Ever have just a plain old bad day with your toddler? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my fair share. I think it’s safe to say it comes with the territory of being a toddler mom. Hopefully these tips can help you survive, and turn that bad day around.
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 will ever survive until naptime.
It was 4:45 AM…
I heard my 18 month old crying from her room. I went in, desperate to get her back to sleep. Lately, her sleep habits had been all over the place (even though we hadn’t changed a thing about our routine), and I was at the end of my rope. It didn’t help that I was also pregnant with baby # 2.
She finally laid back down (but didn’t fall back sleep). Around 6 AM, I pulled her into bed with me, trying anything to get her to sleep more. No dice.
By that point I knew it was going to be one of those days.
I told myself to try and be positive, but I had a nagging feeling it was all downhill from there. It was 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. Because if we’re being honest, life with a toddler (even with a predictable routine) can sometimes be unpredictable. One day they’re a pefect angel, the next, quite the opposite. One day they’ll take a magical 3 hour nap, the next they’re fighting you tooth and nail at naptime.
More Toddler Parenting Tips
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When Your Toddler Won’t Nap: Battles Fought & Lessons Learned
The Ultimate Guide to Potty Training Your 2 Year Old
I think it’s important to remember that no matter how well-intentioned we are as moms, and no matter how hard we try, perfection does not equal perfection. As the old saying goes, kids will be kids, and while we can’t always change that, we can try to change how we react.
How To Survive a 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 her 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.
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.
**Update** With baby # 2 in tow, if I feel like I need to shower, I bring the pack-n-play into the bathroom, and this is apparently entertaining enough to keep my 2 year old from leaving the bathroom while I shower. It also keeps the baby entertained which is a win-win.
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 she 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.
Typically she’ll just end up napping in the car, which on days like this, is a lifesaver. No naptime battles today, thank you very much.
If leaving the house isn’t an option for whatever reason, doing something different and fun at home, like baking cookies or cupcakes, can be the distraction everyone needs.
It’s also important to remind yourself that you can’t turn back the clock and magically wake up at 7, or press a “restart” button, so you just have to find a way to make the best of it. Staying at home can cause you to stew in the misery of it all. Taking your mind off of things by engaging in an activity outside of the house can make a bay day feel a little better.
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 our toddler 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.
Park, playground, sidewalk chalk, walk in the stroller – whatever works.
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 or Order Dinner Out
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 eat.
Taking a cranky toddler out to restaurant may seem like a crazy thing to do, but if you don’t go out to eat often, anything that feels special to them can instantly change their mood. But if going out just won’t cut it, order a pizza. Just promise yourself you’ll find a way to make dinnertime or lunchtime easier on yourself.
Have an “Ace in the Hole”
This saying has become a mantra for my husband and I. Regardless of what’s causing your toddler’s bad day, nothing turns things around quite like a surprise gift. It’s okay to feel like you don’t want to reward them for bad behavior, but it’s important to remember that toddler’s have a difficult time controlling their emotions, and even though we might see their behaviors as bad, often what they need is a distraction – even if it’s something simple like bubbles, stickers, or a new coloring book.
One of my secret mom tips is to intercept a couple of birthday gifts and hide them at the top of our closet. On a particularly bad day when I’m wondering how I will survive, I just reach for my secret gift stash AKA my “ace in the hole”. This Daniel Tiger Activity Book has been a real winner on days like these.
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.
More Practical Toddler Parenting Posts…
How To Get Your Toddler to Say “Yes” More
How to Prepare Your Toddler for Baby # 2
How to Manage a Baby & Toddler as a Stay-at-Home Mom
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Outside, wine and sometimes just laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all have always helped me!
These are great tips! I’ve had bad days with my kid and I definitely need this in my life!
Belle | One Awesome Momma
Love these, and yes I agree about getting out of the house no matter how tired you are. Makes you feel human again!
It really does!
Vicki @ Babies to Bookworms says
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!
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!
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!
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 says
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!
Oh, wow! I don’t know how you do it! Sleep regressions + teething are literally the bane of my existence.
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!
Yes! Taking a little break for yourself sans toddler is sometimes all you need before you throw yourself back into the fire!
Getting out of the house always helps us reset. Great tips!
Same for us! That’s usually my first go-to.
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 🙂
Erika Ortega says
Oh thank you for this! Getting out the house does help. Even a car ride to a local store does wonders
Yes! Sometimes we will just wander around the mall just to get out.
Ashley Griffith says
Showering is one of life’s wonders. No matter how bad I feel, a shower always helps.
Right?! Before motherhood I could honestly take it or leave it, but now, nothing beats a good shower (maybe chocolate…)