10 Ways to Help the Parents of Toddlers

Toddlers: They're as exhausting as they are adorable. These great tips will ease the whole family's load.

By Kristen Sturt

When it comes to raising toddlers, parents need … buddy, please don’t eat the crayon. Don’t eat the crayon. DON’T EAT THE CRAYON. Please take it out of your mouth. OUT OF YOUR ... Excuse me for a minute.

Okay! I'm back. What was I saying? Oh, yeah.

When it comes to raising toddlers, parents need all the help we can get. But, while advice and (especially) babysitting are much appreciated, certain kinds of assistance can overstep some carefully laid-out boundaries. With that in mind, here are 10 ways to pitch in, without crossing any lines.

1. Make your home kid-friendly.

  • What this doesn’t mean: Childproof every cabinet! Turn your living room into a daycare! Dress like the cast of Doc McStuffins!
  • What this does mean: Stash potentially harmful (glass, metal, pointy) home décor! Hide your medication! Put some books and toys aside for him! Maybe have a few diapers on hand?

In other words, we love visiting you, as does your restless, wobbly grandchild. While we don’t expect you to rearrange your house, it would make the stay even more pleasant if A) he had an activity to occupy his hands, and B) we didn’t have to worry about him being impaled on a crystal Nativity set.

2. Speak up!
Right now, her spoken vocabulary may not go much beyond “Elmo” and the ubiquitous “no,” but you can bet that child understands almost everything you say. Stoke those developing language skills by talking with (not at) her as much as possible. Studies show that kids who hear more words learn faster, and do much better in school down the line.

3. Don’t rush the potty.
According to my highly scientific calculations, I have changed approximately five bamillion diapers since 2012. And while I long for the days of bladder control (him, not me), I know not to rush potty training—and you shouldn’t, either, Nana.

Why? Well, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average toddler approaches the toilet on his own “around age two,” and completes his studies over the course of a year. By contrast, lots of kids who start around 18 months “are not completely trained until after age four.” (WHAT!?)

4. Come down to his level.
Gone are the days of admiring your grandchildren from a distance. Early childhood specialists have found that floor time with toddlers—during which you get down on your hands and knees to play—is vital to development of all sorts: social, emotional, language, and so on. It’s especially valuable for young kids on the autism spectrum, since it helps with communication, relating, and eye contact. So, knees and hips permitting, hit the deck, Grandma and Grandpa!

5. Kill your TV (and your tablet, probably).
Consider this:

Look, I’m no luddite, but your grandchild is only going to be this astoundingly cute for about ten seconds. Why not flip off the Cowboys game and have some quality time? (Though, it's understandable—and sometimes totally necessary—to indulge in the occasional age-appropriate show.)

6. Encourage naps.
When babysitting, you may be tempted to postpone or skip your grand-toddler’s nap to spend more time with him. I beg you, for the good of humanity: Please don’t do that.

Beyond turning him into a tear-streaked terror monster, multiple studies have found that omitting naptime adversely affects attention spans, problem solving, and (no duh) mood. A solid 60 or 90 minutes of sleep will fix all that, and give you time to go to the bathroom.

7. Avoid the food fight.
A few years ago, I was one of those people who saw two-year-olds scarfing Chicken McNuggets and wondered what the hell was wrong with their parents. Now that I have a little boy, and know it’s the only protein he will eat, I understand, and I apologize. Grandparents, don’t be me. Unless your kids are force-feeding your grandchild strychnine, follow their mealtime leads and save your arguments for another time.

8. Choose simple, fun toys.
Toys are a tricky topic to discuss, because parents are so grateful for gifts, and we never want to offend. But, say, if you wanted some guidance, opt for simple playthings that encourage kids to think, build, interact, and create; you know – the kind of toys you grew up with. They’ll foster motor and cognitive skills, along with good ol’ fashioned fun. Think:

  • Crayons
  • Blocks
  • Giant puzzles
  • Balls
  • Instruments

(And thanks again!)

9. If you have to fight, do it rationally or elsewhere.
All families have issues sometimes. And while it’s beneficial for children to observe tranquil, reasonable problem solving between adults, yelling and hostility are always big no-nos. In fact, a 2013 Cardiff University study of 300 families showed that kids are emotionally damaged by witnessing loud or physical arguments. If you ever feel you’re about to explode, try these quick calming techniques to spare the grandkids from the fallout.

10. When in doubt, let her warm up to you.
Grandpa, we know you want to scoop up your little lovemuffin as soon as you see her. But wait! While your grandbaby may very well be a super-social hug machine, it’s likely she’s become more cautious over the last few months. Forcing an embrace can make toddlers uncomfortable, and some experts suggest it promotes the idea that a child's body doesn't belong to her. If she seems hesitant, hang back and let her come to you. Then, squeeze to your heart’s content.

Honorable Mention: Please, please, please babysit. (Please?)
Think of it this way: the more alone time we get, the more likely you are to get another grandbaby out of the deal.


Oops! I meant Ms. Sturt, not Ms. Strut! Sorry! Too bad we can't edit here the way we can over in the forums/Community.

rosered135 on 2014-08-17 02:50:43

This is a great article! Thank you Ms Strut and GP.com!. Just want to point out that, while I totally agree with not rushing the potty, this decision, like all others, is up to the parents. If they start potty training earlier than we would, we need, I believe, to accept that just as much as if they start later than we would (unless it seems unreasonable, in either direction). If a GP finds it too difficult to cooperate, for whatever reason, I don't think they should have to. But then they probably should be the regular babysitter/caregiver, if at all.

As for toys/gifts, I think the suggestions here are excellent. But I would also add that it's a good idea just to ask the parents what the child wants/needs and what they're ok with. And when in doubt, I think it's always a good idea to check with the parents first. Can't hurt.

rosered135 on 2014-08-16 10:56:51

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