Mindfully Parenting the Older Toddler

Photography:Opal Imagery

By Nikki Smith

Children are like sponges.  
What you say, how you react, your body language and the way that you talk to your children are watched, noticed and certainly mimicked. 

Your older toddler thrives on positive praise, for example if your child is playing well with their sibling, if they are colouring in quietly or are playing toys and you have given them positive praise such as “I love how you’re sharing so well with your sister,” then they will continue with that behaviour because they are receiving positive attention from you, their parent. 

If though, for example, you only pay them attention when they are fighting with their brother or when they are whining, then this type of behaviour will continue due to your focus only being on them whilst they are exerting negative behaviour. 

As parents, if we can continue to reinforce their positive behaviour by perhaps including ourselves in their game while they are playing or by giving them positive praise when they are being kind and sharing, then they will feel that their ‘attention cup’ is full and will continue with their positive behaviour.   

Another way that you can fill up their ‘attention cup’ is by connecting with them throughout the day with play, colouring in, playdough and outdoor play.  

I tend to use the quota of 20/15 (20 minutes for me, 15 minutes for them). 

I would also speak to our children before hand and say something like: “Mummy needs to clean, work or have a little time to read her book so when the alarm goes off on mummy’s phone, that means it’s play time for us!!”.

Just by being present throughout the day, everybody’s moods can lift and ‘attention cups’ are always filling up! 

Power struggles with your older toddler

This next developmental phase can be tough. This stage tends to develop from ages 3 to 4 years and onwards. You can see this within the independence that starts to be displayed, which tends to create the need for more self-control and autonomy.

The reason being that the world that they are living in can be largely dictated by the adults in their life. Most of the decisions are then based upon what the adult wants! 

If they have little to no control over their autonomy, then they will start to push back.

Yes, punishment seems to look like it’s working, but this will always be for short-term gain because there is ‘blame and shame’ involved in these feelings, which then inevitably leads to them becoming scared of you and how you’ll react to their behaviour. 

There is no learning happening for them. In fact, long-term it teaches them to lie to you because it’s how they’ll get out of the blame and shame pattern. 

Discipline in Latin means to teach, so do that when you are gently drawing boundaries. There is a huge difference between ‘punishing’ and ‘teaching.’

As a mama of three young daughters, I am constantly catching myself when my tone of voice is dripping in frustration. I will usually stop what I am saying or what I’m doing, take a deep breath in and then out, and begin again. 

Let’s look at a few examples of ‘teaching.’ 


Give your older toddler choices, for example, “I will read to you after you brush your teeth” or “I will only drive the car if your seatbelt is buckled up.” Let them help if that’s what they’d like. Letting them put the belt over their shoulder and maybe help you to click it in. 

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