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252: Having Empathy For Your Toddler (And Yourself)

By August 22, 2023November 6th, 2023Mastermind Parenting Podcast

The toddler years are a source of joy and anxiety for a lot of first-time parents. We want to encourage our newly-mobile little ones as they explore their surroundings, but we also want to keep them safe. And, we’re in charge of connecting them to a world that has schedules and time limits, which just aren’t intuitive to a tiny, curious mind. Who wouldn’t be stressed out by all that?

Empathy is the key to managing those competing priorities, for our little ones AND ourselves. Trying to see the world from their perspective can help us stay patient when they’re testing boundaries. Giving ourselves kindness when we make mistakes will help the whole thing feel less overwhelming. Here are my most important tips for building that connections, and some resources to help you put it into practice.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  1. How you can start cultivating empathy for your toddler’s experience when they’re still an infant. 
  2. The big shift in thinking at the heart of every progressive parenting method.
  3. Why humility is so much more beneficial for your kiddos than perfection.
  4. My most recommended resources for parents at any stage of their journey.

And much more! 

As always, thanks for listening. Head over to Facebook, where you can join my free group Mastermind Parenting Community. We post tips and tools and do pop-up Live conversations where I do extra teaching and coaching to support you in helping your strong-willed children so that they can FEEL better and DO better. If you enjoyed this episode and think that others could benefit from listening, please share it!

About Randi Rubenstein

Randi Rubenstein helps parents with a strong-willed kiddo become a happier family and enjoy the simple things again like bike rides and beach vacays.

She’s the founder of Mastermind Parenting, host of the Mastermind Parenting podcast, and author of The Parent Gap. Randi works with parents across the U.S.

At Mastermind Parenting, we believe every human deserves to have a family that gets along.

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Links & Resources

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[00:00:00] My name is Randi Rubenstein, and welcome to the Mastermind Parenting Podcast. At Mastermind Parenting, we’re on a mission to support strong-willed kids and the families that love them. 

Hello, hello, hello. How is everyone doing out there? I have an episode this week that is inspired by a mommy group, that’s led and organized by these lovely lactation consultants here in Houston. It’s called Milk Connections Lactation Consulting. This mommy group is for first-time moms with babies that are six months or younger.

I know everyone listening to this, your kids are way beyond this stage, but I thought it might be helpful for me to record this episode and to put you in the mindset of thinking back to when you were a new mom. And most likely,

[00:01:00] you weren’t getting the messages like the ones I have for these mamas today, okay?

And so my goal in sharing this with you, my dear listener, is – because as they say, when you know better, you do better – and I want you to have grace for yourself, for past you, who most likely wasn’t given this information so early, right? 

Like, as my favorite book that I keep talking about, Hunt, Gather, Parent, uh, when the author went and lived with all of these indigenous cultures and communities. One of the main takeaways I got from that book is we were never meant to raise kids and parent the way our Western model is set up, right? Like, in homes, nuclear families, not lots of aunts and

[00:02:00] uncles and grandmas and, and big kids and little kids and everyone gathering in community, right?

We were never meant to just be all day long with our children. And especially most of the responsibilities falling on one parent, the main caregiver. And if – look, if your kids are in a school situation from the beginning and, um, and at daycare, still the responsibilities of making sure that everything is set up and you constantly have, your brain is constantly thinking of what’s my kid doing? Are they being cared for properly? There’s constant calls from daycare. What about when they get sick? It’s. All on one person, the majority of the time, and that is not the way humans were meant to be raised. And, this is our Western

[00:03:00] model, right? 

So I love mommy groups like this, especially when they’re led by professionals. I was never a big fan of play groups that just got together. I found there to be a lot of bullshit and mommy competition and everyone else’s baby was sleeping through the night. My baby wasn’t sleeping through the night and, I don’t know, something about that felt exhausting. It felt like a prequel to what I call the Mahjong mafia community. Um, and that’s not my jam. 

But I like when groups like this are led by professionals because I think it’s like you get a group of people together and they’re facing a challenge, like raising an actual human. And they’re all learning together and they’re sharing what’s going on behind the curtain for real and if they have concerns or worries like, I just think it’s an awesome model I wish that there was groups like this everywhere. I feel like there should be. 


