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Toddlers are unpredictable—5 ways to be a more proactive parent

2. Consider your child’s temperament

Toddlers are unpredictable—5 ways to be a more proactive  parent

Remember those days before you had kids? You would see parents in a store or public event and gawk at the kids throwing tantrums. You may have uttered those ill-fated words: “When I have kids, I will never…” My version included verses like, “I will never bribe my kids with sweets” or “I will never allow my kid to throw a fit in public.”


Fast-forward a few years and most of us are now eating those words. As I look back at those pre-parenthood days, I realize that much of my switch from parenting in theory and parenting in reality had to do with the difference between a reactive and proactive approach.

Before we had kids, we all probably imagined that we would be those proactive parents who knew how to respond to every situation in a thought-out, reasonable way. The reality of parenting is that kids often act in ways that are so unpredictable that we struggle to be proactive.

No parent can be proactive all the time. Some situations require a quick, reactive, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants decision. There are a few strategies we can keep in mind, however, to keep us in a more proactive, logical mode much of the time.

1. Try to stay in your right mind (literally)

In a great talk I was listening to the other day, the speaker was discussing the roles of the different parts of the brain. The emotional part of the brain often takes over when we get upset with our kids. This rush of emotion tends to make us much more reactive instead of proactive. Not surprisingly, our kids’ brains our dominated by emotion, too. Since their brains are still developing, it is much harder for them to shift up to the thinking part of the brain.

For us adults, however, we can consciously try to keep ourselves thinking instead of just reacting based on emotions. Emotions serve a purpose, but if we want to model self-regulation for our kids, learning techniques to help us calm our emotions enough to respond rationally is key. Strategies such as taking a deep breath or taking a few minutes away from the situation are often helpful. Switching to our thinking brain will help us respond in a more proactive way.

Try this: Keep breathing and step away if necessary. Repeat to yourself, “They are just little and still learning.”

2. Consider your child’s temperament

Do your children have very different personalities from you? My children differ in temperament from me quite a lot. This was evident early on when my toddler would try to talk to every new person on the playground while I was content to hang back.

Having differing temperaments can spark some challenges, especially with being a proactive parent. Your temperament usually influences how you automatically respond to a situation. If your temperament differs from your child, your automatic reaction might not always be the best approach.

For example, imagine you have a much more outgoing, talkative temperament, but your child is more introverted or quiet. If you are trying to discipline her, a loud wordy reprimand is probably going to cause her to shut down. If you understand her temperament, you can act proactively to think through how to react in a way to help her learn the lesson instead of feeling anxious.

Try this: In a calmer moment, consider the approach that works best for your child, such as quiet words, time out, wordy discussion, etc. Make a mental note of this for the next time a meltdown happens.

3. Connect first

This may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes when you like your kid the least, is the best time to spend more time with her. We’ve all had days (or seasons) where you and your child are just not getting along. The stresses of life and school are wearing you down. Your kid talks back to you and you may not respond much better in return.

Many times this is a signal that you and your child are just not connecting. Just as the saying goes, all work and no play makes everybody grumpy. I have found this advice on taking time to play with kids to be a real game-changer. Even 10 or 20 minutes a few times a week can really help you become a more proactive parent, instead of just responding to immediate emotion of the moment.

It seems that when kids know you will take time to get down on their level and engage in something they enjoy, the grumpy moods and snarky attitudes are almost impossible to maintain. In turn, you have a more positive attitude too and can respond to them better.

Try this: Ask your child if you can join her in an activity that she enjoys. Ask something like, “Would you like to play a board game or Legos.”

4. Simplify life

In the past year or so I have really tried to focus on simplifying our life and routine. If I feel stressed about piles of toys and too many activities, I can only imagine how it must make my kids feel. After reading several insightful articles about how we can simplify our lives to encourage our kids to play longer and feel more content, I was on board.

How does this relate to being a more proactive parent? For me, just taking steps to simplify is itself a proactive move. It’s about being intentional with how we spend our time and money and what effect that has on our kids. Additionally, the calmer, less stressful environment makes it possible for me to be more proactive with other parenting decisions. If you are always in a mode of “putting out fires” it is difficult to be a proactive, intentional parent. Simplification for me was the first step in moving away from just reacting to my kids and towards a goal of living more in line with our larger family goals.

Try this: If you are considering signing up for another activity or getting another toy, ask yourself, “Will this benefit my kid long-term?” Or, “How long do I think they will stay interested in this?” Additionally, consider, “Is doing this worth the extra stress and less downtime for my kids.”

5. Set clear expectations

This one may seem obvious, but it is easy to forget that kids sometimes do not have the same goals or assumptions about behavior that we do. This hit home to me just the other day with my 7-year-old son. We had just had a long discussion about the difference between playful roughhousing and actual hitting with friends. Then, just a few days later I saw him repeating the same inappropriate hitting with his brother. I sat him down and explain in clear terms that hitting was wrong. This time the lesson stuck.

He said he did not understand that it was wrong before. I was shocked, but I think he was being genuine. It was then that I realized how clear we have to be with kids. Long, wordy discussions sometimes go over their heads. Clarity in expectations is key.

Setting clear expectations is the cornerstone of proactive parenting. It sets out ahead of time what we consider appropriate in a given situation. I find myself having the little talk about expectations prior to almost every event or outing with my boys and I do think it helps them.

Try this: Before an event or outing, sit down for a minute and clarify the expectations with your kids, “We are going here, I expect you to…”

As parents we often fluctuate between proactive and reactive parenting styles. If you are in a season of life where just surviving from day-to-day (hello newborn stage) is a big accomplishment, then proactive parenting may seem like a distant goal. Over the long-term, however, a proactive approach can help you remain a calmer and more consistent parent and help your kids thrive.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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