How to raise an excellent toddler

by Janelle Hanchett

Arlo will be two in June. We have entered full-blown toddlerhood. Luckily, he’s my fourth child so I know lots and lots of helpful things about toddler discipline and entertainment and excellence in general.

I’m basically an expert. As such, I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve learned in the service of all humanity. 

Here you go. How to raise an excellent toddler:

1.     Make sure you give your kid plenty of attention so they don’t act out in pursuit of “negative attention” (because, as we all know, it’s “still attention”).

2.     However, do not give them too much attention because you will spoil them, and they will grow up to be the dude driving 55 in the fast lane because that’s how they like it gottdammit TO HELL WITH THE REST OF YOU.

3.    Siblings are a good way to make sure your toddler doesn’t think they’re the center of the universe because your time will necessarily be divided among all the kids. But this can make the toddler feel neglected. Make sure you balance that. Also, siblings are a good way to make your toddler think they ARE the center of the universe because everybody in the family is all “OMG look how cute the baby is!”

4.    In other words, your toddler is acting out because you are spoiling them through their siblings and neglecting them because of their siblings.

5.    There is no apparent way to fix this. Have a nice day.

6.     Sometimes toddlers need you to soothe and hold them during tantrums. Other times you need to walk away from them. These tantrums appear identical.


8.     Giving in to a tantrum is a uniformly terrible decision and by all forms of reason, decency, and logic will only result in a total dick of a human, but sometimes you have to do it because you’d rather die than listen to this shit for one more second.

9.     Keeping a toddler busy by offering questionable food items so you can get some critical thing done is a horrible parenting move that pretty much only concerns you through child number one. Just yesterday I bought cookies at Starbucks and gave them to my toddler solely so he would sit in the cart at Target. Leave me alone.

10. The only things toddlers want to play with are: toilet water, knives, and ash from the fireplace. Wait. No: Dog water, cat food, anything out of the dishwasher that can impale them, trash, marbles, liquid soap, and iPhones. If you stop the toddler from playing with any of these things, they will scream. These are “walk away” tantrums.

11. Sometimes, for reasons unknown, toddlers will throw themselves around the room in unbridled glee at bedtime. You may think: “Was there caffeine hidden somewhere in the day? Did one of those other kids give him a sip of the green tea latte they shouldn’t have been drinking?” Then you will think, “I have ruined this child. He has no routine. WHAT HAVE I DONE?” They will scream when you make them go to sleep. This is a “cuddle” tantrum.

12. You can definitely trust my tantrum classification method. I’ve made it up randomly over 14 years of parenting based on my initial gut instinct and the level of remorse I feel after.

13. People will always, always blame you for the deficiencies of your toddler. You will suspect they are correct. Also, you will want to cut them. Then you will remember the number 1 rule of parenthood: Kids are who they are and you really can’t change them but if they aren’t perfect it’s your fault.

14. WHAT? Yes. That’s what we have here, folks. If you aren’t following, read another book.

15. Parenting books are the fucking worst. Unless they help. I wouldn’t know because I gave up hope around child number 2.

16. I’m kidding! Never give up! Constant self-improvement and hope! Unless your kid had one of those twenty minute car naps replacing the actual nap. If that’s the case, give up hope. You’re going DOWN. Your toddler, however, is not.

17. In related news, your toddler will hit, kick, pinch, and possibly bite other humans. You will think for a moment there’s something pathologically wrong with your child because who the fuck bites people? But then you will remember that all toddlers, ALL TODDLERS, act like rabid animals for at least 2-4 months of their lives. The only person at the park who doesn’t know this is the mother of the child your kid just bit. (WHY UNIVERSE WHY?)

18. Potty training before two. Ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Go home with that nonsense.

19. Toddlers are like border collies: If you don’t give them a job, they will dig out of the yard and eat the fucking hose. Only unlike border collies, toddlers hate all your ideas for entertainment, preferring only their own, such as eating butter off a knife blade, dipping broccoli in a toilet, or playing with the toilet brush, or really anything at all involving toilets and their water and brushes. Except peeing into the toilet. That is a stupid, stupid, very boring game.

20. AND YET, toddlers are the cutest mammals alive and are so profoundly adorable whilst talking, running, and expressing their little personalities that you will think, at least once a day, “Oh god please never grow up. I SHOULD HAVE THREE MORE.”

21. And then they will throw your FitBit away and shit on your arm somehow.

But it won’t help.

You will still find them irresistibly annoying, and simultaneously mourn and beg for the time that they’re a little bigger.

Basically, after 14 years, here’s what I’ve got going on in my brain: Do not fuck this up, Janelle. You are fucking this up. You are not fucking this up but will feel like you are. Sometimes you do fuck it up, in which case you should try to do better and that may or may not work but in the meantime you’ll notice the kids are growing up and turning out fine. Good, even.

And you’re more surprised than anybody.

So let’s just focus on that because the rest is too fucking complicated.

Go ahead. Make a suggestion for an activity.

Go ahead. Suggest an activity.


Eight spots left in my May writing workshop.

I hope one of them is yours.


