“We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.”.— Dr. Maria Montessori
Here are the following Montessori-based toddler hacks I wish every parent of a toddler knew. Living and working with a toddler is kinda hard work, OK? They can’t control their bodies very well, they suck at paying attention, they’re impulsive, some of them are pretty loud and spirited, they’re all on an emotional rollercoaster, and a lot of them can’t talk very well.
So let’s make life easier for them, and you; with my top toddler life hacks. Ready?
#1- Do not ask them if they want to do things, tell them what to do. And lemme repeat that so you fully digest it… tell them what TO do, not what not to do. LOL.
Do you want to play outside? –> It’s time to go outside and play.
Do you need to use the bathroom–> it’s time to use the bathroom.
Can you put your shoes on please? –> put your shoes on.
Don’t run–> slow down/ we walk indoors.
Don’t climb on the couch –> sit down on the couch.
How you speak to young children fully matters, and most people naturally suck at speaking to toddlers effectively. A lot of the time this is why the toddler runs circles around you behaviorally. Stay tuned for an eBook on this exact subject, after I finish the current eBook I’m working on. (Yes, I’m writing an eBook.)
You also don’t need to turn every single instruction or request into a song all the time either, thinking that will gain buy-in. There is definitely an appropriate time and an appropriate amount of singing that helps toddlers with buy-in of instructions. My class is very musical. But there’s a reasonable limit to how much singing of instructions is Ok. Children do need to learn to just listen to spoken instructions by default rather than expecting to be sung to if mommy or daddy or teacher wants something out of them.
In my professional opinion, singing works wonderfully during predictable and consistent daily transitions, and for helping kids to calm down if they are getting overstimulated or upset. Singing your basic life instructions more than you speak them, however, can actually strip your spoken instructions of power because the child becomes used to singing as an adult’s default behavior for requesting serious needs. And in adult life, ain’t nobody singing their requests to each other, OK? LOL. In Montessori we are offering a preparation for life. So you don’t need to sing every request to a toddler.
#2- Choose easy clothing for your toddler. Easy clothing can still be super cute and fashionable. It just makes your life with a toddler a bajillion times more manageable if they aren’t struggling to get dressed and undressed. If they can’t put it on or take it off by themselves after being shown how a few times, assuming their age is about 18 months to two years old, dressing becomes more work that the adult has to manage. They could also develop less self-confidence around the ability to manage their own clothing if they habitually struggle getting dressed and undressed.
The ideal toddler “uniform” is
- elastic-waisted shorts,
- elastic-waisted pants
- maybe skirts that aren’t too tight and not “skorts”
- brief-style underwear or pull ups with stretchy sides (I like the velcro-sided style)
- socks that aren’t too tight
- slip-on shoes that are ideally made out of rubber.
- If you choose slippers (by which Hawaiians mean “flip flops”), it reeeeally helps if they have an elastic strap around the heel. It’s not that kids can’t manage without the heel strap, it just helps to prevent those buggahs from flying off unpredictably which keeps your toddler safer during play and walks in public places.
The best toddler leggings of all time come from H&M, just a heads up. Zero pieces of toddler clothing should have fasteners on them. No snaps, no buttons, no overalls, no zippers– just clothes that is easy on, easy off. Dresses are ideal for little girls who are either fully in diapers, or completely potty trained with zero accidents in a two-week window. If they are in the midst of potty training, no dresses and no tunics; because they will get peed on. Also, little girls struggle to get them out of the way fast enough which hinders potty training success. Separate shorts under dresses are also fine and a good idea if your child goes to preschool, because #climbingStructures. I’d recommend separate shorts under a skirt or dress over a skort, because skorts can be very difficult for little girls to don independently.
#3- insist that your child always sits down to eat just like an adult would. Don’t let them roam around with food, moving back and forth from the table as they please. When they get up from the table, assume it means they’re done eating. Encourage them to feed themselves, and don’t let them do anything at the table that would be inappropriate for an adult to be seen doing while dining (throwing food, dropping dishes on the floor on purpose, pushing the food off the plate, putting food inside their water, etc. — nope). If they do these behaviors, warn them that they can either eat nicely and keep eating, or be all done.
There is a systematic way to train young babies how to eat with self-control; and then when they reach the toddler age they already know the expectations and eat beautifully just like little adults. If you would like parental training for feeding and eating with your baby or toddler, email me or DM me on instagram.
