3 ways to love your challenging toddler well

Written by Rachel Denison
Published on October 02, 2020

There is no doubt that parenting little ones right now is probably harder than any of us have experienced. We are all operating in a place of uncharted territory. There are no books on how to parent toddlers in a pandemic, as useful as that would have been for us. I personally have never felt more exhausted and out of my comfort zone as a mom.

I recently have felt very stretched thin when it comes to offering my children the attention they seek. It feels absolutely constant. I will preface, my kids are 4 and almost 2. It feels like their needs are nonstop, out of natural necessity, but also pure boredom. The whining, the arguing, the tantrums feel absolutely out of control these days. I cannot tell you how frequently we have had to do timeouts. I know you can relate. Because of my limited capacity, exhaustion, and this constant feeling of helplessness, I don’t really think I have been loving my children well. I have been operating purely on empty and out of my drained, grumpy, and bad attitude.

Now while there is grace upon grace for us as parents, I think we all want to love our little ones well. We all want them to feel treasured, safe, and not like a burden to us. But if I am being honest, in this season I have felt consistently like they are a burden. Many days, my focus has solely been on my limited nature, how exhausted I feel, and how stressed I feel about the future of our world, nation, and family.

Recently a dear friend gently reminded me of what a blessing children are. While she did not seek to make me feel guilty, the conviction I felt in that moment was very real, and God used it to shift my perspective and turn my heart towards him and my children.

3 practical and guilt-free ways we can love our children well during these exceedingly trying times

Take care of yourself first.

Many of us parents are drowning right now. The back to school craziness has come with more demands than ever before. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent or working part or full time, you are facing your own set of challenges, let alone the burden you must feel to make sure your children have absolutely everything they need, are learning something, don’t feel lonely, and have a sense of self-confidence entering the new school year.

How are you looking after yourself? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you staying up too late scrolling social media or binging Netflix because you feel like you don’t get sufficient time to yourself? Your children can only be as well as you are. Are you loving yourself? In Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself, there is an implicit command that you actually love and care for yourself. Take some time to access how you’re doing personally and when the last time was that you did something to invest in your own energy, capacity, mental and spiritual health?

Some practical ways this works itself out is waking up early before the kids to have your coffee, spend time with the Lord, journal and do a self-assessment. This could be taking moments during your day to reach for God by playing a worship song in your car or while doing housework. Picking up a new novel instead of endlessly scrolling on your phone. Are you eating nutrient rich food? How does your body feel? Do you need to stretch or go on a walk with the kids?

Try to bake in ways that you can get filled up, however that works best for you.


Set up constant reminders that they are a blessing.

“Children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord.” –Psalm 127:3 (CEV)

How does this verse make you feel? If you’re anything like me, it may come with a slight irreverent eye roll these days… If that’s the case, we are probably due for a shift in perspective. I wholeheartedly know and own that I am in need of one. If your children feel like more of a burden than a blessing, it’s time to ask God for a shift in our hearts and minds.

Reframing the way we see our children is going to take consistent, intentional effort. If you’ve fallen into this rut like I have, where you complain about your children more than you take joy in them, there is hope for us! We have the beautiful gift of change and sanctification working in our favor, and God wants to fill us with joy, patience, and grace in these trying times, so that our natural reaction is to cherish our little ones rather than begrudge them.

This begins with a humble prayer for God to change our hearts. It’s a prayer for God to open our eyes to the beauty of our children, so we can see them for who they truly are—a person with a soul and personality God has entrusted to us to love, train up, and nurture. Oftentimes when we are not in a good place ourselves, it is very difficult and unnatural to treat others with dignity and intentional care. We often see people as a means to an end. For example, oh my goodness child, take your nap so that I can get some alone time. Oh my goodness child, go to bed so that I can chill and watch my show.

We will often dismiss their emotional needs to get our own practical needs met. While it is not always easy to sit with your toddler throwing a tantrum and mirror their emotions and experience, cultivating a safe place for them to sort through their emotions and understand that their feelings are valid, it is probably more important than being on time. (I say this as a text book perfectionist who cares much more about people’s perception of me than my own child’s most of the time.)


 Put your phone away (at least for a bit).

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” –Proverbs 4:25

The natural response to burnout is to zone out and escape. What better place to do that than your little smart phone that is an endless world of entertainment and validation. It is SO easy to fall into this habit, and I speak as someone who still struggles with it constantly.

All our children want is to see our faces, but they can’t do that when we are facedown, gazing into our screens so frequently. Believe me, I 100% understand how hard this is and how nice it can be to escape to your phone when you are overwhelmed, but in these tumultuous times, I end up more stressed out after being on my phone reading the headlines, the political Facebook arguments, and crises happening across the world.

There is something so peaceful and special about being able to unplug from that, stare your beautiful child in the eyes, and simply enjoy them. There is something so elementary about lovingly making them snacks and seeing them enjoy them so much. There is something so grounding about sitting on the floor playing with them and giving them your total attention and adoration. Just try it, and watch it work—in you and in them.

Even if it is just for a blocked-out time, say from 5-8pm, where you put your phone away completely, I promise, this will make a world of difference. If this is too much time, start small and work your way up. This will not be natural in our digital age. But you might be surprised at the life it gives back to you not to have to live in two worlds, but to be present fully in your little world.

Dear parents of toddlers, my goodness, the task before us sure isn’t easy, but it is certainly beautiful and good. May we all receive the abundant grace poured out on us daily from the good Father and allow him to be strong in our weakness. He is with us every step of the way as we embrace this stretching, sanctifying season with our littles. May we embrace every part. 

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Rachel Denison

Rachel Denison writes to help others draw near to God in every season of life. She and her husband Craig live in Dallas with their two boys, and spend their days enjoying their kids, cooking, watching the Office, and leading worship together. You can find more of her writing and worship as companions to a free daily devotional on First15.org.

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