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How to understand your toddler

Updated: Apr 26

The very short form of this blog is simply to say to you, “You can’t. Move on with your life”. But, we’re guessing that this isn’t going to be massively helpful, so instead we’re going to try and shed a bit of light on things for you as you try desperately to understand what is going on with your toddler right now.

Where to begin?

Well, the most important thing to remember is that your toddler doesn’t even understand himself right now, so this puts you at somewhat of a disadvantage when you’re trying to second guess him and figure him out, doesn’t it?

Again, probably not massively helpful in making life with your toddler a lot easier right now, but it hopefully does take some of the pressure off in knowing that a) you’re not alone, and b) you’re not necessarily doing anything wrong!

Whilst none of us are ever really going to have the answers, here’s a few things you can at least try when it comes to understanding your toddler.

👶1. Tired toddlers are testing toddlers! Everything is worse when we’re tired, and a toddler too can be very much at their worst when they’re lacking in sleep. Have a look at sleep patterns for the both of you, and check to see that even if you can’t get a full night of sleep (what’s one of those?), then make sure the sleep you do get is of good quality and in some kind of routine, where possible. The same goes for being hungry. Fun.

👶2. Accept ‘No’. Sometimes, it seems as though a toddler’s favourite word is ‘No’, or that they’re at least being sponsored handsomely by a higher power for each and every use of it. If they’re having a tantrum or being defiant, you may just have to accept that they’re going to say ‘No’ in response to whatever you do or say, just because they can. Pick your battles and let your toddler get on with it all in that case. But, if the cries of ‘No’ are coming at you alongside sobs and tears, there may well be another issue at stake that your child is trying to communicate with you. Keep asking them questions (calmly) until you hit on something where you’ll get a faint glimmer of positivity (if not a yes). It may take one hundred questions, but you’ll get there (more on this in point 6!)

👶 3. Manage your expectations. Much as we think that toddlers are completely unfathomable, they’re still human beings. Mostly. They have feelings and emotions, and they get confused and frustrated. Don’t tell me that you don’t have phases of that yourself as a grown adult? Think about the things that you would personally need in order to feel understood, and give those same things to your child. We’re thinking some time out, a nap, a quiet and darkened space, to be left alone, a drink (we’re talking something soothing, like milk – not gin), being spoken to in a soft tone, or sometimes just to be cuddled or touched.

👶 4. Watch out for triggers! Yes, I know we’ve made the point that sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason for you not being able to catch on to any clue whatsoever regarding what it is your child wants, needs or is acting out for. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be on the watch for triggers. Does your toddler’s behaviour change at a certain time of day? Or when they mix with a certain person? Or when they eat a certain food or watch a particular show? Sometimes finding and making these links can really help you to understand behaviour – and how to deal with it as it presents itself.

👶 5. Rule things out. We’ve already talked about tiredness and hunger, but sometimes (well, lots of times, actually), kids get ill. This can be a massive issue in throwing them (and you) through a loop. Even the most calm-tempered and content child can suddenly go through a personality overhaul if sickness or pain is brewing in the background. Whilst we’d never suggest that you try to medicalise everything, certainly have a quick monitor to see if your child might be under the weather. If so, throw out all the routines and advice and just do whatever you need to do to get through the next couple of days or weeks.

👶 6. Talk to each other. We know it might sound strange, seeing as your toddler might not even be talking yet – or might seem to have their own entire language altogether – but that doesn’t mean that they’re not listening and learning. They’re taking in new words, new concepts and new contexts every day, and even when they don’t understand the exact meanings, your tone tells them a lot! Keep on talking to (or with) your toddler, and watch as their understanding improves, because when they understand everything that’s going on around them more, you’ll start to understand them more, too!

If there’s one thing we’re all good at as parents, it’s trying anything and everything to make life easier as we tackle all the challenges that having a child might throw at us. Give these tips a go (or at least bear them in mind), and if you have any other tips for understanding toddlers, feel free to get in touch so that we can share your great ideas with our forum, and don’t forget to tell us about your experiences with our Onoco app!

Now, go and get ready to take ‘no’ for an answer!


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