This is a guest post from Clare with OhTheseAreTheGoodOldDays.com. You can see Clare’s bio below!

The first five years of your child’s life is permanently imprinting on them how they will see themselves and the world when they are adults. So, do be mindful of this great responsibility you have with your children and also have fun and enjoy this time! A happy, loving home filled with laughter and love and joy is a wonderful thing to aspire to. I’m so excited to share my favorite pointers to help you, dear reader, connect with your dear children in twenty-two beautiful and profound ways.  Here are 22 ways to strengthen your connection with your toddler.

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connecting with your toddler

“A happy home is but an earlier heaven!” -George Bernard Shaw

1. Give your child body autonomy.

This year The Girl Scouts of America taught us that our daughters don’t owe anyone a hug or a kiss.  Personally, I wish that my daughter would run and jump on her nonni and shower her with kisses, but she just doesn’t want to and I don’t make her.  I DO ask her to make eye contact and thank nonni for the visit and say a nice goodbye, but I do not force kisses and after reading up on it I feel that it is the healthiest thing to do for my girls.

2. Tell your babe that you love them, no matter what.

It’s important for kids to feel our unconditional love.  Tell your child that you love them even when they are mad at you.  Tell that that you love them even when you act mad or frustrated with them.  My daughter is six and when she was four we read “I Love You Stinky Face” and she loved to play that “Mommy, would you still love me if…” game.  I told her that nothing she did would make me stop loving her.

Example: What if I hit you with a car?  Umm, well if it was an accident I’d want to make sure that you were okay because that would be so scary and upsetting for you!  And if you did it intentionally I’d probably be confused and wonder why you did it, but NO I wouldn’t stop loving you, honey. She smiles contentedly and goes back to looking at the pages waiting for me to read more stinky face to her.

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3. Read up on toddlers.

I consumed copious amounts of pregnancy and childbirth books when I was pregnant and now I am taking in many, many different types of parenting books and enjoying them so much.  I read about how to teach your baby sign language (it will grow their brain so fast and avoid frustration on both parts), feeding guides (let them make a mess it’s good for their brain development and for their gross motor skills), sleep training (babies are not trying to manipulate you as infants), how Buddhist mothers discipline (discipline is Latin for “to teach” not to shame and put down and stunt), brain development in toddlers, and more. In reading about WHY toddlers have meltdowns and learning what to do when meltdowns happen it is a lot easier to move through it.

A hugely helpful secret tool that I learned is to not say “Don’t cry.”  You wouldn’t treat another person that way, don’t treat your kid that way.  Crying is okay. Crying is always ok.  Be there for your child.  If they cry it’s for a reason.  We shouldn’t be punishing crying.  I see some parents who have no tolerance of crying of any kind.  That is so sad to me!  If your babe is crying you can sit down and say: “It’s okay to be sad.  That was upsetting.  I’m here with you, honey.” If they push you away let them know you will be nearby in case they change their mind and want you.

connecting with your toddler

4. Read to them.

Read them The Invisible String by Patrice Karst and let them know that no matter how far away you are your love will never be far. You will always, always be connected. Read them I Love You Forever By Robert Munsch, a classic and a must-have for every parent. Don’t forget to sing them the song to them after you close the book and before you say your final goodnight to them.

5. Have a nighttime cuddle ritual.

Speaking of a good night…lay with your toddler at night and you will love hearing what they will express to you in this quiet time, it is pure magic I tell you! Make bedtime cuddles a daily ritual and try to do it almost every night if possible. You will not regret it.  Maybe their favorite part of the day was when their best friend at school told them they loved them or when they dreamed about flying with the family dog to the beach.  You will learn such beautiful gems about your girl or boy’s soul and be sure to write them down when you leave them to their sleep.

6. Play with them.

Get on the floor.  Participate in their fort building, Hello Kitty tea party, or drawing of Spongebob.  Make funny noises with your mouth when you are playing cars.  Delight in their presence.  Be present.  Be aware of how precious they are and how much you will ache for this time when they are grown and gone.  Tell them that you enjoy playing with them and be specific about what you love about them and why they are your favorite person in the whole wide world.

7. Compliment them and encourage them to try new things.

Remind them that they are capable and let them surprise you with their abilities. Get them a junior chef subscription, some child safety knives and ingredients to make lunch with.  I try to be mindful about saying no and like to say yes you can do it as much as possible.  Save the ‘No’s’ and ‘Don’t’ for the big stuff and let them grow and flourish with your yeses. I let my kindergartner go get the mail and she is so proud of herself. I enrolled my girls in infant survival swim lessons when they were six months old.  (We have a pool at our home and my mom and dad gifted it to them to help keep them safe.)  They are happy to know that they are stronger swimmers at a young age than most people are at any point in their lives.

8. Resolve to be happy and joyful.

Sing in the car to happy songs, yell this is your song when you were a baby you used to rock OUT to this one baby and laugh and cheer as they get a look of joy on their face and air drum their way down the street.  Dance their little hearts out in the kitchen as you put groceries away.  Toddlers love hearing rhythm and music and making it.  Let them do it every chance you get.

9. Keep your toddler safe.

Install smoke detectors, go to the sheriff to get their car seat installation checked, teach them what to do if they get lost in a crowd. Teach them body safety, what to do if someone tries to violate them, and teach them that they can always talk to you. Most molestation start earlier than we think so don’t worry that three or four-year-olds should be taught about safety and to tell if someone is hurting them.