[00:04:00] my goal is is, I want you to think back to when you were a new mom, and if you didn’t get this kind of information, and now you find yourself in a bit of a predicament with a strong-willed child, you’re just doing what we all did is, oh, really? You have to take a parenting class? What? 

You know, those are the messages we’re getting. Like, doesn’t it just come instinctively? Like, what do you, she coaches you on parenting? Like, wait, you’re listening to parenting podcasts? Like. Okay. Right? So that sort of nuanced shame, like you should just have this motherhood thing nailed.

And in, you know, past cultures, past times, there was mentoring, right? There was actual mentoring built in. And since we don’t have that model built in anymore, we’ve got to go and find that model. Okay? 

So this mommy group asked

[00:05:00] me, the lovely lactation ladies, asked me if I would maybe record something. And I said, sure, what do you want to know? And this is what they said. They said, so some things we haven’t covered in our classes, and we would like to provide resources for are: the best resources, the books, podcasts, TED Talks related to parenting. The best, cycle breaking, conscious parenting. And a big one for this group are important parenting tips for the upcoming toddler years because they are all first time moms. So that’s what I’m covering here on in this podcast episode. Okay? 

So let’s start with, the part that I think they’ll probably be the most interested in, which is parenting tips for toddlers. Of course I could give a zillion. And, the way humans effectively learn, the way we all learn is we

[00:06:00] really can’t remember more than like one or two things. We’re always going to have one or two takeaways. So the two takeaways that I want parents who have little tiny babies to know when they’re thinking about the toddler years. Are:

One, start now narrating your baby’s experience as much as possible. Okay? And so that way when they start talking back, right, when they get to be like two to three and sometimes even as early as 18 months, when they start talking back, saying no and testing, you’ll be used to narrating with a neutral, non -judgmental tone. Right?

So, what does that look like? Well, with a baby, you know, babies who can’t talk, you’re just narrating their experience. And if anyone’s been watching my silly doggy videos on Instagram, um,

[00:07:00] where really I’m just using my dogs as props. I didn’t realize it, but my husband pointed out, he’s like, you talk to the dogs all day long, which I know that sounds, makes me sound crazy, but I think I do it because I think that’s what I just got used to doing with my kids.

So when you have a baby and you’re changing the baby’s diaper, And you’re like, ooh, we’re going to change your diaper right now. All right, we’re going to go get on the changing table. Look at you. Oh, big stretch, big stretch. Mm look at you, what do you see right now? What are you looking at? What do you see? It’s colorful, huh? 

And you’re literally just narrating their experience, you know, you’re just talking to your baby and interacting with them and trying to see whatever they see. Trying to feel what they feel. And I think this is, it’s like an empathy appetizer. 

It’s also training you to have empathy

[00:08:00] because you’re seeing what they see, you’re feeling what they feel. You’re not judging. You’re not necessarily trying to micromanage it. You’re giving them some space, and you’re giving them the freedom to be a little human, and you’re just noticing, you’re just noticing. 

Whenever you feel like someone sees you, that’s empathy. It’s like you get me, you know, instant connection. So, like, if I say something, if I describe a situation here on the podcast, and you’re like, yes, I never would have put it like that. Like people say this all the time. I wouldn’t have said it like that, but once you said it, it just rang true. So that feels like empathy, like, oh, she gets me. She sees me. She just named my experience. 

So we want to get in the habit of doing this with our babies and doing this with our kids because what’s going to happen when these babies grow into toddlers?

[00:09:00] Well, once they become like two or three, the toddler starts to realize, oh, I’m not an appendage of mom. Like, I am my own person. And they start to test and challenge because they want to see how much power they have in the world or, or that they have agency over their life. Right?

So you’ve been used to narrating your child’s experience. And what it looks like to have a neutral tone is you’re like, okay, come on, we’re going to go time to put your shoes on. And your toddler says, no! And they run away. Okay. And they run away. What do most of us do in that moment? 

You have to put your shoes on. Look, I don’t have all day for this. We’re putting your shoes on now. Come over here. Um, and maybe we start to chase after them and then it becomes a game of chase, when the child was just testing. Right? 

