I was a middle school teacher for seven years before I had my son and became a stay at home mom. Now that my son is one month away from being an official threenager, I’ve realized toddlers are a lot like middle schoolers.

Ways They Are The Same

Both toddlers and early teens are going through major life changes. They are learning things about the world in new ways and are both racked with uncontrollable emotions. Both easily get frustrated when things don’t go their way and sometimes break down because of it. Both are trying to assert their independence while still relying heavily on their parents to do things for them.

One moment they are our sweet angel babies, and the next moment demon monsters have taken over their bodies. In those moments we might look at them and think; who are you?

Both ages have made me want to tear my hair out, but knowing how similar they are, I have started to use some of my teacher tactics on my toddler. Amazingly, they are working.

What I did as a teacher and now do as a toddler parent

The most important thing I do is give my son information. I explain the what, where, why and how whenever I want him to do something. For example, the other day he gave our dog so many blueberries that the dog threw up on the carpet. The next day he tried to give the dog blueberries again.

When my husband said “No Ollie, don’t do that,” my son continued to laugh like a demon monster while throwing blueberries at the dog. So I did what I would have done with a middle schooler who wasn’t listening in my classroom. I got down to his eye level, and very calmly said, “Ollie please don’t give the dog blueberries. It hurts his tummy and he doesn’t feel good.”

Instead of simply saying no, I explain the why behind the no and put it into words and feelings he will understand. Sure, I had to remind him again later because he’s 2, but he understands. The same can be said for middle schoolers. You can’t just say no, it’s an insult to their intelligence and they understand more than you think they know. Explain the why behind the no. And remember you will probably have to repeat. Many times.

This “why” strategy seems to be working with just about everything lately. Why do we have to clean up your toys? That’s easy, if we don’t clean up the toys the dog will eat them (this has indeed happened before). Why do we have to brush teeth? You don’t want stinky breath or your mouth to hurt.

Other strategies from the classroom that have been working at home are the use of a timer and the importance of keeping instructions concise and short. I also make my son repeat back instructions like I use to have my middle schoolers do.

For example, if we are about to leave the house I’ll say something like, “I’m going to put on a timer for 5 minutes and then we will put your shoes on and go to H-E-B.”

My son usually repeats back the three things we are doing and when the timer goes off, bounds out to pick his shoes. Usually, he picks shoes that don’t match, but as long as the weather allows for it, I let his choice in shoes stand.

Maybe my years of teaching have given me the life skills it will take to get me and my son through this season of toddlerhood.

Veronica DeSantos Ryan
Hi Austin mamas! I am Veronica DeSantos Ryan, a mama from Round Rock. My husband and I moved to the area in 2014 and love every minute of it. Our baby Oliver (May 2016) is the light of our life and we are enjoying every minute with him. After spending seven years teaching, I decided that I wanted to be a stay at home mom and teacher of life to my little boy. As a family we love running with Ollie in his jogger stroller, having picnics outside, playing with our two dogs and exploring all the the Austin area has to offer! I am also a performing princess for Lexi's Little Princesses Princess company, a teaching artist at The Georgetown Palace Theatre, and a member of the singing group The Vintage Dreams. I am an avid reader, piano player, singer, and occasional actress in community theater, and have recently been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More.


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