Christian Media: Where Truth Meets You

Parenting Tips on Toddler Communication

Communicating with a toddler is like being a hostage negotiator. Listen to moms discuss effective ways to talk to a toddler, “and learn what didn’t work.”


Mariel: You’re listening to Faith & Family, a Christian-family community that aims to promote Christian values. I’m Mariel Gutierrez. Nothing can really prepare you for parenthood, not even a college degree. But you’re quickly going to learn that it is exhausting. I’m a Tired Mom. I’ve been a Tired Mom for almost 10 years now and my husband and I can’t even say that we’ve mastered parenting at this point. And everything that we’ve learned has been through trial and error and lots and lots and lots of prayer, especially during those dreaded toddler years. Now, having a toddler is like being a hostage negotiator. I mean, their list of demands is never clear, even when they’re able to express it, they’re impossible, and they’re constantly protesting and they never listen. So, how exactly do you communicate with your toddler? We have a few other Tired Moms joining us today on this podcast to share their experiences. Bernie, you there girl?

Bernie: Yes ma’am I am. How are you? Thank you for having me here. I’m excited.

Mariel: Jewell’s here too. Hey Jewell!

Jewell: Hey! I’m excited to talk about this.

Mariel: Mhmm, so both of you have toddlers, correct?

Bernie & Jewell: Yes we do.

Mariel: Bernie, tell me about your toddler, girl.

Bernie: My son, he is almost 4, just around the corner. Anybody who’s taken care of him knows he can wear you out. But for me, I guess what’s most challenging for my son is him toeing the line. He is at that age where he wants to see how far he can go before he goes into the serious trouble. He gives you the stare down and he gives you the stare down while you’re telling him multiple times like, “Don’t touch it! Don’t throw it! Don’t put it in your mouth!” And as you’re telling him that, he’s slowly doing it and he’s looking at you at he’s–

Mariel: He’s maintaining that eye-contact huh?

Bernie: He’s like, “I’m going to do this mom!” And he’s got the grin on his face like, “You know I’m going to do this. I’m going to commit.”

Mariel: What’s your favorite thing about him though?

Bernie: My favorite thing about him is he is at that age where you see him growing into his own personality.

Mariel: What about you Jewell? How’s your toddler?

Jewell: Well, I actually have 3 kids. I have an 8-year-old daughter, and I have a 6-year-old son, and my toddler, he’s 3 years old. My thing with Hudson, my 3-year-old, it’s not really annoying. He’s in this stage where he thinks he’s an Avenger. This guy has absolutely no fear. He really believes he probably can fly, because Ironman and all of those guys, they just jump and fly. So actually, not too long ago, this is probably super bad parenting… On our staircase, he actually went on the outside of our staircase. Our staircase is about 17 steps high, and I think he went on the 10th step and decided he was Ironman! He jumps off and oh my gosh! Well I wasn’t there but all the kids were like, “MOMMMMMY!” Hudson, he was crying, but fortunately he didn’t break anything, and you would’ve thought the kid would’ve learned, so maybe for a couple of weeks, he didn’t do it. And so he’s at it again, you know? And I try to have fun with it, but you know what girls? There are just days where I’m like, “Ok, you need to take that energy level from 20 down to like, 2 or something”.

Mariel: There are days when bedtime is 6pm, right? [they all laugh]

Bernie: That’s the truth!

Mariel: [joking] You’re like, “I don’t care it’s light outside. It’s summer. It’s really 8pm. Trust me.”

Jewell: And it’s funny because there are days when I’m just like, “Honey, seriously. Can you put the kid to sleep?”

Bernie: I know, you try to put him in the bathtub with that lavender, and half the bottle’s empty, ’cause you’re like, “I’m going to make you go to sleep!”

Mariel: And you’re there falling asleep while you’re scrubbing him (like), “Why are they like this?” Ok, so ‘Super Hudson, Adventure Hudson’. But what’s your most favorite thing about him?”

Jewell: He’s just in the stage where, when he sees me, he’s always just super excited so of course, any mother loves that feeling. So I’m trying to hold on to this stage that he’s in right now. So I think he’s in that ‘in-between’ stage where he’s somewhat done with his ‘terrible twos’. So he’s a little passed the ‘terrible twos’ stage, so he’s in this super energetic phase but it’s going to be transitioning into that ‘testing phase’. So I’m kind-of cherishing this moment right now ’cause I’m still going through it with my 6-year-old where it’s that testing and I’m screaming for him to listen to me.