#4- You can’t let toddlers just do anything they want. There are limits to behavior. If it’s inappropriate for an adult to be seen doing something, toddlers shouldn’t be encouraged or allowed to do it either. In the Montessori method, we basically strive to teach them once, teach them for life. And that is your basic guideline for ALL toddler behavior. Toddlers are learning the limits of life when they are a toddler. They desperately desire to know where the boundaries are, and how to be successful. Children are wordlessly always asking, “What is allowed in this place, and what’s not allowed? Will the adults stop me if I do this? Will they always stop me when I do this, every single time? Or is this adult’s guidance unpredictable?
How do you think I manage to get control over a classroom of 12 toddlers? Using this Montessori principle called “freedom within limits”. And trust me– it is magical. At one point, I had 23 toddlers in one Montessori classroom. In another, 18. All at the same time, moving freely about the room, each doing their own thing just like employees in an office.
If they cross the limit, I guide them back to what behavior is acceptable and expected. If they can’t have self-control, I invite them to be pau (all done) with that activity, and I offer them something else to do instead. Another great tip to remember is that toddlers are never able to do nothing the way adults can. The toddler brain is not wired that way yet.
…Nor should you be policing them 24/7. Here’s another part of limits worth considering… toddlers are also learning “Is this adult aware and kind, or hyper-vigilant and policing constantly so that it creates the fear of getting caught doing bad things?”. Stopping the child before they “fall off the cliff” definitely teaches the child that the adults are always in control, almost always supervising, and that the adults are always there to keep them safe and on the right track. This creates confidence for children that they are safe yet trusted, and always supported to make positive and better choices that lead to their success navigating this big unpredictable world of ours.
Your energy as a a toddler’s limits-keeper should mostly come from a place of supervision and care. Your energy and attitude should be more like “I always have your back while I trust you to explore freely, but I’m not gonna just let you do eeeeverything you want and you will learn that”, rather than from a place of fearful hyper-vigilance and policing.
If you were to do an honest assessment, how often do you catch yourself on any given day in ‘hey! stop that” or “don’t do that” mode when you’re giving your child any spoken attention? It wasn’t until I got a puppy that I fully realized just how often I was catching my babez doing naughty things; while I would remain radio silent when he was well-behaved.
I literally had to re-train myself to focus on all the good things I would see him doing, and to speak to him and praise him in his good moments. I had to re-train myself to use his name when he was behaving well; and I adopted the praise phrase “dream puppy!” anytime I noticed him doing good things or when he would listen to all his training commands. Whenever he did something not ideal, I had a completely separate neutral sound I started to use to get his eyes back on me. I trained him to to be afraid of this neutral sound by frequently pairing my neutral sound to positive surprises, praise, and affection.
If you want to try a ‘neutral attention grabber’ approach with your toddler so that you’re not always pairing their name with catching them in acts of naughtiness, I would recommend tapping them on the shoulder, or using a neutral ‘hey kiddo’ across both negative and positive situations as an attention-getter. And when you catch them doing something negative–and this is key– instead of immediately saying “stop” or “don’t do that”, instead, you want to give them a positive neutral instruction to be successful at, like a happy and excited “come here!” or “come sit by me!” or “come stand next to me!”. THEN you can either redirect them into doing something different but positive, or discuss their lack of safety before redirecting to something positive. When you discuss their lack of safety, don’t immediately chastise, observe. A phrase like “were you trying to jump off the couch?” or “sit on the couch when you play, OK?” is a lot more neutral and observant, rather than “we don’t jump off the couch, (you failure of a bad child)”.
#5- Your toddler’s sleep hygiene matters. I cannot emphasize enough what a problem it is for some of your children to lay down and sleep like a normal little human being, LOL. I also cannot stress enough how different your child would behave if they just slept enough. And here’s the Montessori secret to sleep: toddlers learn to sleep well when they are infants. I repeat: toddlers learn to sleep well when they are in infancy. Baby babies. Whatever sleep hygiene and habits they develop in infancy, when they can’t walk yet, is what they will continue to do as toddlers, especially when they have the ability to get up out of bed by themselves, and not sleep.
In the Montessori style, all of the children sleep on floor beds, independent of significant adult coercion, major adult assistance, co-sleeping, or crib rails. Yes, some children need to be sleep trained initially. But then after they get on board Ms. Roxie’s sleep train, they ALL sleep by themselves, on their little beds, like happy little baby birds in a nest. If they can’t actually fall asleep, they can still lay on their beds as quietly as possible without disturbing their friends who are asleep. Resting quietly is just as important as actually sleeping.
How do I encourage solid sleep behaviors? By setting up an optimal sleep environment, and maintaining the limits and expectations around sleep consistently AF. If you want parental support around getting your child’s sleep to improve, DM me on Instagram or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
So there they are, people. A 0-3 Montessori guide’s top 5 parental tips for more ease with toddlers 🤙🏾