Parenting Pre-Toddlers Goal: Simply Don’t Lose Ground

It can be difficult to have a 12-18 month old. During this time period, focus on maintaining your ground and you will succeed.

Pretoddler holding parents' hands

We all want to be intentional with our parenting and see our children grow and improve.

When we have young toddlers in the 12-18 month old (aka Pre-Toddler) age range, we kind of need to let go of the “progress” notion and simply hang on to one basic goal.

On Becoming Pre-Toddlerwise outlines one goal for you during this period:

“Do not worry about gaining ground with your pretoddler, (behaviorally speaking), but rather focus on not losing ground.”

(page 26)

 “By not losing ground you are actually gaining ground.”

(pages 26-27)

Did you read that right?

Yes, I think you did.

You just read that you don’t need to make improvements on the behavior of your cute (yet often naughty) 12-18 month old…you simply need to keep your child where she is.

You want her to enter life as a 19-month-old in the same position she entered as a 12-month-old.

This takes an enormous amount of pressure off your shoulders as you think about parenting your budding toddler. We will talk more about this and why it is okay in this post.

Let Progress Happen

Now, of course, if your child will and can make improvements, go for it.

But many of the children in this age range are difficult behaviorally. I see lots of questions about the little fits they throw and what to do about it. 

Kiddos this age can be difficult.

But if your little one does not make any leaps or strides, remember that by not losing ground, you are actually gaining ground.

I do have to say, however, that this idea of “don’t lose ground” doesn’t mean that you can’t make progress in things during this age.

For example, we started independent play with Brayden, my oldest, at 14 months old. We made great progress and he learned to play on his own.

So don’t read this and think you can’t make any improvements with your pre-toddler. You can still have goals to aim for.  

How You Gain Ground by Not Losing Ground

How is that possible? How does this really work?

I think of it like a river.

You are in a boat (or kayak, canoe, raft…whatever you want to be in–something you can row). You are headed upstream.

You reach this patch where the current is especially strong. If you stop paddling, you are going to move downstream. You can’t sit and do nothing and not lose your progress.

Sure, you can paddle again in a while to get back to that point, but it will be harder and will wear you out more. 

If you can at least paddle enough to stay in the same position and wait for the spring runoff to calm down, you can get past that point and move forward more quickly.

It isn’t easy. It can be physically exhausting. But by not losing your position on the river, you are much further ahead when spring runoff stops and you are able to make forward progress again.

Ezzo and Bucknam describe it from an investment viewpoint.

You have worked to build great habits in your child. You have this investment you have made.

Your baby’s sleep, eating, and play habits are your assets.

You want to protect these assets. You want to prevent the loss of these assets (found on page 27).

What are some of these areas that are an asset?

  • If you have followed the -wise series, you can expect to have a good sleeper.
  • Eating should be predictable and your child should be eating a variety of healthy foods.
  • Your child will have good manners (for a 12-month-old).
  • Your child will be able to sign and communicate non-verbally rather than through little fits.
  • Your toddler will already have an awareness of what is off-limits.
  • Your child will be able to play independently by herself.

These are the assets you want to protect. You don’t want to lose this ground.

Parenting pretoddlers: What to do and not do

Pre-Toddlers Start to Test Boundaries

You will find that as your little cutie enters pre-toddler age range, she will start to test boundaries. She will start to push back in at least some, if not all, of those nice bullet points we listed above.

Your child might start waking early in the morning. You don’t shrug your shoulders and adjust yourself to an earlier morning waketime. No. That would be floating back down the river.

You try to figure out why she is waking and fix it.

>>>Read: What To Do When Your Pre-Toddler is Taking a Short Morning Nap

If she starts protesting independent playtime, you don’t pause for several months. You keep at it. You hold your ground.

If she refuses to communicate and throws a tantrum, you don’t give her what she wants anyway.

>>>Read: How You Should Respond to Frustration Tantrums

Real-Life Examples

Let me give you some examples from McKenna’s life as a pre-toddler (McKenna is my third child).

The most prevalent example in my mind is the morning she wanted more food at breakfast but refused to ask for it in a nice way.

She preferred screaming.

She was right about 16 months old. She had been signing “more” perfectly for months. That particular morning, she refused.

I patiently asked her if she wanted more. She screamed. I told her to say more and showed her. I even tried to take her hands and give her a little help.

She refused.

I sat at the table pretending to read something while she had her fit. 

In the end, we left that meal with her not getting more.

Had this situation happened with Kaitlyn, I probably would have been a little nervous because I was always so worried about food with her.

And even though Brayden was a great eater, I always worried he wasn’t getting enough food.

But I had since let that worry leave my mind and had put a lot of trust into my children. I knew she wouldn’t let herself starve.

I had also realized eating a little less at one meal isn’t going to do long-term damage to the child. Standing my ground was worth it.

So we walked away without more.

>>>Read: The Screaming Non-Verbal Baby/Toddler

What happened at lunch that day? As soon as she wanted more, she nicely signed it. No fits. No tears. No screams.

Just a nice pleasant more sign.

I told her good girl and got her some more.

We literally did not have a problem since that day.

What do you think would have happened if I had given her more at breakfast despite the fit? Do you think she would have asked nicely at lunch? No.

Knowing myself, I would not tolerate it long, but it would be much harder to break that habit of screaming after several meals of allowing it.

I would have let myself go downstream and would have had to work double time to get back to our original point.

And that isn’t fair to the child. It is confusing when mom and dad aren’t consistent. 

Don’t lose ground.

Another day I put McKenna in independent play.

She cried for about a minute after I left. I could tell it wasn’t a cry of real need.

I could have rushed back in to assure her she could play on her own.

Instead, I listened until she was done and she was fine ever since. No problem.

I really could have created some extra work down the road for myself that day, but happily, I didn’t. I maintained my spot on the river. 


The point here is to hold your ground.

Face that little ball of emotion with confidence. Don’t worry about creating a little toddler who obeys your every word; it isn’t going to happen.

But don’t throw your hands up in defeat and decide she will outgrow it someday or she will be “easier” when she is 2 or 3 and you can deal with it then.

The phrases “terrible twos” and “threenager” don’t exist for nothing.

Maintain what you have. If the current slows, go ahead and see if there is an improvement you would like to make.

In the meantime, just think of how strong your arms are going to be when you come out of this!


This post originally appeared on this blog September 2010

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How to parenting your pre-toddler

6 thoughts on “Parenting Pre-Toddlers Goal: Simply Don’t Lose Ground”

  1. Thank you for this post. I really needed to read this today. My husband and I have been having issues with our almost 11-month-old son. He doesn't want independent play, he's starting to throw fits when he wants something and can't have it, and has been fussing at the dinner table. We've been giving in a little and just had a talk about it last night (about us needing to stand our ground). Thank you for this encouragement and motivation to do what's right for our child. I'm ready to follow-through again. 🙂

  2. What a great concept, I think it's really applicable in many areas of life. I appreciate your optimism and how you are willing to share ways you learned different skills over time. This seems like a far-off concept, since my baby is only 4 months, but it's always great to have it in mind.

  3. Parenting this age group feels EXACTLY like rowing upriver! I think as parents we do need encouragement at this point to not lose ground. Because one day we are going to be past the current and suddenly shoot forward with our strong paddling. 😉 This helps me maintain my resolve to bring my son back to Mother Goose Storytime. He is at a more challenging age for sitting on mats the whole time than the other babies who are closer to seven months old. But I don't want to give up; instead, I can teach him to behave appropriately in that environment by continuing to go and to work on those skills. Thank you!


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