Mariel: So I’m somewhere there. I’m straddling in between those things. Because my kids, my daughter’s turning 10 and my son, he’s just passed the toddler’s stage. He’s 6. I was trying to describe this feeling to one of my single friends and she was asking me why I was thankful that the toddler years were done. And I was like, “I don’t know if I’m thankful that they’re done” because I miss it! Like… it was hard, oh my gosh. There was one time when my baby was born, the bigger one regressed a little ’cause she wanted attention too obviously, right? So the baby pooped all over the white couch so she decided, “I’ll go poop all over the white couch too!” And I remember that being the hardest toddler moment ever, you know? But even at that moment, if I could go back and tell slightly-younger-Mar, “Hey, don’t be so frustrated. You’re going to laugh at this. I promise you. It’s going to be fine.” But I remember that day. I was not telling myself that. I was crying.

Bernie: I think anything that has to do with poop, it’ll make you cry.

Mariel: Poop equals tears.

Bernie: That equals tears. One time we were getting ready to go to Bible study and we were running late and Jojo (her son) decides to… we were all dressed up and everything. As soon as we were leaving the door, he hands me his poop. He’s just like, “Mom, here.” I’m like, “Here! Give it to me! What is that? What is this?” And I’m like, “Did you give him chocolate?” And I made the fatal mistake of smelling it and I realized it’s poop so…

Mariel: At least you didn’t taste it!

Bernie: Right? Thank goodness he didn’t go to that level but still, I’m like, “It’s good. I’m holding poop in your hand and we’re just going to be late to Bible study… good times.” [laughter]

Mariel: Alright, we’re going to move forward here. We love our toddlers but tell me about a time where they just will absolutely not listen to you.

Bernie: Everyday is like that. They don’t listen, I think. But the one time when I have to really make sure he does listen is when we’re at church because we sit in the nursery but still…

Mariel: But does he listen to you when you’re at church?

Bernie: [Sighs] Yes and no. There are times we have our good days where you just put the little iPad in front of him. I bring his ear phones and he’s set. And then there are times… and it depends on if there’s other kids there where he’s like, “Yo, my homies here so we’re about to get down with the get down and we’re going to make some noise.”

Mariel: Oh that’s right, he’s too young for CWS [Children’s Worship Service], right?

Bernie: At the end of the year, he’ll be CWS [Children’s Worship Service]. But for now, he’s my little sidekick. And you know, you can’t yell at him at church. Sometimes you give him the quick, little tiny pinch but you don’t want to do that either.

Jewell: I do! [laughter]

Bernie: Girl! I know you do! [more laughter]

Jewell: And you know what, Bernie? I do it with a straight face, I’m looking straight forward—

Bernie: Like, they don’t even know where it’s coming from, like it was a ninja pinch. A ninja pinch under the arm where you hope no one can see it… I have tried to… and this is always at church… I have tried to like, “I’m going to kneel down and I’m going to look you straight in the face.” I don’t yell ’cause I did that one time and it’s just like, not good. I don’t want it where people see ‘Crazy Bernie’ at church but at the same time, it’s like, “This is my kid. If you have a problem [with] how I parent, you can talk to me.” But at the same time, this is church and I try to teach him there’s a time and place for everything like, “When you’re at home, you can go bananas. But when you’re at church, maybe beforehand you can play around a little bit. But when we’re in church, you need to be quiet.” And so there are times I gotta really do the stern voice and look him in the eye because you can’t yell. And sometimes that works, and if that doesn’t work, I just revert to: “I’m telling on your dad!”

Mariel: When you kneel down though, is that your way of leveling with him? Is that a strategy?

Bernie: I think so. Instead of me being overly… let me just be on your level, let me look at you in the eye, he’ll know. And then sometimes when he’s about to lose it, I’d have to grab his shoulders and (be like), “Son, we are at church.” But at the same time, they have to learn. This is how they learn about how far you can toe the line, because they’re going to learn the look. They’re going to learn the look with the pursed lips and you’re talking underneath it like, [mutters under her lips] “You better not even… you better stop.” So I try to do that. I try to look him in the eye and see and let him know how serious I am. This is serious. So they kinda know. So those are one of the things.

Mariel: When they grow up though, they’re going to master the 5 words, the 5 magic words: Wait ‘til we get home. [laughter]

Jewell: What’s funny though, is for us it’s like, when we get home, I’m too tired.

Bernie: It’s like, “Wait ‘til you get home!!” –

Mariel: And like, “Wait ‘til tomorrow. Wait ‘til next week.”

