Dads’ Tips: Navigating the “Terrible” Toddler Years

The toddler years begin around age one, or as soon as a baby is fully mobile and walking on his own, and they last until about age three, around the time the child is eligible for preschool enrollment. Between the ages of one and three, a curious toddler can become a real handful. The toddler years can be terrible enough with two parents in the home, and they can be doubly daunting for a single parent.

If you are not the primary custodian of your toddler, dealing with toddler issues when your child is in your care can become even more challenging, as their likes, dislikes, and sensitivities can change rapidly. Try to communicate with your child’s mother and other caregivers to stay up-to-date on daily and weekly changes.

These tips from single dads can help you transition to doing the job of two parents when it comes to raising a toddler.

Roll with the tantrums. Always keep in mind that tantrums happen, and sometimes they happen a lot between the ages of one and three. It’s good to have a tantrum plan—especially for tantrums that occur in public—to help yourself stay calm and help the child through the tantrum. Tantrums are usually the result of a child’s frustration over something, and the “thing” may seem like nothing at all to you.

You can’t usually stop a tantrum, so sometimes it’s best to roll with the punches. Try calmly sitting with your toddler while she works through the tantrum. You can try holding her if she’ll let you. If the tantrum is particularly violent, you may wish to give the child a time out in a safe place.

When a tantrum occurs in public, retreat outside, to your car, or to a quieter place until the tantrum passes. Talk to your child about the tantrum afterward and help her understand what happened.

Treat teeth for fussiness. There are many reasons a toddler may be cranky or fussy, but pain from teething is a common culprit. Toddlers may also experience growing pains during a growth spurt. Some toddlers are teething constantly until their teeth are done coming in and it can be a painful experience. If your toddler refuses to eat, teething may be the culprit. Even some younger toddlers will be able to show or tell you what’s wrong, if you pay attention to their signs. Cold teething rings, cold foods, cold washcloths on gums, topical gels, and children’s Advil can all help.

Stock up on child-friendly foods. Toddlers tend to be inconsistent eaters. Even if they are good eaters, they may love a food one day and then refuse to eat it the next, and for no apparent reason. Keep a variety of child-friendly foods around the house and remember to bring snacks with you wherever you go. And don’t discount so-called “adult” foods that may not seem child-friendly.

At mealtimes, serve your toddler several of the foods he usually likes and then offer him some of your own food as well, if you’re eating a different meal. Between all the choices he will usually eat enough to keep him well-fed and healthy. Make sure you offer him a variety of fruits, veggies, grains, and protein to create a well-balanced meal.

Keep toilet training consistent. When your child spends time with both you and his mother, it’s best to get on the same page with toilet training routines in order to create toilet training success in due time. Use the same words to talk to your child about body parts and bodily functions. Keep the child’s potty in the same place in both homes (in the bathroom, if possible). Offer the use of the potty at the same times, such as during a diaper change or when you are using the bathroom yourself. Decide together if you will offer rewards for successful use of the potty or not.

Establish your own bedtime routine. Unlike toilet training, it’s often a good idea to establish a bedtime routine with your child that’s all your own. You may wish to keep certain things consistent, such as a bath or bottle, if it will help your child sleep better. But don’t worry if you do things a bit differently than mom does. Your child will quickly understand that your routine together means bedtime at your house, and your special time together can be very meaningful to him.  

Visit a pediatrician. If you live in a different location than your child’s mother you may wish to visit the pediatrician with your toddler periodically to help stay involved and take an active role in your child’s health care. It’s also a good idea to establish care with a doctor in case the child falls ill under your care. Pediatricians are an excellent resource for any questions or concerns you may have about raising or caring for your child.

Connect with other dads that have kids. Sometimes it’s hard to maintain a social life when you’re busy being dad, and kids need to socialize with other children as well. When your child is staying with you, trying planning an outing or get-together with another dad-toddler duo. There may be a father’s group in your community where you can meet and share information with other dads as well, often while the children have supervised playtime.

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