  • Dani

    Number 17 – WHY THE FUCK IS THAT?! Of all the kids in the effing park – no, scrap that, the WORLD – they have to try to decapitate the perfect little special snowflake with their spade. Seriously, when another kid starts laying into mine, my response is usually to a) Smile ruefully at the other parent and say that mine probably started it or b) Intervene only if it looks like mine is about to finish it, because I really don’t want to have to post bail for a three year old who will FINISH IT AND BY IT HE MEANS YOU.

    • Nicole

      I keep reading b and laughing when I am supposed to be giving you a thumbs up for your comment!!

  • Laurel

    This. All of this. This is my life right now. Thanks for making me laugh about it.

  • Doni

    Ha. I don’t ever think I EVER thought, “let’s have three more” when my kids were toddlers.

    Otherwise, I think this is spot on. Could you draw up a tantrum evaluation chart for us? One that sometimes involves cookies and locking ourselves in the bathroom?

    • charity

      Today, I walked 4 feet away from my 13 month old child, who was happily eviscerating a Craft Box. I began posting to FB, and halfway through, my Darling Demon began crawling toward me, shrieking as if she had lost a limb. Since that’s her usual style of communicating, I finished my post, hit the button, and looked down. And the smell of NAIL POLISH fumes hit me like a dusky purple pastel IPSY semi truck. My sensitive-skinned, perpetually carpet-burned-from-crawling child had poured an entire bottle of IPSY polish all over her legs.
      I called 911 and the woman recited “i cannot offer medical advice, i can only send a paramedic”. REALLY??? On TV there is always a sassy dispatcher in her late 40’s who has seen it all and can help you Handle Shit. Or AT LEAST a stern and tired old grandmotherly type who is Sick of Your Shit and will make you feel like an idiot while offering some CAPTAIN OBVIOUS advice.

      Instead, I googled “baby spilled nail polish on skin”, sent Daddy to the store for acetone-free polish remover, and filmed the whole thing for posterity. 2nd children are the worst.

    • Kerry

      Your comment just made my day. Cookies and locking ourselves in the bathroom! HA! I have tried both but personally favor locking myself in the bathroom. I’ve wondered before why, when my kids are having a fit, it’s me that pretty much ends up in time out!

  • Rachel

    fucking brilliant. my 15 month old bites us while shitting on our arms. thank you.

  • Marian

    Mine just hit 19 months. I absolutely despise parenting books. They ought to be titled “Deficiencies of Mothering and How You are Neglecting Your Children”. I’ve got a million things to do before #2 comes along in like a week. I don’t have time for enrichment activities and doing allllll the things. I’m convinced that my kid knows what’s fun for her. And I am merely a provider for snuggles and things she is unable to get for herself. While at the library today, I saw that they were hosting a puppet show. Strollers and toddlers galore. I felt a wave of guilt because I never take my tot to mommy & me activities or schedule playdates or other stuff….because I have finals in like two weeks. Right when my son is due.

    If you wrote a parenting book, I would devour it. Other people’s helpful books suck dick.

    • Adria

      Are we total maniacs? Lol. I have finals the week my #2 is born in June. Im convinced I’m insane 😛

  • Rachel

    I absolutely love my doctor because she says (regarding #8) “If you’re going to give in, do it quickly.”

    Also, E just turned 2 and I pretty much everything (including when we say yes to things she wants) involve a tantrum. It is, truly, very puzzling.

    • Mere

      That’s such a great tip! I love that…

      Got my third toddler tantrum’ing right now cause her big sister is looking at her while she eats her breakfast. Go figure. I’m thinking, “walk away tantrum”?

      Thanks again Janelle. Especially for your conclusion! I needed that today.

    • Gabrielle

      This is so my strategy. My thought process involves thinking: Do I have enough staying power to win this battle (over whatever insane thing I am about to lay down the law on)? If yes, then law down the law. If not, then give in immediately. This way, in my head, I always seem to win. By the way, this does not seem to reduce the number of tantrums, level of whining or amount of tears.

    • Rachel

      My logical brain knows this is the best strategy – and it seems to be working so far. That said, my husband and I are both the oldest of our parents children. So two first-borns parenting a first-born can often lead to ridiculous behavior on the part of N and I. So I may dig in my heels when it is absolutely not worth it to dig in my heels.

      I just want to be right, dang it!

      Baby #2 will be joining our family in 9-ish weeks and I truly feel for this little girl who is joining such a strong-willed family.

  • Selena

    Rarely does anything I read make me LOL. As the mother of a toddler just one month younger than yours, this made me LOL real good. It also made me feel better, because I’ve only got one kid and 20 months of momming under my belt. The wisdom of your 14 years helps quell the uncertain “I’m fucking everything up,” “WTF is wrong with this kid?” thoughts that creep in. Or at least makes me see everyone feels that way and probably always will as long as raising children.

  • Barb

    The toilet brush? Why?!? I can not seem to get it high/locked up enough!

    • Jenny C

      My solution to that is to not own a toilet brush.

