Clever parenting hacks for toddlers

While being a new parent to an infant isn't exactly a walk in the park, being the parent of a toddler is a whole different level. Toddlers can move around on their own, talk back, take a stand, refuse to agree, do their own thing. 

Toddlers can be amazing little human beings — every day there's a new thing they learned, something else they've mastered that wows you all over again — but they can also be tiny terrors that require hostage situation-level negotiating skills, repetitive questioning and answering, and shocking yourself with the things that you have to say or explain to your child. Parenting hacks related to toddlers can help make the road a little less bumpy. Take these parents' advice — you won't regret it.

Create a feeding-time activity bag

If you're wrangling more than one little one, things can get even trickier. With a toddler and a newborn at home, your days can get a little bit chaotic. Keep your toddler preoccupied while you're feeding your infant with a feeding-time activity bag. 

"The bag could include things like: sticker books, coloring books, fun puzzles, modeling clay, finger puppets, etc.," Krystal Rogers-Nelson, a parenting and child safety expert for ASecureLife and mom of a 3-year-old, told me. "The key is that your toddler can only play with it during baby's feeding time. This helps your toddler feel special instead of jealous and gives you a chance to focus on your baby."

Use baby food jars as toddler glasses

Do your toddlers drink easily out of "big kid" glasses or is it a bit of a gamble to give them something that they can spill all down the front of them? According to a post on Michelle Sybert's blog Be Brave, Keep Going, empty baby food jars make the perfect toddler or preschooler juice glasses. Use them to help make the transition from baby sippy cups to grown-up glasses a little bit easier. Plus you won't have to deal with the mess of a leaky, gross sippy cup or the mess of the glass that's too big or heavy for them to easily handle.

Ask yes or no questions

Don't ask toddlers multiple choice questions. Instead, stick with close-ended questions that can be answered with a single word: "yes" or "no." 

"Our little man isn't the biggest talker, but like every toddler he knows 'yup' and 'NO!'" Mark Aselstine, a dad of a 6-year-old and 2-year-old, said. "Asking yes/no questions seems to help a lot since it gets to what he's trying to accomplish." Make it easier on them, make it easier on you. Simple as that.

Keep toys with small pieces contained with cooking and baking equipment

If your toddler has some toys that have relatively small pieces that tend to get lost easily (resulting in tears on their part and exasperation on yours), you might want to try this organizational hack to keep things running smoothly.

According to a Parent Hacks reader, cooking and baking equipment are just what you need for this task. Divide things in muffin tins, use sheet trays as play surfaces, keep everything where you can find it, and everyone has fun.

Give them two choices

Just as you wouldn't want to ask them too many complicated, open-ended questions, it's best to give your toddler two choices when presenting options to them. "Give them two choices; do you want to take a nap now or in five minutes, let me know it's your choice," Jodi Zaharris, a mom of two, said. "Do you want to wear the red coat or the blue coat?" 

That way, you're simplifying the decision-making process so that they can further develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills, without them getting overwhelmed at the prospect of choosing between a seemingly endless number of choices.

Use Bandaids to cover outlets while in hotels/not at home

You've baby-proofed your own house, but what happens when you're traveling? There's no way of knowing whether (most likely not) the hotels or homes in which you're staying will have covers on the electrical outlets. If you've brought along a box of bandages, you don't have to worry. 

According to a Parent Hacks reader, using bandages to cover electrical outlets will keep your toddler safe because they'll work roughly the same way as the plastic outlet covers. Just make sure you keep an eye on them because if they start to peel off they may need to be replaced mid-trip. And don't forget to remove them when you leave.

Replace junk foods with healthier alternatives

Regardless of what you think is the healthiest diet and how hard you try to get your children to eat healthy foods, kids tend to like snack foods and less healthy foods because they taste good. Swapping some of those foods for healthier alternatives can help you feel good about what your kids are eating without them feeling like they're being punished or deprived of the flavors they like. 

Do as Jessica Zelfand Munroe, mom of two toddlers, pregnancy health coach, and the founder of Supplet mom and baby boxes (recently acquired by Bump Boxes), does. "For parmesan cheese [swap] Bragg's Nutritional Yeast, seaweed makes a healthy swap for salty snacks, zucchini noodles for spaghetti, pumpkin and zucchini muffins for chocolate muffins, Lara Bars for granola bars, and sweet potato fries for French fries," she said. 

While they might not always be down for the healthier foods, especially at first if they're used to less healthy alternatives, they might come to appreciate these foods in their own right, which makes mealtime more peaceful.

Keep your toddler from rolling out of bed

During the toddler years, your kid often transitions from a crib to a big kid bed. Going from sleeping in a bed with walls surrounding it to a bed that they can quite easily roll out of can take some getting used to, but you can use things you already have lying around the house to make things easier. 