Jewell: When you ask the question Mar, when your kids don’t listen to you, I think as parents, we just…it’s a lot of times they don’t listen to you and it really is because they haven’t really reached that stage where they can fully comprehend everything that they see. It’s like you have your toolbox like, “Ok, what is it today?” You know what I mean? You take out different tools. Like the other day for example, I tried to have Hudson go to Children’s Worship Service. I mean, he’s been attending Children’s Worship Service for the last year and a half. And on Sunday, he just did not want to go in. So then, I used my toolbox. My tool that I used that day was the ‘Option of 2’. “Ok so who do you want to sit next to?” ’cause he was like, “I want to sit next to you. I want to sit next to you.” I’m like, “Oh no no no. So who do you want to sit next to? To kuya (polite term for older male) or ate (polite term for older female)?” So his brain is like, “Oh ok so I guess those are my only 2 options.” He’s like, “Ok I’ll sit next to kuya.” And so it was a very quick fix because sometimes, knowing our children, it really helps. There are days when he will listen, and there are days where you have to use different strategies like narrowing it down to two options and he doesn’t think that there are other options.

Bernie: I like that. I like the whole ‘toolbox’ thing. That’s the truth. You just gotta see, gotta figure out which ones [are] going to work for that day, for that particular situation.

Jewell: Even when they were babies, right? When they were babies, we were told, “You have to even figure out which cry it is. Is it the hungry cry? Is it the poop cry? Is it the ‘I’m sleepy’ cry?” So I guess in every stage, you have to play this guessing game but we have that maternal instinct of knowing what it is.

Mariel: I agree with that. When my kids were young, I did try to level with them. I did the whole ‘looking into their eyes’ also. I did the ninja pinches. I did that. I did the ‘bringing them to the bathroom’. They hated that.

Bernie: You know what? When they get snatched up, that’s when you know you’re in trouble.

Mariel: And the thing is, it came to the point where I would be like, “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” And they knew what that meant, you know what I mean? [laughter] It wasn’t because you were potty trained or anything like that. It was: [sternly] “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” That is precisely how I would ask it and they would be like, [scared] “No…” [laughter] For me, what worked was, every time that they would get in trouble, we would have to get ourselves out of the current situation. For instance, if they’re freaking out over something over here, I would remove them, bring them to a different room first of all. We would sit down in this different room, even if it’s just like in the bathroom. Not ‘bring them to the bathroom’ kind-of thing. But wherever it is, it’s a separate room. We have to remove ourselves from the situation. We sit down. And then I have to tell them, “Ok, I’m going to have to punish you ’cause you did this.” And this was more for the advanced ages of toddlers obviously. Baby toddlers are not going to understand that. Baby toddler, what I had to do was hold their hands to make them understand like, “No. Stop hitting. I’m going to hold your hands for a little bit, ok?” They would cry, they would twist, they would do that ‘melting’ thing. Oooooh! Help me, help me, help me! That was hard. And one of my other mom-friends, what she did was… it’s so funny. She’s on a different level. But she makes discipline fun. She would chant things like for instance, “We’re not going to touch this socket”. When you say, “hey don’t touch that socket”, that’s not fun. But with her, it’s like [friendly], “We’re not going to touch that socket! Yay! Let’s say it together! We’re not going to touch that socket!” And then they’re all doing it together and they’re not touching the socket and I think, “Whatever works…”, you know what I’m saying?

Bernie: I like that, I may have to try that… kinda change the energy. She went from upset to switching it really quick.

Mariel: Yeah! I think what she did was take away the negativity out of discipline.

Jewell: If we were to do the 80/20 rule, the 80% of the time, we’re actually very loving and then the 20% of the time, we’re ‘mom-sters’. But I do believe kids need to see that, that when you act up, cause and effect!

Bernie: Yes, yes yes.

Mariel: We don’t want to yell.

Mariel: You balance it out with love.

Jewell: Yes. Lots and lots and lots of love.

Mariel: And I agree with that. I, too, am a yeller.

Bernie: Who isn’t?

Mariel: I’m a ‘mom-ster’. It’s true. But you’re right though, it is cause and effect and I tell them that all the time. They’re older kids now and I’m able to say, “You know what? You think I enjoy yelling at you guys? I’m tired. Why would I want to?” But yeah, it’s definitely about balance, right? Ok so now, we’re fully engulfed into motherhood. What do we pray for in regards to being a mom? Do we pray for that aspect of our lives?

Jewell: Definitely. For me, not just myself but even my husband, we pray to have the patience. Lots and lots of patience. And really, the qualities that we need to be good examples for our children. And it’s important for us to teach our children that they hear those things. It’s funny, I have to say that to my kids when I’m stressed… ’cause sometimes I say, “You guys are stressing me out.” And so they’re like, “Mommy, I want to pray.” And actually, my kids say in their prayers, “Dear God, please help my mom not to be so stressed.” [laughter]

Bernie: And that’s great! Because we know that no matter what happens or whatever it is, they know they’re going to turn to God first. That’s the one important thing.

