Are You Second-Guessing Yourself as a Parent?

I'm so jazzed that author Jen Singer is stopping by Parent Talk Today as part of her blog tour for her new book Stop Second-Guessing Yourself — The Toddler Years: A Field-Tested Guide to Confident Parenting.

Jen is a hoot — and one smart cookie when it comes to knowing when to stress out as a mom and when to chill. I know you'll enjoy this Q&A with one of my favorite parenting authors:

Q. What’s the hardest part about transitioning from babyhood to toddlerhood?

A. Mobility and your toddler’s increasingly strong urge to ditch Mommy and go check out that butterfly/puddle/cupcake/dog/etc. It’s a never-ending effort to balance your child’s curiosity and learning with safety and the attempt to get places on time – and without a temper tantrum. In short, the toddler years are a lot like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride: harrowing, yet often amusing, and always full of surprises.

Q. What’s the biggest mistake that parents of toddlers make?

 A. Attempting to get through Target at naptime is one of them. Not expecting the unexpected is another. After I found myself at a Halloween party attempting to change one toddler’s diaper, even though he was in a dragon costume without snaps, while monitoring another toddler who was reaching for a plate full of cupcakes half a room away, I learned to lower my expectations. Toddlerhood was still a crazy, exhausting time for me, but at least I knew it should be.

Q. What do moms say is the most difficult part of parenting toddlers?

A. Potty training is the most labor-intensive milestone of toddlerhood, by far. You have to be involved and entertaining and helpful without pushing your toddler into total disinterest in potty training. It’s part science, part art and all up to your toddler, no matter how hard you work. Knowing how to walk the fine line between using rewards and encouragement and letting your toddler take the lead is the key to successful potty training. That, and a whole lot of patience.

Q. How can you run a playdate or playgroup without all the mama drama?

 A. If you’re hosting a playdate or a playgroup, understand that, like it or not, your mothering skills are on display for all the other moms, and vice versa. But you can nip the urge to compete in a mothering competition with a few simple tips, including: 

1. Hide your toddler’s favorite toy. That way you’ll avoid a tug-of-war (and its ensuing meltdown and your apology).

2. Don’t rush in to referee. Toddlers have amazingly short-term memories. If you wait just a little longer than you’d like to, one toddler just might find another shiny new toy and forget what she was in a tizzy about in the first place.

3. Keep it short. An hour or two is long enough before everyone starts to get cranky (moms included).

Q. How can you run errands with a squirmy, active toddler in tow?

A. Remember that timing is everything. Think about it from your toddler’s perspective: It’s hard enough not having any say in what you do or where you go, but getting dragged to the furniture store at 9:00 p.m. on Friday night? Also, front-load the most important stops in case you have to cut your outing short due to crankiness.

Q. What do moms need to know about keeping their toddlers safe?

A. Our generation of mothers has taken safety preparation to all new levels, though not all of it is necessary or even useful – like the toilet latch my toddlers broke into like Houdini. I’m a fan of safety gates, particularly at the top of stairs, and of moving your breakables and anything smaller than your elbow (a.k.a. choking hazards) out of reach throughout toddlerhood.

Q.  How do you keep your toddler entertained?

A. The first step is to realize that you are not your toddler’s entertainment director. If you feel guilty for folding laundry because you’re not entertaining your toddler, something’s wrong. (I know. I’ve been there.) The sooner you teach your child to entertain herself, the better it is for her – and you – down the road. One of my favorite ways to get a toddler to entertain herself is to lay out the Tupperware on the kitchen floor and put her in the middle of it. Sure, it requires some cleaning later on, but it’s worth it if you’re able to get something done – or even to sit down for a while.

Q. How do you handle the Terrible Two’s?

A. Here’s a secret: Sometimes Terrible Two’s starts before age two. Sometimes, it hits at four and sometimes not at all. In general, toddlers are an unpredictable lot. They can go from sweet to sour (and super-cranky) in no time flat. The key is to predict and diffuse. If, for instance, you know your toddler is going to have a canary because his cousin just touched his favorite Elmo doll, swoop in and distract him with something better, like a new and, therefore, more attractive toy, a snack, or when all else fails—dare I say—a video.

Q. What are some of the “Milestones You Don’t Want to Share with Grandma”?

A. These are the things nobody told you about – and you probably don’t want to tell anyone about. Some of the most typical include: Opens, Closes, Locks, and Unlocks Doors; Stuffs Things up Noses and Into Ears; and Toilet Games, where the commode doubles as a boat landing or toy flusher. Take heart: These are common, and you can handle them, once you learn how. I cover these and five others and what to do about them in the book. One tip: Keep a key to the house and your cell phone in your pocket or a key hidden outside in case your toddler decides to try the lock when you step outside for a minute.

Q. If you could give mothers of toddlers one bit of advice, what would it be?

A. Don’t assume they can’t reach the middle of the kitchen table.

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