5 simple yet amazing ways to love your toddler

Leading up to JeeWoo’s Valentine’s party, I was SO excited for him to exchange valentines at school. Seeing as this was my first time to be part of this tradition as his mama, I loved every step involved. From getting the list of names and buying his Hot Wheels sticker valentines to writing on them together and handing them over that morning, I’m confident I was more excited than he was.

When we got back home, however, something shifted in me. With each and every goodie we pulled out of his bag – candy, puzzles, mini toys, and glittery DIY valentines – my stomach dropped as I realized:

I was the ONLY mom who sent him to school with just valentines.

Just the day before, a friend texted me in her own #momfail misery:

“I am beside myself. I totally didn’t bring what I was supposed to for the party (paper plates) or his valentines! I feel so bad!”

“Oh, mama! This happens,” I replied. “Did he still have a great day? And I’m sure the school had some plates…”

“They did have plates. And he didn’t know any different,” she typed. “Meanwhile, I am in tears.”

Of course, she was in tears.
Of course, I felt like a failure.

Us mamas put way too much pressure on ourselves.

And of course, all along, our kiddos didn’t know any different. They see life from a much simpler lens than we do.

That’s just the thing, mama:

The things our kids need the most from us are the things that don’t ask much of us.

This isn’t news to you or me, but in our busy, always-connected, comparison-prone lives, it’s often easy to forget. We need gentle reminders, and we need them often.

So, my fellow, tired mama bear…

Here are five tiny, mighty ways to not only connect with your little one, but fill *your* tank in the process, too. 

Say “Eye” Love You

One of the most powerful ways to meet your child’s basic desires AND show them you love them is the simple yet radical act of making eye contact. By locking eyes with your little one — specifically in those in-between, playful moments — you’re communicating in more ways than you think.

You’re saying, “I’m here. I’m interested. I love you.”

Here are some ideas to gently spark the connection: 

  • Have a staring contest. 
  • Play a game of peek-a-boo. 
  • Sit across from them during a meal.
  • While they’re playing, join them. Start asking questions.
  • When you’re parked or at a red light, turn around and move your head to the music while looking at them. (I just did this yesterday. He copied me. It was everything.)

Just Say YES!

We say no to our little ones a lot. It’s our way of protecting, teaching, and ultimately loving them. But how many times throughout the day are we declining their requests because we feel inconvenienced in some way?

What if, for once, we agreed to splash the bath water, climb into the fort, or let them make that mess? Could something game-changing spark from spontaneously saying yes?

The day I let JeeWoo play with all the soap- and water-filled cups with his dirty, bare feet all over the kitchen counter, I cooked lunch in peace and quiet (AKA not to Cocomelon songs for once!) and he didn’t even fight his nap. Like what?

Hide a Heart (or five)

While my 3-foot shadow was napping one day, I drew a heart on five Post-its and placed them around the house. Some were obvious. (Hi, kitchen table + bathroom mirror!). Some were hidden. (Oh hey, tractor scooper and jack-in-the-box lid!)

But here’s what ALL of them had in common: They were SO fun to hide. And for the first time e-ver, I couldn’t wait for him to wake up.

When Tiny Tornado finally came blowing through, his reactions were priceless. All from a few heart-donning pieces of paper that took, oh, seven seconds to make.

Keep it Secret

If you or your kiddo aren’t big on hugs and kisses, all is not lost when it comes to the love language of physical touch. A secret handshake or special pinky swear could be just as impactful. Plus, it’s a great way to spark a meaningful moment of play or even add to one of your routines.

For example, at the end of our bedtime routine, we used to say and sign, “Thumbs up, hang loose, rock ‘n’ roll” then, we’d do some “knuckles” and “explode” our fingers.

Even after the most sweat-inducing, hair-pulling attempts to get little man tucked in, this secret handshake of sorts would always make us smile! Plus, toddlers thrive when things are predictable, so this was probably comforting to him. #winwin

(Side note: As I post this from our kitchen table, my husband is currently teaching JeeWoo the secret handshake that he and I almost did after our wedding vows. He has no idea this is even something I’m writing about. I will say…teaching a toddler a four-step handshake might be a Task with a capital T, but just the act of trying to teach it to them could be special. The connection between them in this moment is too cute!)

Lend a Hand

Don’t underestimate the power of simple acts of service for your kids – AKA helping them with something, making them a special snack/favorite meal, taking them somewhere, or anything that lends that helping, loving hand.

Even just making a smiley face on their breakfast plate could make a big difference. But, um, maybe don’t use syrup like I did. (LOL!) Honey. Use honey.

But seriously. Little things go a long way.

I will never forget how my mom would put curlers in my hair every day, how my dad would stand outside with my hot chocolate until it got warm, or how my grandma would make me peanut butter + cinnamon toast when I came over.

Those are the things I so vividly remember. Those are the things that made me feel loved.

Not what my valentines looked like, how many toys I had, how/if my mom contributed to the class party, how many activities I was in, whether the house was clean, or, or, or.

What truly mattered was how I felt: seen, connected, and loved.

So, mama, the next time you feel like you’re failing or not doing enough, please remember:

All those routine, mundane, simple acts of service + little moments of connection are working more magic than you even know.


Want more ideas? Craving connection with other awesome moms?

Then, Mama Be Present is for you.

It’s a free community + joy-sparking journey for moms who desire simple yet impactful ways to not only connect with their little ones, but to slow down + connect more with themselves.

Every Tuesday, I share joy prompts (like the ones above!) in a private Facebook group and on Instagram.

join us

Make new friends. Revel in the little things. Share your memories in the making.

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