Things my toddler has taught me about taking care of myself

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BY DR LY HART-SMITH

In the midst of these uncertain times, it’s even more important to take care of yourself so that you can manage the additional stressors associated with life since COVID-19. These are some of the things that my toddler has taught me about taking care of myself. Prior to becoming a parent, I appreciated the importance of all these things. Now that I have a toddler, I understand just how fundamental they are.

A consistent sleep routine is the foundation for feeling good

Any parent will know that an overtired toddler is harder to manage than one who is well-rested. Little molehills quickly become big mountains. The same thing goes for adults. If there is nothing else you can do for yourself, waking and sleeping at the same times every day will have a measurable impact on how your day will go.

Regular meals and snacks

Ditto on eating regular meals and snacks. If toddlers are hungry, their moods and behaviour become erratic very quickly. Adults also hate feeling hangry – combat this by not giving in to the temptation to skip meals when you’re busy, and having a stash of emergency snacks at hand. Add that to sleeping regular hours, and you’ve got a firm foundation for a good day.

We respond to the stress levels of those around us

Juggling competing work and personal obligations and had a late night? It’s almost guaranteed that your toddler will be acting up the next day. Toddlers can pick up on our stress, parents are less likely to respond helpfully, toddlers react to that and… you’ve ended up in a vicious cycle.
As adults, we can use this information to make life easier for ourselves. This might be as simple as scheduling time away from your partner if you’re both stressed, putting boundaries around the time you spend helping others with their problems, or scheduling a difficult conversation for a time when you’re likely to feel less overwhelmed and irritable.

When we’re upset, we aren’t thinking logically

Toddlers have the words to communicate what they are thinking. During a meltdown, it can be interesting (and more than a little frustrating) to hear completely contradictory demands. However, it’s best not to reason with or ask questions of a toddler (or anyone really) when their emotions are high. This reminds me that when we are feeling upset, our ability to reason and solve problems is very much impaired, and that we also may not actually know what it is we want, just that we want things to be different.

It’s best not to expect yourself to problem solve or make decisions when you’re upset. Waiting for a time when you’re feelings are less emotional would be better, or failing that, leaning on someone you trust to get your problems down on paper can be an alternative.

Take care of yourselves (and your toddlers!). I hope you all stay well.

Dr Ly Hart-Smith completed her clinical psychology training at The University of New South Wales and has experience working in public, private, and university settings. She also holds a PhD in clinical psychology focusing on the impact of unhelpful thinking styles, and has presented research at national and international conferences and in published papers. She is passionate about helping individuals adjust to difficult life circumstances and has a special interest in perinatal mental health.


 

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