10. Share their birth story.

My babe loves to hear about the day she was born and most of the time asks either “Really?” “Can you tell me more?” or “Can you tell it to me again Momma?”  Yes, you were the easiest baby and so happy and smiley.  We called you “happy heart” because your essence was so joyful and all the nurses wanted to hold you, sweet girl!  Daddy gave you your first bath and you loved it!  They relish in the details of the big day.

11. Have a special secret code word or handshake.

Do the secret three squeezes into his/her hands while you’re holding hands to secretly say “I. Love. You.”.

connecting with your toddler

12. Be silly.

When your kiddos wind up and give you a high five… fall to the ground pretending their strength knocked you over and holler “whoooowheee you are a strong child!” Shake your booty and say my bum is on the chair.  Anything with booty bums will make them laugh. Do weird voices.  Put stickers on your nose and smile and ask what’s funny.  Anything out of places is hilarious to young kids.  Dog bowl on your head for a hat.  Hill-air-eous!

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13.  Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

One morning when my daughter spilled her water on the coffee table, rugs, and my magazines I said “Oops, we spilled our drink.  Let’s clean it up.” She looked at me incredulously and asked “You’re not mad mom?”  No, of course not sweetheart why would I be mad at you.  You didn’t do it on purpose so why should I be mad at you?  I love you sweet baby doll.  (I have lots and lots of terms of endearment and nicknames for my babies/cutie pah-tooties, sweet, precious love babies).

14 and 15. Be patient, be present, and apologize when warranted.

Rachel says it so well in her gorgeous blog Hands Free Momma.  Today choose love. If your kid wants to take the long way to the park or look at the ladybug on the sidewalk for goodness sakes let them!  Soak in their curiosity and use that time to show that they and their desires and questions are important.  More important than some arbitrary timeline of how long it should take to walk from your car to the playground. I know it’s easy to do.  I do it myself.

Sometimes I make her do something and I don’t know why.  When I catch myself I stop and I apologize.  If she wants to dance before putting on her jacket and I snap at her to do it I will stop and say “Actually I don’t know why I said that.  I love watching you dance.  Please finish.  And actually, can I dance with you?”  When I apologize that makes her smile.  And that feels good.

16. Cook with smiley faces.

I have a humung-o board on Pinterest for toddler food.  Many are shaped into fun things like shark fins, hearts, and smiley faces. Joie de vivre is the way to be!

connecting with your toddler

17.  Respect their father/your partner.

When they choose their mate they will be doing what their parents showed them. Avoid name calling and blaming and shaming at all costs and remember you’re on the same team.

18. Plan for their future.

Open a 529 college savings plan for them.  Put photo books together with her teacher’s messages to her throughout the years to gift to her at her high school graduation.

19. Document their childhood.

When I had my baby I was shocked and delighted to have my mom gift me a baby bracelet my grandma gave me when i was a baby.  I am making notes now to have for the future to enjoy.  This memory box with her first haircut, first tooth, first baby outfit, along with notes from my husband and I on her birthdays for her. Use Artkive to catalog her masterpieces.  Use the Qeepsake app to jot down his funny quirks. How do I love you?  Let me count the ways!

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20. Set boundaries in a kind way.

Boundaries are kind.  There is a difference between being a loving and respectful parent and being too permissive.  We don’t want to bully our child, but we also don’t want to raise out of control brats. Here’s the three-step process to follow:  If your child bites another child we can point out the unwanted behavior.  “Oh no, that’s too rough.” “We don’t hit our friends” or “I love you, but I can’t let you kick Hazel.”

We show love and empathy toward the child that was hurt.  “Oh sweet Deacon, you got bit!” and rub his back softly while pulling him on to our lap.  Finally give your child a chance to try again and model good behavior “Ok, Em, show me gentle. Can you help soothe baby Rey?”  I’d never want to yell “What’s wrong with you?!” at a young child that just messed up and is still learning to control themselves and their emotions.  Practice grace. W.W.M.R.D.? (When you think of it stop and think: What would Mr. Rogers do?).

21. Make a will.

Designate a guardian. Set your medical directives.  Adulting is hard.  Do the hard stuff so the state doesn’t decide what happens to your toddler if something happens to you and your partner.

22. Teach them to be spiritual.

Ge them baptized if that is what you want for them. Tell them that the universe has their back.  Let them know that they have a family, a tribe, a large network of friends, a community, angels, and brothers and sisters all over the world that they are connected to and they are cared for. Do something to let them know that they are not alone and are loved by many.

connecting with toddler

May you have a peaceful and joyful day!

Love, Clare

P.S. Unconditional love is the goal. ‘I love you when you’re silly, I love you when you’re sad I love you when you’re happy and I love you when you’re mad…I love you through and through my sweet baby babe. Check out these sweet sentiments in the children’s book I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak.

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Meet Clare

Hello, I’m Clare Kennedy. I run OhTheseAreTheGoodOldDays.com. From my heart to yours, hi! I’m a mom of two, married for fifteen-ish years, workin’, playin’, and livin’ on the Central Coast, California. I’m kind of sort of awkward, but that’s part of my charm! I love to do special things for people in my life and make people smile and snort and laugh. I am a daughter, sister, niece, wife, mother, and friend. I’m an office goddess who sucks at typing. I’m a thirty-nine-year-old lady who doesn’t like to be called ma’am but can’t wait to turn forty. I can remember the slightest details of my first-grade classroom, but can’t remember to bring my lunch to work. I’m a California native whose favorite place to visit is Harlem. I love to laugh but have a clown phobia. I have struggled with anxiety, but love speaking in front of people. I’m a kindness influencer, a giggle, and I aim to help you improve your family life and support you in supporting those you love. Peace!