Mariel: Even for when mom is going crazy.

Bernie: “Dear God, please help my mom not be crazy.” [laughter]

Mariel: Yes! Valid prayer.

Jewell: And you know what? You’re so right Bernie ’cause I think it’s the funniest thing, but I totally believe in what you just said, that it makes me happy to know: good and bad things, you run to God for everything.

Bernie: Right! You hope they carry that forever. Even with my son, before, we used to tell him, “Ok did you pray for your food?” The majority of the time, I’m putting his plate down and I turn around to get a drink or whatever. And I already hear him like, “Dear God, please bless my food. I love you God. Amen.” And just to know that you know to pray.

Jewell & Mariel: Yes, yes.

Mariel: What about specifically as a mother, is there something that you pray for Bernie?

Bernie: I think that aside from patience, I think it’s really, “God give me the knowledge and wisdom to understand when my son is going through those things because I don’t always want to yell at him. I don’t always want to be like, ‘Do you want palo (spanking) or do you want pinch?’ Give me the understanding, the open heart to be able to see and feel what my son is going through so I just don’t revert to just yelling.”

Mariel: There was a moment when my daughter was a toddler. She was 3 when I had my son. And I believe that I had suffered a little bit of postpartum depression. And there were a lot of times, of course, aside from the regular stresses… for me, what it felt like was I was constantly not doing enough. There was a moment where I had gotten mad at my toddler and I know it wasn’t her fault and then I started crying because I was like, “Oh my god, I’m a monster.” And that was the first time I apologized to her and I really wanted her to understand. I wanted her to know I did wrong. It was my mistake. It’s not you. Because I was so worried like, “Oh my gosh. I broke her. I’m going to break my toddler, she’s going to grow up, she’s going to hate me, she’s going to do this this this.” And I was freaking out.

Bernie: You’re not the only one, girl. I’ve done that to my son where I’ve lost it. Like why? And then I find myself crying because it’s like, “I’m horrible!”

Mariel: Right! And the thing is, I feel like motherhood is this constant… it’s like you give give give, you love love love but you’re so guilty all the time, right? But at that point, I realized I kind-of switched gears in my prayers and I said, “God, I am not the mom that these kids deserve.” I’m even getting emotional now! [gets emotional] But um, ’cause it’s hard, you know?

Bernie: Very hard! And you know what? It’s ok to cry, especially the new moms too. You know, how you have your baby, you’re losing sleep and all that… To the moms out there that are listening to this, that when you feel you’re at your wits end and you’re tired, your hair’s a mess, you don’t know what a manicure and a pedicure is like anymore, you feel guilty ’cause you went to Target and you bought a shirt that was on clearance instead of trying’ to buy something…  It’s ok! Being a mom is not easy, it’s hard work! And when you see another mom, especially those new moms, give them a hug. Sometimes when I see some of these new moms, “Girl I’m going to just give you a hug ’cause I know that look of ‘you haven’t slept in a day’” The only snacks you’ve had was their (the baby’s) food, the melting cereals, the poop under your fingernails, I mean c’mon…

Jewell: No and you’re right it’s totally… and one of those things that we worry about is, “Oh my gosh. All of these people are watching.” But you know what? Don’t even worry about it because most people have been through that so they totally understand. So you don’t have to feel bad or anything like that. And I love Bernie how you said that it totally is ok. But always remember you are doing the best that you can and your kids will love you. We really are amazing moms, we do nothing but everything for our kids.

Mariel: That’s perfect. I think those are great words of wisdom for all of our moms listening out there. All you moms out there? We’re here for you. The moms that work, stay at home, commute, make dinner, go to school, you’re all appreciated, we all virtually hug you. And for those moms that are still going through the toddler phases, just remember they have a limited vocabulary, even though they’re yelling in your face, they don’t understand everything that we say and we can’t expect them either to understand everything that we’re saying but in the end, I think that it’s pretty unanimous that prayer works, right?

Jewell & Bernie: Yes.

Mariel: Yes, prayer works. So hold on tight during those toddler years, pray hard. We’re going to be praying with you. Thank you so much Jewell and Bernie for being with us on today’s Faith & Family podcast.

Jewell: Thank you.

Bernie: Thank you for having me, thank you for having us. And for all the moms out there, Sis Jewell and I are out here to give you a hug if you need it.

Mariel: Alright, so aside from finding us on, you can catch these podcasts on iTunes and Google Play. We’ll catch you guys next time on Faith & Family.