How to survive toddlerdom

As one Mumnsetter neatly summarises, toddlers are irrational, egotistic, despotic beings. At some point they will, most likely, turn into nice children but until then turn on CBeebies and don't expect them to 'play nice'. The Terrible Twos seem to strike many toddlers at 18 months and go on for roughly another three years.

Save yourself, the rest of your family, your friends, enemies, the world, by buying/ promoting/ generally evangelising about Toddlers: The Mumsnet Guide. You'll be doing oppressed parents (and people in public spaces such as supermarkets) a favour.

Need to know | Golden rules | Tackling tantrums | Top 10 tips | Safety | More advice

But until your copy arrives, here are some words of wisdom and reassurance from other Mumsnetters to cling to when, frankly, you feel like toddling off…

Toddler truths it's worth knowing from the off

  • We fall in love with our babies and think they are the most perfect human beings on the planet. They become toddlers to redress this imbalance. Spoo
  • Although they can walk, toddlers can't walk. They get tired and demand to be carried after two metres. (And, during that two metres of walking, they pull your arm, step in dog poo and walk in front of you so you trip up.) GivePeasAChance
  • 'Share' is a one-way concept to a toddler. As in 'what's mine is mine, and what's his is mine too'. stealthsquiggle
  • Toddlers suffer from temporal insensitivity. It takes ten times longer for a toddler to do anything than an adult. Unless chocolate buttons are on offer or you have said the word 'No!' in which case they react with superhuman speed. Whomovedmychocolate
  • Toddlers are just Labradors with less fur. Both need daily walks. We have a Labrador, too – and some days you'd be hard pressed to tell them apart. Welliemum
  • You will get to know the TV repair man very well and learn to smile at his bemused expression on finding half a pound of butter in the DVD - again. Overweightnoverdrawn
  • In The Night Garden is manna to a toddler in the way that those food/property porn programmes are to us. Ronaldinhio
  • Tables, walls, doors - in fact, anything - is more satisfying to draw on than the nice flat piece of paper you've put in front of them. mistlethrush
  • You will spend the first two years encouraging them to walk and talk. The following years you just want them to sit down and shut up. notnowbernard

As for you, well it's not always easy when they're scything you down with a scooter but as one veteran toddler mum puts it "you should pretty much treat a toddler like a confused elderly aunt – just keep talking to them kindly, gently but firmly (without any judgement in your voice), explaining everything very slowly".

Other golden rules for parents

  • Pretend they belong to someone else, especially in public. cocolepew
  • Be polite to your children and say sorry when you accidentally break their Lego with your best stilettos. They model your behaviour so avoid swearing - even if they do leave bits of sodding lego all over the floor. Bingoberta
  • If your children - and you would like any sort of social life, it is essential that you try to tame their more revolting habits. Oblong
  • Do not ever allow glitter in the house. Notnowbernard
  • Look after your back. You will spend months just hovering, leaning anxiously over your child as they stagger around, always just inches away from death (sockets, cars, stairs, dogs...) You won't realise the damage that has been done until it is all over and you have a dowager's hump. hester
  • Suspend all thought of embarrassment and do what you have to do to get things down. My daughter will only let the cat brush her teeth, so I have to hold a struggling cat under one arm while trying to brush them, but making it look like the cat was doing it. palermo
  • There's no such thing as a vacation, it's just childcare in a different climate. sybille
  • Do not question their choice of bedfellows (including balloons, bath toys and vegetables) or bed attire (wellies or superman/fairy tinkerbell outfit). It's not worth it. SazzlesA
  • Don't waste the daytime nap on housework. Dearprudence
  • Never express even slightly unfavourable opinions of friends, family and acquaintances in front of a toddler. They will parrot them to the person in question at the most inopportune time. sfxmum
  • Should your toddler utter the phrase 'I'm being Tarzan!' in a busy restaurant or shopping centre, be very afraid. As every toddler knows, Tarzan wears just pants... SoupDragon
  • Actually, you're best off spending the years from two to four Mumsnetting. Then all sorts of behaviour/discipline problems simply don't arise. 'Mummy, me flush purse in toilet' 'Mm, oh lovely darling, well done!' FrannyandZooey

Going to DEFCON 1

Before you have children, tantrums are what happen to rubbish parents. Then one day, out of the blue, there you are in the middle of M&S with a child screaming blue murder because the extremely chocolately caramel wafer you've just purchased for her is slightly crumpled, while other shoppers shoot you disappointed glances.

