As you have probably already realized by now, one of the greatest challenges of being a parent is juggling all your roles and responsibilities. It probably seems like there are never enough hours in a day and it can be a challenge to manage your mood at the same time as managing your toddler.

“The only way for me to get everything done is to involve the children in what I’m doing. Fortunately, they love it!”

—“The only way for me to get everything done is to involve the children in what I’m doing. Fortunately, they love it!”

“You are an individual as well as a parent. Make time for your own interests—you will be happier and your child will benefit, too.”

Balancing the never-ending round of household chores with the art of child-rearing is a challenge for even the most well-supported adult, but it can be a source of major stress for sole caregivers or parents of large families. The creative answer is to try to turn household chores into a time of fun and early learning.

Child’s play

It is possible to rediscover the enjoyment of tasks such as cooking by involving your children. Instead of rushing and being stressed, you will have no choice but to take your time, and tune into the task.

Turn hard work into child’s play

A young child does not recognize the difference between work and play, provided it is fun, and will find great pleasure and interest in the simplest of household chores. However, I am not suggesting child exploitation here! Your little one is too young to be given responsibility for undertaking chores himself, and his safety should always be a priority.

Are you a mini me?

Getting chores done when you have a toddler in tow is a challenge. Make the most of his enjoyment of imitation by encouraging him to copy what you are doing (within reason) in miniature. If you are washing the car, he can wash his toy truck; if you are folding sheets, he can fold his teddy’s blanket; if you are cooking, he can prepare some food, too. This is a great way for your child to learn new skills and anything you can do to keep him interested will encourage his smiles instead of tantrums.

De-stress with mess

Take the stress out of your own day by turning gathering clothes and tidying up into a game with rewards. This introduces the opportunity for your toddler to copy what you do, and to add some fun to the process. You might want to take some time to look at the colors and shapes of the items around your home; you could go on a search for cobwebs and spiders (provided you are not fearful yourself), or invent a special “sorting” song. Encouraging children to put dirty clothes into the laundry basket and clean ones away in a drawer can become a game helping them to learn colors and the name of different items of clothing, and introducing the idea of large and small sizes. Try to put the focus on sorting colors and shapes rather than being fastidious about everything having to be neat and tidy and in the right place.

Mixing and tasting

Baking cakes is a favorite way to play. Most toddlers love making a mess and will get immense enjoyment out of mixing and “helping” with their fingers, elbows, and anything else that finds its way into the mix! The enjoyment that your toddler gets from being able to eat the result of his labors will guarantee you some help with preparing food in the future. But remember not to let him near the hot oven until he is old enough to fully understand the dangers.

How does your garden grow?

Growing things is exciting for small children, whether simply watching the progress of a carrot top sprouting in a saucer of water, or helping to weed a garden or grow some seeds. The changes and growth in the plant are usually a source of wonder and excitement—and offer the ideal opportunity to explain how things grow. Try to resist the temptation to introduce the true science until your little one is older. A simple explanation about seeds needing water and sunshine will be enough. Any more detail and he may appear to be listening, but he is far too young to understand what you are saying.

Coping with toddler overload

When you are tired, you may find yourself acting like your toddler. You might say “No” for the sake of it; throw an adult tantrum if you feel out of control or disregarded; occasionally feel negative and want to be left alone. This is only human and feeling fed up is your right—sometimes! However, if you are feeling low and increasingly negative toward your child, you need to ask yourself if you are stressed, exhausted, not getting support, or simply need a break. Take some time to consider what might help you to respond to your toddler and to others in a more calm and consistent way.

Do you feel as if you’re always saying “No” or “Don’t”?

There is no one correct way to be as a parent, but trying to make sure you balance negative comments with at least an equal number of positives is the ideal. If you are in the habit of responding negatively, you are probably feeling stressed or tired. Try to consciously turn the negatives into positives next time you are playing with your child—and plan for some time off, too.

Are you exhausted by all his questions?

Ignoring unwanted behavior is an effective technique for controlling “bad” behavior in children, but is not the ideal response if your child is being inquisitive. Children need many of their questions answered so that they learn and can begin to reason simply for themselves. If your toddler is wearing you out and you have “had enough” for one day, explainto him that “that is enough questions for one day. Daddy is tired now” so that he understands the reason for your nonresponse.

Are you tired of scolding?

Your toddler needs limits. However, constant criticism may stop him from experimenting, may make him passive because he is afraid of your negative reaction, or overly accepting of his “bad” label. He is now old enough for a short and simple explanation of “No”—or to be shown why something might be dangerous.

Is he always interrupting?

Your toddler can to begin to learn that he sometimes has to wait for your attention. Children of this age can start to learn that you cannot always be child-focused.

Does he tend to do the opposite of what you tell him?

Telling a child he can’t do something is often a good way to get him to do it. Try using a paradoxical statement such as, “Bet you can’t put all those toys in the box before I count to 10!” This approach can be very effective! It helps encourage positive behavior, too.

Are you always showing him what to do?

Modeling behavior is an ideal way to show a child what to expect, but this needs to be balanced by allowing him to make mistakes. Trial and error helps him to find his own way, without you jumping in to show him the “right” way—unless, of course, he seems unsafe or out of control.

Making time for you

Schedule regular time to do something completely unrelated to anything involving children and family. Allocate time in your datebook—once you have written your plans down, you are more likely to follow them through. The moment you feel you have no time for anything other than work and chores is the very moment to stop… and make a conscious decision to do something for you, now, this week.

That goes for your partner, too. If you look out for one another and make sure you are equally well supported there will be less room for tension, resentment, or exhaustion. The more relaxed and fulfilled you are, the less conflict and upset there will be.

Make good use of your support network. Do you have friends that you can call on for a chat or to relax and unwind with? Do you make good use of your pediatrician and any local baby and toddler groups? It is the ideal stage for your child to start to make new friends, too.

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