Parenting toddlers* can test your courage as a parent, adult, and otherwise mannerly person. As the parent of 5 retired toddlers, a current toddler, and an aspiring toddler, I’ve been tested quite a bit, and I’ve struggled. But, as billions of parents and I have learned, toddlers somehow make it to preschool age, sometimes despite their parents, which is comforting to know. In order to make it past that toddler stage, current and future parents of toddlers might want to know a few things.

Here are seven things your toddler wishes you knew:

1. I like screens, but I like you more. 

Screens are colorful and lively. They move and make funny noises. What’s not to like? Programmers are good at designing screens to make me happy, but they can’t make me happy like you can. I’d prefer you and the screens together. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says it’s best to look at screens with me so you can help me understand what I’m seeing. Believe it or not, I’d pick you over the screens any day. 

2. I like being with you, but one day I’ll wish you had given me unstructured playtime without you and the screens. 

The AAP says that toddlers need unstructured time alone. Entertaining myself with blocks, dollhouses, and funny gadgets helps me grow and develop. Sometimes I need you to show me how and then step back. I’ll be better for it.

3. Emotionally and mentally, I’m a toddler. 

I may talk a lot and say clever things, but I don’t know the language or possess wisdom like you do. When I yell “No!” 40 times, throw a tantrum, or act jealous when you hold another kid, remember, I’m a toddler. I may even spew out hurtful phrases like, “I hate you.” “I wish you weren’t my parent.” “You’re ugly.” 

Hear me. I’m frustrated. I’m experiencing these crazy emotions. I have no idea how to get what I want. As a baby, all I had to do was cry. Now I have words, but I don’t know how to use the millions of words out there to express myself. So it’s “by any means necessary” until you teach me and hold me accountable. Even then, it may take some time. 

It’s not OK for me to say hurtful things, but it’s a normal part of my development. Please help me to learn the right boundaries and show me some empathy. When you try to help me understand instead of getting equally frustrated, it teaches me how to express my emotions. You may not be able to stop the tantrums, but I need you to teach me through them. 

4. I know I’m cute. I’ll use it to my advantage if you let me. 

Please don’t let me use that to control the house. Boundaries are necessary for me. It isn’t cute when I hit someone, talk disrespectfully, and abuse my siblings or their things. I may not be able to speak well, but I can understand what you’re saying. Please don’t let me get in the habit of using my cuteness to be mean. 

5. I know I just said I’m a toddler. I’m also a person, and I have something to give. 

The quicker you give me things I can do to help the family, the less likely I’ll feel entitled. I can help you take spoons out of the dishwasher, pick up toys, and take clothes out of dryers. All this stuff has to be done, and I can do it. That way, you can do the stuff that only adults can do. Everybody wins. I don’t want you to do everything for me, only what you have to do. I can understand more than most adults think I can. Harvard researchers say that having responsibilities will help me be a more caring person

6. Stability and consistency help me settle into this world. 

I’m seeing so many new things, and I don’t know how to act sometimes. Predictability at home helps me not be anxious all the time. You may not realize it, but the routines of eating dinner together and talking about the good and bad in my life, reading a book to me at night, or just knowing you’ll hug me when I’m hurt helps build trust and security.

7. I don’t need a perfect parent. I need a present parent. 

You’re gonna make some mistakes with me. Who wouldn’t? I’m a lot to handle. Just because I yell out a cuss word at church that I heard you say when you were upset doesn’t mean I’ll grow up and be unruly. Not everything I do is about you. And even if it were, who cares what everyone else thinks? I’m not worried about what other parents say about their kids on social media. That’s their life. They aren’t telling the whole story anyway. 

I think the world of you. Even when I test the limits and yell something crazy, you’re the one I want to roll with, mistakes and all. Please don’t be scared — it’s harder to ruin my life than you think. 

Bonus: I love you. 

You don’t have to prove that you love me; I know you do. That’s why I keep looking back to see if you’re there when I’m testing my independence.

Your presence, consistency, and care mean more to me than your perfection, knowledge, and skill as a parent. If I say you’re mean, remember, I’m 3. What do I know? My world centers around me. I’m closer to being an infant than I am to having a fully developed mind. The tests we go through together will make us stronger. Just stick with me, and don’t stop showing me the right way. I’ll grow, develop, and mature in due time. 

*The CDC considers toddlers to be ages 1-3. Ages 4 & 5 are considered preschoolers.

Note: This message is veteran-tested and toddler approved.

Other helpful blogs:

How a Parent’s Emotions Can Affect Their Child

How to Help Children Handle Their Emotions

6 Fun Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Toddler

How To Handle Public Toddler Temper Tantrums

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