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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.

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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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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

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

Our Partners

I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

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Life

Why do all of my good parenting or baby-focused inventions come after they've already been invented by someone else? Sigh.

Like the Puj hug hooded baby towel, aka the handiest, softest cotton towel ever created.

Safely removing a wet, slippery baby from the bath can be totally nerve-wracking, and trying to hold onto a towel at the same time without soaking it in the process seems to require an extra arm altogether. It's no wonder so much water ends up on the floor, the countertops, or you(!) after bathing your little one. Their splashing and kicking in the water is beyond adorable, of course, but the clean up after? Not as much.

It sounds simple: Wash your child, sing them a song or two, let them play with some toys, then take them out, place a towel around them, and dry them off. Should be easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, right?

But it hasn't been. It's been more—as one of my favorite memes says—difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. Because until this towel hit the bathtime scene, there was no easy-peasy way to pick up your squirming wet baby without drenching yourself and/or everything around you.

Plus, there is nothing cuter than a baby in a plush hooded towel, right? Well, except when it's paired with a dry, mess-free floor, maybe.

Check out our favorites to make bathtime so much easier:

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