  • Another Rachel

    Nearly fell of my chair and my sides ache Hahaha

  • Siri

    We gave kid #2 his very own toilet brush for his first birthday. Did he like it nearly as much as the one in the bathroom caked with shit and entangled with last month’s toilet paper? Yea right. There is so much poop in this chapter of my life.

    • Dorothy

      I love it! I just choked on my drink laughing. A toilet brush. Maybe a plunger for his twin brother.

  • Adria

    Yea what is it with toilet “things”??? My 3 year old thinks he’s being clever when he closes the door, but I hear him in there playing with the plunger! Super accurate portrayal of having a toddler/preschooler, Janelle. Much love!!

  • Errin

    Love. thanks, i needed this today (and really, every fucking day)

  • Jessica

    Mine are 5 now. But I will always remember the time I asked one to go get a towel wet and wash his face. Which he did. By dunking the towel in the toilet. (I may have not reacted with my best self just then. ????)

  • Joelle

    Oh. My. Fucking. God. That’s so funny. And true.
    Keep. It. Up! Thanks for normalizing.

  • JJ

    All the love to you!

  • Hulda

    Sooo true. I have a 19 months old…who bites other children and refuses to sit for more than 2 seconds at a time. My two closest friends who have kids same age happen to have little angels who sit for hours and play peacefully with whatever they give them! What is that about??

    Could you please give advice on pre-teens? Like almost 10 year olds with mood swings and attitude? I am seriously worried about fucking her up…

  • Katie

    THIS IS MY LIFE!!!! OMG!!!!! I just laughed and laughed.

  • Joanne

    I got lucky and got to skip the toilet obsession…mostly. Unfortunately that also means my son (who will be three in May), refuses to even glance in the general direction of his potty unless he’s taking the pee-catcher part out and wearing it as a hat. His favourite thing to do is to pull every single article of clothing he owns out of his dresser, very carefully unfold it, and then fling it about the room for me to find later; also, pulling all the books (and sometimes the shelves) off his bookshelf. We finally stuffed his dresser and bookshelf into his closet and put a lock on the closet doors. I give it a week before he figures out how to open it. Some days I’ll be at the end of my rope and I’ll think “Whose brilliant idea was it to have children?!” And then there are moments like yesterday where I’m throwing up (because morning sickness ALL DAY LONG! YAY!)and he quietly comes in and starts rubbing my back and saying “It’s okay, Mommy. You’re fine. You’ll be ok.” And it makes all the bad stuff totally worth it. And as much as I lose my temper and am not the best mom a good chunk of the time, if my kid is sensitive enough to try to take care of me because he knows that his baby brother/sister is making me sick, I think we’re doing okay.

  • Karissa Paxton

    I love you so much. Thank you.

  • Chenay

    Awesome:) My kid turns 2 in May and I definitely needed this, thank you.

  • Biz

    Thank you for the insight! I have a 13 month old and I now know what to expect for the next year or so! Glad to know it’s all “normal!”

  • Jennifer

    YES! My 20 month old daughter likes to stash tiny LEGO in her mouth. As child #3,we just shrug.

  • Leslee

    I’ve gotten to the point with child #3 where I just try to make sure he doesn’t kill himself. I swear that child is made of rubber outside and had an iron stomach. He’s constantly jumping off of furniture or other tall objects, which scares most people, but I just shrug off as typical. And he will eat ANYTHING! After the time he took a healthy bite of goose poo at the beach and didn’t contract some horrible disease, I figure that God’s looking out for either me or him (or both!) and just let him do his thing!

  • DD

    My “toddlers are 20 and 28 now, they survived, I survived.

    Parenting “advice” is and was always guilt and worry producing.

    If you care enough to “worry” you are a good parent and do not have to worry.

    I’m a former teacher. The parents who cared if they were doing it right were the parents of good kids.It’s hard work but so worth the investment.

  • Ruth

    I just found your blog. I’m eating it up!! Thanks for sharing all you do. I’m a bit envious of your writing. It’s everything in my head, but can’t put to words like you do. Thanks

  • Andrea D.

    This is awesome, lol. My youngest is gonna be 3 in May. He’s a little monster. Yesterday, he’s following me around, like usual, and I turn to him and say, “Stop following me.” Not only does he continue to follow me but now he’s chanting, “stop followin me, stop followin me”…. /sigh
    And I can’t hide in my room cuz he’s RIGHT THERE and as much as I’d love to slam the door in his cute little demon face… I know that he’ll just stand there, pound on the door, crying, “mom, wait!”
    I love that little bastard.

  • Emily

    After some very hard work and having two toddlers at the same time, my inner parenting voice is less the chiding “Are you doing the right thing right now so you don’t remember this and regret it forever?” and more letters to my future self saying, “You better not guilt me over this because dammit, this is everything I’ve got right now. So I’m prepared to be cool with you, but don’t screw this up for me.”

  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from It’s Not Me. It’s You. | Maple Leaf Kitchen
    Wednesday, 30 March, 2016

    […] started this post two weeks ago.  Then the brilliant Janelle posted this on Renegade Mothering the other day.  Spot on, sister.  With more cussing but more […]

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