Modern Parenting

How to Survive a No Good, Very Bad Day (With a Toddler)

This is the ultimate survival guide for a bad day with a toddler. A must-read for all parents! Don't lose your cool - try these tricks instead!

Let me start off by saying: I do not have all the answers. Like most moms, I just make it up as I go in order to survive. I go to sleep every night and wake up every morning telling myself to try and be the best parent I can be: more patient, more loving, more compassionate. But when my rambunctious toddler decides 5:00AM is the appropriate time to get up for the day – patience, love, and compassion just become old vocab words. We’ve all been there. I know we have. That random Tuesday (why does it always have to be Tuesday?) when you just keep shouting “why??” to yourself, while you silently wonder how you’ll ever survive until naptime.

If you’ve read about Harper’s 18 month old routine, then you know she is an early riser. However, sometimes she even pushes the boundaries of what it means to wake up early. Let’s call 5:30 AM early and 4:45 AM cruel and unusual. While this doesn’t happen often, she has been known to wake up at said cruel and unusual times without going back to sleep. On these days, I try to be positive, but I really know it’s all downhill from there. She’s cranky, I’m cranky, heck even the dogs are cranky. Everything becomes a tantrum, nothing is right. It’s just one of those days you wish you could hit “start over” on.

So after feeling frustrated and exasperated on one too many occasions, I decided that I needed to sit down and come up with ways to survive these terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. For me, they always start with a way-too-early wake-up. For you, it may be totally different, but either way, I hope these little tricks can help.

How To Survive a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (With a Toddler)

Take a Shower

On mornings when I “can’t even” – I throw some toys in the bathroom, give Harper a pre-breakfast snack, and hop in the shower. With such an early wake-up call and such a long day ahead, sometimes a hot shower just calms me down and wakes me up. I realize this may not work with 2 kids, but it definitely can work with one.

It can also help you feel like you’re taking a second for yourself (which we all know is rare with little ones), and can in turn give you peace of mind to face the day ahead.

Get Out of the House

One of the worst things you can do on a day like this is to stay home all day. In the end, it will just make everyone stir crazy. Even if Harper is tired from being up so early, I’ll still take her to storytime or gymnastics – anything fun where we can both laugh and smile and forget how tired we are.

I try to remind myself that I can’t turn back the clock and magically wake up at 7, so I just have to put on a happy face and make the best of it.

Play Outside

Sometimes a crying, cranky toddler (or baby) just needs to get outside. Fresh air has this way of transforming our moods entirely. On days when Harper gets up too early, her nap schedule will be thrown off and she just ends up feeling all kinds of sleepy and grumpy. These are the days I make it a point to play outside as much as possible.

Taking a step outside can also be a sanity-saver if your little one will not stop crying. Put them somewhere safe (like their crib or a pack-n-play) and just take a step in your backyard for a quick minute. Just that one minute outside where you can’t hear the screaming and the crying can be the difference between you losing your mind and you being able to deal with the problem at hand.

Go Out to Lunch

Since we are always trying to save money, we rarely go out to eat. We pretty much eat 3 meals a day at home. One of my sanity-saving survival tricks is simple: let someone else do the cooking and cleaning and take that kid out to lunch. Harper LOVES going to restaurants. She likes to climb the booths and wave at people. She likes eating her favorite foods and in general just hamming it up in public. To see her get so much pleasure out of something so simple (especially on a day like this) is just downright heartwarming.

So whether it’s a Pick 2 at Panera or a Burrito Bowl at Chipotle, we get out of the house and we go out to lunch!

But if all else fails, give them a cheese stick and put their favorite show on TV.

Oh and wine, lots of wine. Wine also works.

For more practical toddler tips, check out How To Get Your Toddler to Say “Yes”More.


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This is the ultimate survival guide for a bad day with a toddler. A must-read for all parents! Don't lose your cool - try these tricks instead!

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  • Mamaguru
    January 12, 2017 at 8:49 AM

    Outside, wine and sometimes just laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all have always helped me!

  • Belle
    January 12, 2017 at 9:50 AM

    These are great tips! I’ve had bad days with my kid and I definitely need this in my life!

    Belle | One Awesome Momma

    • Marla
      January 19, 2017 at 2:15 PM

      Thanks, Belle!

  • Laura
    January 12, 2017 at 10:40 AM

    Love these, and yes I agree about getting out of the house no matter how tired you are. Makes you feel human again!

    • Marla
      January 19, 2017 at 2:15 PM

      It really does!

  • Vicki @ Babies to Bookworms
    January 12, 2017 at 12:47 PM

    My daughter had a really hard time when the weather got cold and we couldn’t go outside to play every day. Going out to pick up lunch or do some Christmas shopping or browsing made some tough days better for sure!

    • Marla
      January 19, 2017 at 2:15 PM

      Yes, on the really cold days it’s hard to explain to an 18 month old why you can’t go outside! Luckily some Mickey Mouse Pandora can sometimes distract her!

  • Kathy
    January 12, 2017 at 7:51 PM

    So many of these tips also apply with a newborn and infant. Getting out is so important, it changes my mood entirely and my baby’s!

    • Marla
      January 19, 2017 at 2:14 PM

      It’s true! Although they change so much from baby to toddler, getting out always helped Harper when she was being fussy as a baby.

  • Sarah Blackston
    January 12, 2017 at 8:04 PM

    We’ve been having days like that recently! Our 15 month old is going through a sleep regression on top of teething and has been waking up our 3 year old (they share a room). It’s infinitely harder to handle it with more than 1 (and being 6 months pregnant), but outside DEFINITELY helps! Thanks for the tips!

    • Marla
      January 19, 2017 at 2:13 PM

      Oh, wow! I don’t know how you do it! Sleep regressions + teething are literally the bane of my existence.

  • ericaaugust
    January 12, 2017 at 10:10 PM

    YES! My toddler has been such a toddler lately. Going outside and playing has been a life saver on the good weather days. I also try my best to get out of the house as soon as my husband gets home!

    • Marla
      January 19, 2017 at 2:12 PM

      Yes! Taking a little break for yourself sans toddler is sometimes all you need before you throw yourself back into the fire!

  • Tiffany
    January 13, 2017 at 1:49 PM

    Getting out of the house always helps us reset. Great tips!

    • Marla
      January 19, 2017 at 2:11 PM

      Same for us! That’s usually my first go-to.

  • suzanne
    January 13, 2017 at 7:16 PM

    Yes to getting out of the house! That saved me in the first year after having my daughter. And playing outside is a life-saver, too 🙂

    • Marla
      January 19, 2017 at 2:11 PM


  • Erika Ortega
    January 15, 2017 at 11:28 AM

    Oh thank you for this! Getting out the house does help. Even a car ride to a local store does wonders

    • Marla
      January 19, 2017 at 2:10 PM

      Yes! Sometimes we will just wander around the mall just to get out.

  • Ashley Griffith
    January 15, 2017 at 11:59 AM

    Showering is one of life’s wonders. No matter how bad I feel, a shower always helps.

    • Marla
      January 19, 2017 at 2:10 PM

      Right?! Before motherhood I could honestly take it or leave it, but now, nothing beats a good shower (maybe chocolate…)