They were just testing. Do I have to put my shoes on? Do I not have to put my shoes on? Like you’re a person, I’m a person. I’ve learned this thing

[00:10:00] where I can say no, sometimes I say no, or I don’t do the thing you want me to do. It gets a big reaction from you, it gets a ton of attention. Little toddlers don’t care if it’s positive attention or negative attention, it’s all attention from the person they want attention from the most. 

And they run away and you’re like, hmm, not into putting your shoes on now, huh? No, you don’t want to put your shoes on. Absolutely not. It sounds like a terrible idea. And when you say, when you’re narrating the experience, especially if there’s a little tiny bit of playfulness, but you’re not trying to coerce them. They might look at you a little cockeyed, okay? And when they look at you cockeyed, this goes into the second takeaway for toddlers, right? 

We’re just going to piggyback on the concept of narrating the experience with a neutral tone, no judgment, right? No trying to control them. Come here right now. I need to put your shoes.

[00:11:00] No. So what we’re going to do is give two positive choices. Lots of people teach this, right?

So you’re like, no, you’re not into putting your shoes on. That’s a terrible idea. That sounds like the worst idea you’ve ever heard. You’re so happy over here without your shoes on. Why on earth would you want to put your shoes on? Okay. Might look at you a little cockeyed and then you say, tell you what, you want to put your shoes on here, or should we carry them to the car, put them on in the car?

Another two positive choices could be, tell you what, you want to sit on my lap to put the shoes on, or do you want to sit on the floor? Do you want to put your right shoe on first, or you want to put your left shoe on first? 

Two positive choices means you don’t really care, right? You really don’t have a dog in this fight. It’s – the shoes are going to get put on, so we don’t care if they choose here or in the car. We don’t choose care if they choose right foot or left foot. And you may have a little toddler that’s like, I

[00:12:00] do it myself. Ooh. Big girl, aren’t you? Okay. Okay. You want to put your shoes on yourself. Show me. You’re going to put your right or your left one on?

 And they might look at you and you’re like, do you want me to tell you which one’s your right foot? Okay, well, let’s play a game. Is this your right foot? Is this your right foot? You know, and you just, like, get playful. You just get playful with it. 

This may sound like, oh my God, who has the energy for all this. But the thing is, is with a toddler, think about how much bandwidth it takes to fight with them, to run after them, to grab them, to yell at them, to… and then everyone has heightened cortisol and then there’s crying and then we’re taking them kicking and screaming and then we feel like shit because we just yelled at our little tiny kid. It’s a lot of energy. It’s a lot of bandwidth. 

So when we start to train ourselves to narrate their

[00:13:00] experience and then give two positive choices, right? And if they throw out a third option, like I do it myself. Oh, okay. All right. Or, red or green cup? Red or green cup? Yellow. Yeah. Yellow. Of course. Why did I not think of yellow? Yellow it is. Absolutely. Yellow is the perfect choice for you. 

We’re just not going to engage in that fight dance. And when we give the two positive choices, you know what that does for a little toddler? It’s super empowering. It’s like, I do have some agency. Nobody’s trying to control me. 

Even simple, like simple ways that we try to control kids just by like, now! Shoes! Because understandably we need to get wherever we’re going, and we’ve got a lot on our plates. So everyone, if you’ve not handled it this way, please have some grace for yourself.

This is not the way

[00:14:00] most of us were raised. We’re learning new skills. It’s going to take some practice. You’ve got to work with yourself. And if you beat yourself up, or act like you should just automatically know how to do everything exactly like this, you’re really just setting yourself up for failure. Because no one learns new skills when they’re in their emotional brain or they’re telling themselves some nasty, rude, negative story about themselves. So if we’re saying, rude things to ourselves. Like, I, well, I didn’t do it that way. I really screwed them up. Yeah. Nice. Nice. I feel like I’m the worst mom ever. 

Like when we say things like that to ourselves in our head… you would never talk to a mom friend like that. And we have to have the self-worth to stop speaking to ourselves in these nasty, negative ways. 

