By Heather Sande (October 18, 2022)

A working mother attempts to get to work on time carrying her toddler and laptop.
Getting to work on time can be challenging with a toddler.

Tips for parents returning to work with a toddler

Remember when leaving for work was as simple as a quick touch-up of your hair and grabbing your keys? When being late was the exception rather than the norm? And perhaps best of all, when you arrived at your desk feeling alert and refreshed? 

Well, expect big changes when you return to work after parental leave! Between night wakings, diaper blowouts and tantrums over toast cut the wrong way, often the most challenging parts of your day have occurred before nine o’clock in the morning.

With 18-month Canadian maternity leaves now an option, many parents face the challenge of shepherding a very mobile, distractible toddler out the door before their workday begins. While transitions can be frustrating, here are my three simple tips to help get you – and your little one – moving in the same direction.

Toddlers have their own agenda

The defining characteristic of the toddler stage is the emergence of their own will. While showing greater independence is a wonder of childhood development, it’s also a huge headache when your agendas don’t align. Phrases like, “We need to leave” or “Mommy has to be at work on time” don’t have much impact (and in fact may work against you).

The sooner you can recognize and accept your child has their own agenda the easier it will be to come up with win/win solutions.

Play is your best friend

The easiest way to align your needs is to make your need their game. This does not need to be elaborate but a simple invitation to play, such as: 

  • “Let’s race to the car!” (parents always lose of course!)
  • Pretend to be their favourite animal, use a silly voice or make it a song
  • ‘Mixed up getting ready’. Parents try to put their shoes on their ears and their coat on their legs etc. Kids just can’t resist their parents bumbling around.

Start with connection

We’ve all done it – shouted across the room, “time to go” or “get your shoes on”. Often this has no impact and we repeat ourselves with increasing volume and intensity until everyone is frustrated.

Instead, challenge yourself to only give a direction once you have eye contact, ideally at eye level. Even better is the trifecta of the eyes, the smile and the nod.

Sharing a positive moment with your little one first, means your connection is active and your child will be much more inclined to follow your lead.

Lastly, whenever you’re testing out new parenting tools remember, it’s about practice, not perfection! Nothing works 100% of the time – only Paw Patrol has those kinds of success rates. 

For more great parenting tips and ways to ease the transition back to work after your parental leave, get the My Parental Leave course.

About the Author

Heather Sande is a parenting and sleep coach who loves helping frustrated parents of children under the age of 6 end the daily struggle by offering personalized support that actually works for families. She supports parents in their journey to understand their children from the inside out. Using a relationship-based, developmental approach she works with parents to get to the root of the challenging behaviour. Whether it’s getting a good night’s rest, managing those epic meltdowns or mealtime cooperation, Heather provides parents with the insights and information they need to make a change and the support to make it stick.

She is also a certified baby-led sleep and wellbeing specialist and loves tackling it all from that dreaded three-month sleep progression to those tricky toddler bedtimes. Everything is well tested on her own two girls (ages 4 and 6) in her home in Guelph. You will often find Heather on Instagram sharing authentic motherhood and the occasional messy craft.

Follow her on Instagram