I won’t forget the day I slumped into bed, sobbing uncontrollably, thinking, “I actually don’t know if I can do this,” which was the moment I knew myself and my family were in trouble. This was spending another day as a mother of a one and three-year-old.

All my education and psychotherapy training didn’t seem to be working—sure, I knew on paper how to raise young children, but my natural mothering sense didn’t seem to be kicking in. I could get a massive room filled with people to hang off my every word, laughing away, but I couldn’t get my child into his car seat (without losing my ever-loving-mind).

The next morning, as I watched my exasperated child drop to the floor in hysterics because I cut his toast the wrong way (never do this!), something clicked in me. I knew a lot about the psychology of people, but I didn’t know much about the psychology of toddlers. A resolve grew inside of me; I needed to know more.

This resolve pushed my butt into the offices of colleagues and my nose into books. I discovered how unaware I was of the real nature of toddlers. I was expecting too much, doing too much in my life at the time, coddling too much and not coaching enough (and I was too exhausted).

In order to not let what I now know as toddler/ preschool parenting PPD (it’s a thing!) take hold of me, I sat down to make a list of agreements that would guide how I interacted with my two toddlers. These are the promises I made to my children.

I agree to:

1. Hang in there

Parenting a toddler can really suck some days – that’s just the way it is. I can do this, though. I realize everyone is on a steep learning curve. I will ask for support.

2. Make time

It will take time to train my toddler. I need to make space for this time (now is not a good time to start that new project). I will learn techniques that positively help my toddler.

3. Not take his behaviour personally

My toddler is not out to get me. He is a little person learning how to shift from the only thing he has known—how to freak out to get his needs met. I need to teach him how to say, “Milk” instead of throwing it at me because I gave him water.

4. Not project adult behaviors onto my toddler

My toddler is not manipulative. He doesn’t have the brainpower to intentionally do something to piss me off. He’s just being ____ (one/ two/ three).

5. Handle repetition

Learning at this age takes a huge amount of repetition. I will feel like a broken record, but that’s okay, because it is this repetition that will create positive core beliefs that significantly improve his overall quality of life moving forward.

6. Take care of myself

My bucket will get drained easily. I might feel like I am doing a marathon every day. I need to take care of me to take care of him.

7. Handle your violence with non-violence

Toddlers are violent and loud. (In fact, Dr. Richard Tremblay, a professor of paediatrics, psychiatry and psychology at the Université de Montréal, has found that two-year-olds are actually the most violent humans on Earth. Dr. Tremblay wrote that, “Perfectly normal two-year-olds are a creature who reflexively uses physical aggression to get what (s)he wants.” In order to stop this violence, I need to train my child to get what (s)he wants with non-violent communication. This will take time.

8. Not make rash decisions

My marriage might suffer right now. I might lose too much energy being with my toddler to have enough to support our relationship. I agree to hang in there with my partner and believe we will have time together and a clear mind soon.

9. Call you names

Although I might joke around that my toddler is an a**hole or a jerk, I promise not to believe that or say it seriously. My toddler is a little person in need of my patience, leadership, commitment, and sense of humour.

10. Feel hopeful and capable

This too shall pass. I can do it.

Approaching toddler parenting with the resolve that they are little people that need support and coaching more than they need to be scolded was what really helped me. One week my three-year-old was having about five, hour-long tantrums a day and the next it was one or less. This happened when I shifted my attitude from “surviving” his meltdowns to seeing how I could walk him through them. Instead of finding ways to spend less time with him, these agreements gave me the ability to turn toward him rather than away. Maybe it was that action that made the biggest difference?

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