Like, yeah, you weren’t raised this way. You’re learning some new

[00:15:00] skills. You’re trying, and sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t have the patience and it’s okay, right? When we practice, repetition builds mastery. That’s why I probably talk to my dogs all the time the way I do, is because I’ve retrained my brain to just narrate someone else’s experience, including someone who is a four-legged child. (I swear they understand so much. It’s actually quite miraculous how much they understand, but I’m not going to even go into that right now.) 

Um, so we’re practicing this new skillset and the more we practice, the more it’s just going to start to come naturally. And the good thing about little kids is they give us lots of opportunities to practice these new skills, right? Better communication skills, empathy. Right? Empathy, seeing someone, narrating the experience, not trying to

[00:16:00] control the situation, not giving advice when people don’t, aren’t asking for advice, um, not telling other people how they should be feeling or what they should be doing. We’re learning a new, better, more skillful way to communicate, and it’s a process. It’s going to take some time. Okay? 

So those are my two tips, they’re enough for right now. And if you have a little teeny tiny one, you can start practicing now, especially with the narrating their experience.

And you know, you could even start practicing with the two choices, like, do you want this one or this one? You know, you want this one or this one? Because babies, when they’re given the, you know, you might be like this one. Yeah. You like that one? Okay, perfect. Right? We’re like starting with babies, letting our babies know, like you have some agency over your, over your life. Even if they don’t understand, we’re using it to train our brains so that when they do get a little bit older, we’ve been doing

[00:17:00] it for a long time. 

So, best resources, even just the list of TED Talks and dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. Like, everyone slow down. Take a pause, okay, take a pause. If we firehose ourselves with trying to learn all the things and too much information, we’re going to get stalled out. It’s going to feel overwhelming. So we just always want to take the next right baby step. And the next right baby step. We do not want to overwhelm ourselves, because especially in our Western society where so much is still falling on the mom and it might feel like you’re parenting on an island by yourself a lot of the time, overwhelm is the enemy. We quite often have dysregulated nervous systems. So everyone slow down. Okay? 

So the best book I would read, I want every new parent,

[00:18:00] every parent out there to read, is Hunt, Gather, Parent. I think it’s a phenomenal book, and I think it’s an interesting read, right? I think it’s an interesting read. I think it’s practical. I think it’s engaging. I find it fascinating. So Hunt, Gather, Parent would be the book that I would recommend.

And podcasts, Mastermind Parenting Podcast. I even have an episode with the author of Hunt, Gather, Parent. So I would recommend starting there. 

And then as far as all the TED Talks and, like, I find this series to be a really interesting series and, um, I really enjoyed it, and it’s called Becoming You on Apple TV. I think it is fascinating. They covered a hundred kids all around the world. And so, you know, there’s a little boy in Japan and then there’s this, I can’t remember where this,

[00:19:00] maybe Samoa. There was, um, this community where they live in these huts over the water. So like the kids, their playground is swimming from house to house. Like there’s literally water underneath their houses. 

So they cover a hundred kids for the first five years of their lives. And it’s all the different stages of development from birth until the age of five. And since the first seven years of a child’s life, their subconscious is being programmed. It’s being conditioned literally. 

Um, and just so y’all know that like as adults, we operate from that subconscious conditioning, like 90 to 95% of the time, um, until we take matters into our own hands and start retraining our brain. But that subconscious conditioning from the first seven years of life are really, I mean, really impactful for humans.

[00:20:00] So I would watch Becoming You. I think it’s a super fun way to learn more about child development. And again, it’s engaging, it’s interesting, it’s a fun thing to watch. And so that’s where I’d start. Those are the three resources. 

As far as conscious parenting, gentle parenting, conscious parenting, mastermind parenting. What do all these parenting methods, what are they really all about? Okay? They all focus on adults doing their own inner work and breaking unhealthy cycles. That’s the bottom line. You know, that’s the bottom line. There’s no amount of tips and tools and tricks and counting to one, two, three, that is ultimately going to be the resource, like, oh, I found the golden resource. 

The golden resource, okay, and I can speak for my

[00:21:00] method, Mastermind Parenting. Mastermind Parenting, if I had to just like name what this is in a nutshell, it’s about learning to recognize the lies we tell ourselves. Okay. The lies we tell ourself. 