A tiny percentage of Mumsnetters' toddlers have never had a tantrum - and they were probably just too busy at their computer screens to notice. Here are some things to try when they descend into violent fury.

10 tips on dealing with tantrums; aka Wobblies, Hissy Fits and Meltdowns (we could go on)

  • I find distraction works best with toddlers - and with me. Toddler throwing themself on floor screaming? Distract them by pointing at big red bus. Toddler still throwing themself on floor screaming? Distract myself with food/ Mumsnet/something else until tantrum is over. AttillaTheHan
  • Try chocolate buttons. In toddler land, everything can be resolved with chocolate buttons. morningpaper
  • The illusion of choice is a powerful tool. I find 'DO you want to wear this jumper or that jumper?' can give them enough choice to prevent the going out in the rain wearing nothing but a hat, nappy and wellies meltdown. BennyAndJoon
  • Bubble mixture is the single most important piece of toddler kit to have in your handbag. It is great for preventing any kind of waiting room wriggling/brewing tantrum. And, from a parental point of view, it is, most importantly, a toddler activity which can be done sitting down.... mollyroger
  • Brief, brief, and brief again. Toddlers don't realise that you may have plans. So tell them the whole day's plan, then the morning's plan, then repeat again and again. It may seem like constant rabbiting but it is so much nicer than an unseemly half-hour fight over a sock, which makes you both late and cross. Habbibu
  • If you have more than one, don't intervene in quarrels until you see blood. This helps them learn conflict resolution from an early age. MarsLady
  • Do not get distressed by their continued refusal to share, take turns, or stop bashing smaller children at playgroup. They simply do not understand. Do, however, continue telling them (loudly) the correct way to behave and that you simply Will Not Tolerate Such Behaviour. It doesn't matter that it will make no difference; you're doing it to safeguard your reputation among the other mums. hester
  • There is a reason toddlers are ticklish. If used judiciously, and not overdone, it may divert yet another tantrum... Donk
  • Ignoring a toddler is your most powerful weapon. If they lie down and scream in the middle of the supermarket, step away and pretend to look at an interesting tin of tomatoes. Tantrums often stop without an audience. Wolfcub
  • Do not waste time expecting them to show remorse and sorrow: they can't. Lemontart

Health and safety notices

A toddler can give the Incredible Mr Stretch a run for his money. Given half a chance, they will seek, locate and remove a corkscrew and kebab skewer from the cutlery drawer you didn't know they could reach and will be performing open heart surgery on their bear (or baby brother). SoupDragon

  • If it's quiet, panic. A silent toddler is a danger-seeking missile. KarlWrenbury
  • A brush is a brush to a toddler, even if you think it's something for cleaning the loo! taczilla
  • Do not let your toddler watch the builders. LadyOfWaffle
  • Given access to any phone, a toddler will dial 999. EffiePerine
  • Once I found my son naked, sitting cross-legged and playing with his cars. He had his penis stretched out and was holding it down on his ankle using it as a bridge. Gigglinggoblin
  • Check the washing machine before you turn it on. Fruitshootsandheaves
  • Just because the receptionist at A&E knows you all by name, that does not make you a Bad Parent. morningpaper
  • Choose playgroups with chairs (for you) and clear sight lines. Tea is a bonus. EffiePerine
  • That stain on your sofa may be chocolate-equally, it may be poo. Just clean it off with a disposable cloth. DO NOT SNIFF! wrinklytum
  • AND finally – a few mantras to chant daily in the hope of saving your sanity
  • Most of what they do is funny, really - you'd see it if you weren't so knackered. LeninGrad
  • Have 'This too will pass' writ large above the cleaning products, so that you see it every time you go to clean Biro from the sofa/wall/guinea pigs. BennyAndJoon
  • In the worst moments, imagine yourself waving them off at a railway station when they leave home at 18. You will suddenly feel awash with either sadness or relief, both of which make a change from exasperation. GrimbleTheResourceful
  • It's only a phase. Sadly, the next phase will probably be worse. Mamazon

And one, itsy-witsy last plea from parents of toddlers to mums of teens. Please do not ever smile wistfully at the mother of a tantruming toddler and inform her that if she thinks it's bad now, just wait until he hits teens.

Do not be surprised if said mother explodes with need to inform you of your good luck at being able to poo unaccompanied. You may only communicate with your teenager once a week, and that may be via text, but you have clearly forgotten that when your children are two this would seem the ideal scenario.

For advice on potty training, sleep, behaviour and yet more on tantrums, see our Toddlers advice.


Last updated: about 3 years ago