According to a Parent Hacks reader, roll up a towel or blanket and stick it underneath the fitted sheet of your child's bed to keep them from rolling out of it. This works in their bed at home or while you're traveling. No need for fancy gadgets or extra shopping or packing. Everything you need is already in the hotel room or your hall closet. How easy is that?

Give a controlled choice

Say your little one wants to do an art project. There are nearly endless options (and impending drama) as to what they could spend the day doing. Simplify things by offering up a "controlled choice." 

"I bought five small Tupperware containers and organized them into 'art boxes' with different themed crafts — a fish one, a princess one, an animal one, etc.," Jennifer Usher, mom of two, told me. "My daughter gets to choose one box when we do art projects. Everything is nicely contained and ready to go. It helps eliminate some of the mess and drama that art time can bring."

Make your own potty training underwear

Potty training can be tricky — and expensive — business. Save yourself a little bit of hassle and money by making your own training underwear instead of buying store-bought. According to a blog post written by Jaime Kátay at Bloom Where He Plants You, you can make your own training underwear with nothing more than toddler training pants and super absorbent maxi pads. 

To be fair, they still won't be as absorbent as the store-bought kind, but they can help teach your kids when they need to get to the potty (or catch some of the mess if there's an accident). If you have maxi pads lying around, it might ease your mind to know that they can also come in handy when you're panicking because your potty training toddler needs backup training underwear. And peace of mind is worth it for sure.

Prepare them for what's coming

Some toddlers really struggle with change and spontaneity. They need to routine to make sense of their world because there's so much that's new all around them. That can lead to meltdowns of epic proportion whenever those routines change. 

"Preparation is crucial in my household," Usher said. "I've found that the more I prepare my daughter for what's to come, the better she handles it. For example, each evening during bedtime, we review the day ahead. The key is to give just enough notice but not too much. If I give her too much advance notice of something — like a babysitter coming or a doctor's appointment — she tends to dwell on it." Strike a balance of notice and preparation without leaving them to fret or worry all day long about what's coming next.

Use hairspray to remove temporary tattoos

Kids love temporary tattoos, but you might not want your little one going out in the world covered in them. Rather than scrub, scrub, scrubbing their little bodies until they're red and blotchy, use something you already have in your bathroom cabinet to take it right off. 

According to a Parent Hacks reader, spraying the tattoo with hairspray before wiping it with a slightly damp cloth will remove the tattoo without any real effort on your part. After that, give your kid's skin a quick swipe of warm soapy water to take off any hairspray residue that's still on their skin. Easy peasy.

Have picky eaters help you in the kitchen

Cooking with kids is a good idea for so many reasons, but it can be especially so if your little one is a picky eater. "My daughter has become a pickier [eater] as she's grown older," Usher said. "To help combat this — or at least to better deal with it — she helps make (some of) her meals. She also has a special accessible drawer in the kitchen that holds her own cooking tools. I put all of the ingredients in measuring cups and then she adds them to the mixing bowl. She cracks the eggs for breakfast, mixes her own pasta sauce, it keeps her engaged and more excited to eat what she has prepared." 

They'll be so proud not only to eat what they've made, but also for everyone else to eat what they've made as well (or, at least, to tell them all about it).

Practice mirroring

Talking to toddlers can be an experiment in how patient you can be, if you know what I mean. How can you more effectively communicate with your toddler and make sure they really hear you? According to Busy Mommy Media, if you "mirror" the way your toddler thinks about things and how they say they're feeling back to them when you're talking to them, they'll hear you better. 

First, mirror their thoughts back to them to make sure you've got their attention, then make your case for why you need them to do something. Tell them that though you know they don't want to take a bath, there are reasons why they need to do so. Explain why you're asking them to do something and make sure they feel heard — they'll be more likely to listen to you if they know that you listen to them.

Painting doesn't have to be messy

As if you needed one more reason to run to your nearest coffee shop in the morning, your to-go coffee cup could be just what you need to make arts and crafts time a little bit cleaner. According to another of Sybert's blog posts at Be Brave, Keep Going, the cups from frozen or blended coffee drinks can (once you rinse them out) double as a neat paint receptacle while your toddler is painting. 

Simply put some paint in the bottom of the cup, put the top on, and put a paintbrush where the straw would normally go. Then you don't have to worry as much about spills and things — it's all contained within the coffee cup. Pretty smart, if you ask me.

Use toothpaste to remove marker

It's almost inevitable that your toddler will, at one point or another, get into the permanent markers. If you're lucky, there won't be any damage done, but more likely you'll end up with marker somewhere. Worry not. There's a fairly easy way to get that marker cleaned up. 

According to a blog post by Anna Luther of My Life and Kids, all you need to remove permanent marker is some toothpaste. Put some toothpaste on the stain and then rub it away with a damp cloth or paper towel. It might take a little time and elbow grease, but that marker will be no more and your floors (or furniture) will be saved.