Like, oh, my kid is always pushing my buttons. When the truth is, kids can never be responsible for adult emotions, okay? Adults are responsible for their own emotional state. Kids are just learning how to be alive and they’re following our lead, right? They are always following our lead. They are always reflecting back. 

And this is hard to hear and it’s hard to look at. It’d be much simpler to just be like, oh, my kid, it’s my kid again. And my kid. But they’re just a mirror, right? They’re just a mirror. If our buttons are pushed, it’s

[00:22:00] because there’s an old hurt that’s being triggered inside of us. You know, it’s up to us to investigate and find out what do we need to do to heal that old hurt, to bring some curiosity. 

Okay? So what does it look like? It looks like, let’s say your kid’s ignoring you. Let’s say you’ve told them a million times to put on their shoes – I’m just going to go with the shoes thing – to go. And they just keep playing and doing their own thing. And they’re just ignoring you, and ignoring you, and ignoring you, right? What is really happening here? Okay. What’s really happening? 

Well, you might be telling yourself the lie that, they just never listen to me. They just think they can just do whatever the hell they want to. Don’t have to listen to me. So what’s being triggered inside of you every time you felt dismissed, you felt ignored, you felt invisible.

[00:23:00] Okay? 

So your kid is just simply living in this present moment and you know, they need a different kind of pack leadership. I call it pack leadership. You are the leader of your pack. And so, many of us, we haven’t been taught effective leadership styles. Right? We think that we can just come and demand what needs to get done. And there’s a nuance. There’s a dance. I mean, do you like being bossed around or do you like to be given some choice? 

It’s simple, but it’s not easy because we’re retraining our own brains. And most of us, this is not the way we were parented, right? We were just told, do as I say, and case closed, and you know, stop having such a fresh mouth. We weren’t parented with skillful communication. And so of course, most of us don’t have it. So we’re learning. 

So a little kid that’s ignoring you because they’ve learned that they

[00:24:00] really don’t have to put their shoes on until the last possible second when you start to yell, like that’s what they’ve learned. Versus the little kid from two or three when we’re like, yeah, not into putting your shoes on. No, you’re happy here playing, narrating the experience, playing, doing exactly what you’re doing. Of course you don’t want to put your shoes on. It sounds like a terrible idea. I’ll tell you what, you want to put them on here or should we put them on in the car? Which one? Which one? Car? Okay. How fast are you gonna be able to get to that car? I don’t know. I don’t know. You think I can count to five? 

Right? When we’re, I mean kids learn through play. They learn through play. And so before you know it, it’s just like you just have a kid that’s going to the car. and getting their shoes on. It just becomes a non-issue, because we’re not taking the bait. We’re not engaging in the fight dance. 

And since most of us believe the lies. And we don’t bring that curiosity to figure out, why am I so triggered right now? [00:25:00] Right? When we don’t realize there have been so many times when I felt ignored, dismissed, and frankly, I kind of feel powerless. I don’t know how to show up in that pack leadership. I don’t know how to be a person who says what I mean and means what I say and doesn’t act like an asshole about it. I don’t know how to do that. Right? Like I have to learn a more skillful way to be able to do that. 

So like I said before, kids learn by what we model. So you got to lead by example. And if you don’t want your kids to solve problems with verbal or physical violence, then you also have to learn how to problem solve without violence, without yelling, without spanking, without shaming, without threatening.

And that’s the real process of all of these progressive parenting styles, whether it’s gentle or mastermind or conscious, it really puts the onus on the

[00:26:00] adult learning new communication skills, better communication skills, and it is a process. Okay? So you have to understand that you’re in training. And you’re not supposed to be the perfect parent. 

First of all, let’s just be real. Like, think about all the people that you’ve known in your life who act like they’re perfect. Like, no one likes them. Trying to be a perfect parent or a perfect human, human… I mean, not only is it not attainable, and not only is it fake and phony, anybody who acts like that perfect person, this is a person that wears a lot of armor, doesn’t feel safe to be imperfect or to admit vulnerabilities or, or learn from their mistakes. Right? This is a person who is so caged up in worry about the judgment from others and they’re judging

[00:27:00] themselves and it’s imprisoning. 

