9 Parents on the Tips, Tricks, and Products That Got Them Through the Toddler Years

published Apr 12, 2022
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A plastic disposable placemat may not seem like a lifechanger. But if you ask me what proved truly invaluable during the toddler years, I’d put forth that humble rectangle of stick-on plastic. 

Why the addiction to instant placemats? As a germphobe, I couldn’t stand the anxiety of my little ones eating off sticky, crumb-covered tables in random pizza places, diners, and mall food courts. In my defense: Little kids are gross! My older son once dropped his pacifier on the floor of a dirty Bloomingdales dressing room as I struggled into a bathing suit, then popped it right back in his mouth before I could stop him. 

On top of that, with my second son, we were navigating food allergies, too. If we fed him off a table that had a smear of peanut butter or cashew crumbs from someone’s KIND bar, he could suffer anaphylaxis, a medical emergency. So my husband, our babysitter, and I whipped one of those mats out and slapped it down *everywhere* — whether we were eating off airline tray tables or tablecloths at real restaurants.

Oh those precious things that make the early years easier. Sometimes it’s a toy, a tip, a thing that makes you feel like you’ve actually got a grip. Here’s what parents and caregivers say got them through the rough-and-tumble toddler years. And there’s not even one bottle of wine on the list.

The Booster Chair That Goes Everywhere

“I love that our Summer pop n’ go seat transitioned from when my daughter was about 6 months and we used it to feed her to three and a half when we removed the tray and it became a beach, outdoor movie night, and picnic seat. Plus, it folds up nicely so it’s easy to keep in the back of the car!”—Alise C., mom of two

A Fizzy Reset

“I swear by bath bombs and bubble baths! A bath eases them out of a funk and into a new more chill mood. Whether it’s at noon or 4pm, lol. Also, goggles in the bath. The best.”—Jenna D., mom of two

A Prepacked Restaurant Goody Bag

“We dine out often so we learned early to always have a baggie packed with coloring books, markers, stickers, and the mini containers of play-doh to keep the kids occupied at the table. And if all else fails…use the backup bag of lollipops.” —Jeana M., mom of two

1-2-3 Magic

“That book 1-2-3 Magic worked like, well, magic for us. The idea is basically when your kid does something naughty, you say ‘you’re at one.’ If he doesn’t stop, then as soon as he continues you say, ‘you’re at two and if you get to three X happens.’ Then if that behavior continues, ‘that’s three’ and you must follow through on that consequence.” —Patty B., mom of two

My Dustbuster (Seriously)

“Every kid makes a mess and I think about 60% of our kids’ messes were in the form of crumbs (they still are). When I got this Black + Decker dustbuster it made clean-up SO much easier. We still use it and have had it for 5 years.” —Lani, mom of three

A Screen to Make Car Trips Less Tedious

“An iPad Holder for car trips made all the difference. It was a lifesaver because I couldn’t deal with two kids in the car.”—Megan B., mom of two

Paws, Paws, and More Paws

“I couldn’t have made it without Paw Patrol in general — the show and the toys. I assume my son would’ve found something else to dig into but he has spent countless hours playing with the figures, vehicles, and accessories like the Mighty Lookout Tower. I owe the creators a debt of gratitude.”—Jaime H., mom of one son

Old-School Meltdown Mediation Advice

“Before my first daughter was born, my aunt Katheryne told me to never concede victory to something that’s less than three-feet tall. She was referring to meltdowns. The tip didn’t resonate until my daughter threw her first fit as a toddler. It really helped me see the absurdity of a meltdown. And, thanks to my aunt, I retired from meltdown management with an undefeated record.” —Seth K., dad of two

Swapping “If” for “When” Statements

“I read that to avoid power struggles with your toddler, you should change the wording from ‘if’ to ‘when’ when making requests. For example, change ‘IF you put on your shoes, THEN we can go to the park’ to ‘WHEN you put on your shoes, we will go to the park.’ This has been a gamechanger for us! It takes away some of the decision-making and makes it something that is going to happen rather than totally ‘up to them.’”—Alise C.

 Straight-Up Bribes

“Bribes. The PC term would be ‘incentives’ or ‘rewards,’ but it was bribes. Especially when one of them was a toddler during the first pandemic lockdowns. We’re all hardworking, worn-out parents nowadays. Give them whatever material item they want (in our case, piles of Pokemon cards and one-and-done Amazon movie rentals) and you can keep them content enough so you and your partner can breathe.” —Kenny H., dad of two