Before you read this post, I want you to know that I do NOT in any way, shape, or form, consider myself to be an expert on the topic of managing toddlers.
There have been so many days where I have left school wondering what in the world I am doing.
But I truly love preschoolers and I love teaching and I love sharing Jesus with little hearts. And after 3 years of teaching 2 and 3 year olds, I think I have a little bit of credibility to my name given that I have not checked myself into an asylum, all of my students survived (and me too!), and, most important, all of my students knew they were loved and adored by me and by Jesus.
So I would say God is doing something good in my room even though our lines in the hallway aren’t always perfectly straight and some days our classroom feels quite literally like I am sitting in the middle of a monkey exhibit.
Whether you are a preschool teacher or mama, I pray you find something here that helps you in your own journey to train up littles in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
Or basically just get through the day alive.
Every child needs and thrives with boundaries. You can see our classroom’s rules HERE. With toddlers you will need to remind them of the classroom rules every day, every hour, every minute. I would constantly review our rules before we left the classroom for a special area, before we started every morning meeting or circle time, and frequently throughout our intentional play time each day.
Redirection is by far my BEST trick for helping little people when they are about to have an emotional outburst or when all of my students are contemplating taking off their shoes at the same time during a lesson.
I will often stop what I am doing, gasp loudly and say, “Uh-oh!” then once everyone is quiet I will say something like, “We forgot to put our marshmallows in our mouths!” (this is my trick for getting them to be quiet) or (while smelling your feet dramatically), “I think I forgot to wash my toes today! P.U.!” 🙂
I will also gasp and say, “Guess what?!” and drag out the anticipation until everyone is super quiet and follow up with something like, “Jesus loves you!”
Or whisper, “Oooo, I have a secret to tell you… I will tell you my secret when you are (insert-desired-behavior-here).” When they are ready, whisper them a promise of God. Or that you think they smell like strawberries and donuts.
I have also been known to grab someone’s banana during a rowdy snack time, hold it up to my ear and have an entire conversation with “someone” on the other end.
Or simply break out into a song! Music is extremely powerful. I make up songs about everything and anything.
Also – PUPPETS. We had a turtle named Norton and a boy puppet named Zack who lived in our classroom closet. Sometimes I would calm a noisy moment by asking if anyone could hear our friends snoring in the closet. 🙂
Toddlers are awesome at being easily distracted. All it takes is a little creativity to redirect them to a better place!
When you have instructed a little person to go to the bathroom and they look you dead in the eye and say, “NO,” it’s hard to not let that kind of disobedience and disrespect not trigger some anger on your end.
I have found that keeping the atmosphere light-hearted and fun instead of entering a power struggle with someone who is not even taller than my kneecaps is often the better way. They don’t want to go to the bathroom? Sweep them up in your arms and pretend to fly them to the potty. Or say something like, “Hmm, how fast do you think you can get to that bathroom?” Most kids do like a good competition!
I also love and use THESE TRICKS regularly.
I am not a fan of rewards. I think treasure boxes and stickers charts and treats can be way too much work and money to keep up with. I also think that they set kids up to be motivated to get stuff, instead of to “find out what pleases the Lord,” (Ephesians 5:10) – which is a huge goal in my teaching and parenting.
In our class, I like to remind the students that when they obey, they are bringing glory to God – and that bringing glory to God is the BEST thing we can do in our lives because He is worthy (so much more I could say about that – but another day!).
I also love to give lots of verbal praise. I am constantly breathing life into my students. They shared with a friend? We break out into our Super Sharing song and end with a big class hooray. They helped clean up the toys? “Oh, Jamie! I love how you are using your helping hands!” While we are lining up to go to the playground and a few kids are stirring up shenanigans, I will make sure to point out and praise the ones doing it right (which usually inspires the off-task ones to shape up).
At the end of every day, however, I do like to give my students a sticker before they leave the classroom. It’s not something they earn and it is not something they can lose. It is just because Mrs. B. loves them and Jesus loves them most of all (and I tell them that as I put the sticker on their shirts).
When I have a particularly difficult situation on my hands, I will give the student a choice. “It’s time to go to the bathroom. You can either walk there or I can carry you. Which would you prefer?” Or, “Sam is playing with the red train right now, but would you like the blue train or the yellow train?”
Toddlers love their independence. They love to be in charge. This satisfies that desire a bit – but the choices were created by you – the one who is really in charge. And when it seems like you have a room full of tiny bosses trying to overthrow your leadership, be encouraged by this good word – God chose YOU to shepherd these kiddos. You are the one who knows what is best for them.
Y’all, being 2 is SO HARD. There is SO much going on in these little people. When I have a meltdown on my hands, sometimes the best thing that child needs is a big ole’ hug. More than likely that child is tired, hungry, or feeling frustrated and he doesn’t have the right words to explain all those BIG emotions.
Wrap those precious babies in your arms and help them navigate those feelings. “You’re sad because you couldn’t have that toy right now.” “You’re upset because Mommy had to go.” “You’re frustrated because he grabbed the book out of your hands.” Acknowledge and support their feelings as they learn how to work it out. Of course follow up with, “It’s never okay to take a toy from a friend,” or, “Mommy always comes back,” or, “God gave us helping hands, not hurting hands,” but the goal is always love – not shame or anger.
Calm Down Corner
If a child is not responding to any of the above methods, sometimes they either need to be removed from an escalating situation or they simply need to be alone for a few minutes to calm down. In my classroom we have a small chair next to my desk called The Calm Down Corner. I will instruct the child to sit in the chair and I will tell them that I cannot wait until they are ready to come back and join us. When they have sat there for a few minutes I will ask, “Are you ready to show me your self-control?” or “Are you ready to make things right with your friend?” or “Are you ready to be kind to your friend/make good choices/share the toys?”
Sometimes I will let them play with my Calm Down Jar while they are in the Calm Down Corner.
I also like to pray over my students in the Calm Down Corner if they are really resisting correction. I try to remember to point them to Christ and point myself to Christ, too! I need to remember and preach to myself that He is POWERFUL and can break even the strongest of 2-year-old wills! 🙂
Teaching and/or parenting toddlers is HARD WORK. Some days you are going to feel like you’re an all-star Pinterest Parent/Teacher who should totally write a book or start a blog and share all of your ideas. Other days you might start thinking that jail life doesn’t sound so bad compared to the crazy swirling all around you in the form of a tribe of small human raptors. 😉
I certainly did not manage my class perfectly nor did I always make the best decisions about how to train them.
But whether it was a good day or a bad one, I learned to remember that Jesus is always the answer. Seeking Him. Declaring my absolute need for Him. Believing that His strength is made perfect in my weakness. And rejoicing in my salvation were the best tools I had for getting the job of training kids done.
He is holding it all together. He loves you and loves your kids. He will take all of the good teaching/parenting moments and the major fails and work it all for His glory somehow – praise His powerful name.
Ultimately – remember that THEY ARE 2. Things are going to get a little messy and crazy at times. It’s ok! At the end of the day, if your students know you and Jesus love them – YOU HAVE DONE A GREAT JOB.
What works best for your little one? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments below!