So you’re not supposed to be a perfect parent. And I would like to assert that, how about just being a humble one who’s on a quest to learn, and you’re committed to personal growth. Because that’s what it is. Parenting is the ultimate personal growth training program. Really, and you, and you’re going to get so many reps in because little kids give us the opportunity, like all day, every day to practice a more skillful way to communicate with other humans. With other humans. 

We practice it with our kids. We start to retrain our brain. We start to show up as these amazing, loving, boundaries, bosses, right? Like we’re, we get real good at understanding what boundaries are and

[00:28:00] how to let other people know what’s okay with you, what’s not okay with you, what you expect, what you’re not going to put up with and we do it in a way that other people respond to, right?

Because we’re cool like that. We’re not gonna act like assholes. We’re not gonna try to micromanage or control other people, because control always leads to rebellion. With strong-willed kids, they just rebel early. And all the other kids, they just wait till they’re teenagers and then they hit ya. You thought it was the easiest kid ever, and now all of a sudden they’re 12 or they’re 14 and they’re like, oh yeah, hell no. Hell no. Okay? 

So that’s what I got for all the new mommies is, we’re not going to overwhelm ourselves trying to learn everything right now, stress ourselves out. We’re going to take a pause and take a beat. We’re going to practice narrating the experience of our children, right? We’re going to give choice. When, wherever we can, we’re going to give…

[00:29:00] not open-ended choice, two positive choices. And if they throw a third at you, cool. Right? 

We don’t, like, especially if it’s, you know, if, if the third thing, no, I, I don’t want to do either. I don’t want to do either. Let’s just say you have a kid that starts to do that, a two or three year old, not so much an older kid. You’re like, no, you just reflect back. Not, you’re not into that either. What do you want to do? Nothing. Like, if you have a kid that’s super shut down like that, I just want you to know there’s been a lot of control on the scene. So we just have a kid that’s in a state of defensiveness. 

And when you get that, the best thing you can do, we’ve got to connect before we correct. Just nonverbal, pull them close, tell them they’re delicious. give them a squeeze, give them a snuggle. You know how much I love you. Let me see this face. Let me see this face. I want to squeeze it off. Nonverbal connection, and then we follow it up with, did you want this or this?

[00:30:00] Okay. Which one? Choose or I’m going to choose for you. 

And then we bring that pack leadership, which those are some advanced skills. So it might be too much right now. This is where we’re going to start narrating their experience, giving choice. Okay. Not overwhelming ourselves with trying to read all the things, watch all the TED Talks to do off… settle down. Right? 

We’re going to listen to a podcast here or there. We’re going to work on ourselves, and whenever we’re triggered, bring some curiosity. What’s coming up? What’s coming up? What am I feeling? What’s the emotion? When have I felt this emotion before in my life? 

Mastermind Parenting is mastering our own minds. And that means starting to notice the emotions you feel in your body, the sentences, the invisible sentences or thoughts running through your head, the lies we tell ourselves and we believe and just challenging them, questioning them. This is

[00:31:00] self-awareness. This is personal growth. And I think that is ultimately what parenting is all about. That’s how we learn how to healthy human and that’s how we raise healthy humans. 

So that’s what I’ve got for you today and have a great rest of your week. Bye for now. 

Thanks for listening today, guys. I hope you picked up some tips, tools, maybe some baby steps for creating more balance and boundaries in your life. And I just wanted to let you know, if you want to continue moving the needle forward in creating this for yourself, having a happier household, I want you to go to my website and check out We have three beginning programs, and if you need some accountability and more support then please look for the one that would be a good fit for you.

And, as always, we’re on all the social channels under mastermind parenting,

[00:32:00] on Instagram it’s mastermind_parenting. And, you know, periodically I do pop up on different Instagram lives, Facebook lives where I give you teaching and coaching and I love engaging with you live to help you help your strong-willed kids so that they can feel better, because when they feel better they do better, and I love, love, love getting to know you guys. 

So thanks for listening. If you like this podcast, please don’t forget to subscribe, rate and review. Super super appreciative

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