang out in one place to observe. And, really, who can blame them? With so much to discover, your curious little one's cognitive skills are booming along with their fine motor skills.

It's natural to feel as though everything revolves around your baby's schedule, wants and needs right now. But it's time for you to think of yourself, mama! Now is the perfect time to treat yourself to something that'll help you adjust to mom life. Maybe that's a cozy new outfit (perfect for Sunday morning snuggles), a product that streamlines your beauty routine, or something that'll motivate you to get back to regular workouts.

As you celebrate the 8-month mark, here are a few helpful items to toss in your shopping cart:

For a little jam session: Bright Starts safari beats

Sitting unassisted offers your baby an exciting new view of the world! Keep them encouraged as they build their sitting endurance with a toy that also introduces colors, musical sounds and more.

$9.99

For safe exploring: Skip Hop playpen

Skip Hop playpen

When your baby constantly wants to play with mama, it can be nice to give yourself a breather. A spacious playpen is a lifesaver when you need to keep them in your sights while crossing some items off your to-do list.

$159.99

Indestructible dinnerware: Cloud Island plate

cloud island

As your little one graduates from purees to more traditional dinner time fare, it's a nice time to introduce plates, bowls and cups—just not your grandma's breakable dish set.

$5.99

Follow the leader: Skip Hop crawl toy

skip hop

It's a fact that remains true throughout life: Getting moving is easier with proper motivation. If your baby is this close to crawling, give them a bit of extra encouragement with a toy that begs to be chased around the room.

$24.99

For keeping stairs off-limits: Toddleroo safety gate

Having a baby in the house certainly makes you look at things differently, like those stairs that now feel incredibly hazardous. On the flip side, since permitted people (like you!) will want to access the stairs regularly, it's helpful to have a gate that's easy to open with one hand.

$24.99

For looking cute in your sleep: Stars Above short pajama set

Stars above

If you've spent the past few months sleeping in milk-stained pajamas, you are due for an upgrade, mama. We're willing to bet that a special someone in your life will approve of this cute set, too.

$21.99

For supporting your ladies: Auden full-coverage t-shirt bra

t-shirt bra

Let's just call it like it is: Your breasts have been on quite a rollercoaster ever since that pregnancy test was positive. Whether you are nursing less frequently or exclusively bottle feeding now, you owe it to yourself to try out some bras that actually fit.

$14.99

To cover up household odors: Project 62 3-wick candle

Project 62 candle

One of the quickest, best ways to refresh a space? A candle with your favorite scents. Take a moment to take a deep breath in and exhale any tension—ahh.

$12.99

If you have to skip that shower: Living Proof dry shampoo

living proof

If a day of chasing after your baby means you have to pick between collapsing on the couch or taking a shower, just know we have zero judgment for the camp that goes with dry shampoo.

$23.99

For the nap time hustle: Merrithew Soft Dumbbells

soft dumbbells

Running after and picking up your baby is a workout all on its own. But if you also like a little dedicated sweat time for your mental and physical health, a basic set of hand weights is a simple (yet super effective) way to ensure you can squeeze in those at-home workouts.

$18.19

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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How often do we see a "misbehaving" child and think to ourselves, that kid needs more discipline? How often do we look at our own misbehaving child and think the same thing?

Our society is conditioned to believe that we have to be strict and stern with our kids, or threaten, shame or punish them into behaving. This authoritarian style of parenting is characterized by high expectations and low responsiveness—a tough love approach.

But while this type of authoritarian parenting may elicit "obedient" kids in the short-term, studies suggest that children who are shamed or punished in the name of discipline face challenges in the long-term. Research suggests that children who are harshly disciplined or shamed tend to be less happy, less independent, less confident, less resilient, more aggressive and hostile, more fearful and at higher risk for substance abuse and mental health issues as adults and adolescents.

FEATURED VIDEO

The reason? No one ever changes from being shamed.

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