One moment she was a baby. The next, she got up and she ran. You followed.
She gave up her nap long before you’d have thought possible and instead, up and down the stairs she climbed, a game that never got dull. You followed.
If you turned your back for 20 seconds you found her half way up a tree. You followed.
While the other children slid down the slide, she climbed up it because it was more fun. You followed.
She chased the birds in the park, whooping with joy. You followed.
Up and down the supermarket aisles she ran. You followed. At the public pool—before the sunscreen was rubbed in or the water wings on, she ran. You followed. Up the downward-travelling escalator she ran. You followed.
When you were exhausted, you followed. When your throat was raw from shouting, “Be careful!” you followed. When hugely pregnant with her baby brother, you followed. When her terrifying antics had your heart in your throat from morning until night, you followed.
Because where else would you have been?
This is the life of a parent of a high energy toddler. The days are lived at a higher volume and faster speed than you ever imagined. Sometimes they seem endless.
When the evenings finally come, you spend them crashed in a haze of exhaustion, never quite able to catch up on the energy you need to make it through another day, another week of your toddler’s insatiable appetite for exploration and discovery.
In a perfect world we’d be able to constantly indulge their little minds and bodies with stimulation and messy play delight. In the real world, we need to get things done in our day—and try to keep them safe at the same time. This is the ultimate rabbit in a hat trick that parents of toddlers must pull off every hour of every day.
I’m now parenting my second high-energy toddler and I’d forgotten how exhausting it is. Almost daily I lose my cool and wonder how I’m going to keep up. I shake my head at her fearlessness and my heart skips a beat several times a day.
But I’ve also learned some helpful tricks along the way that help me cope with her exuberance.
Preparation is key
The best way to ensure things go smoothly with your high-energy toddler is to be as prepared as possible, and give yourself plenty of time. There is no surer way for the wheels to come off for us than when we’re in a hurry.
Pack snacks ahead of time, apply sunscreen before you leave the house. Set yourself up for success so you can stay as calm as possible, and you’ll find you have much more energy to devote to your toddler and his need for speed.
Let them run
They need to spend some of their energy before they can be expected to sit still in an adult environment. Start your day with a trip to the park or soft play or just a walk down your street looking for stones. Your toddler will be much easier to contain later on.
Set limits to keep them safe
This sounds awful, but my oldest daughter had a terrible habit of running away any time we were in a public space, which I found utterly terrifying. So before she could understand the dangers around her, I solved the problem by letting her choose an adorable puppy-shaped backpack with a leash attached.
If we were walking I always had her fill it with a couple of her favorite toy cars and wear it. She grew out of this phase quickly when she could better understand my explanations for why it was a dangerous thing to do, but the backpack leash was a solution that worked for us until she did.
Unplug from technology
We’re so distracted by technology—especially those of us who work from home and do childcare at the same time. But I realized that when I unplugged from technology and engaged in a completely undistracted way with my toddler, we were both happier. Our toddlers thrive on having our undivided attention and feeling they’re the most important thing in our world, so let’s resolve to put down our phones and play.
Explain along the way
Toddlers understand more than we give them credit for, so it really helps to get down to their level and explain what’s about to happen before it does. High-energy toddlers don’t want to get into the stroller and go somewhere that isn’t fun for them, but I found that if I explained everything we were about to do before we did it—going into details like, “We’re going to put our coats on and then you’re going to put your yellow boots on and we’re going to lock the front door behind us…”it was much easier to get them on board.
Give them a role
Toddlers love to have a job. So even if they’re little, give them a responsibility while you’re out and about. In the supermarket, ask them to name the items and put them into the cart for you. Let them weigh the veggies, even if you don’t need to. Constantly ask them questions (“Do you think we should get this cereal or that cereal this week?”). Involve them.
Know that these are the days you’ll look back on and miss
What you can’t see in this moment is that this too shall pass. The days may be long but the years are agonizingly short. The moment you blink and your toddler becomes a preschooler with an aversion to dirt you’ll realize how much you miss those chubby little legs running as fast as they can through a muddy puddle.
Enjoy this season. Look at the world through their eyes. Laugh. Because mamas, these are the days.