Treat Yourself Like a Toddler.

We’re about to head off to Kansas City, and I can’t wait. As I think about vacation, I’ve realized something about my approach to traveling — or any situation, really. I’m going to try to treat myself like a toddler.

I remember reading somewhere that writer Anne Lamott thinks about herself in the third person, to take better care of herself: “I’m sorry, Anne Lamott can’t accept that invitation to speak; she’s finishing a book so needs to keep her schedule clear.”

Similarly, I’m going to imagine how I’d view myself as a toddler. “Gretchen gets cranky when she’s over-tired. We really need to stick to the usual bedtimes.” “Gretchen gets frantic when she’s really hungry, so she can’t wait too long for dinner.” “Gretchen needs some quiet time each day.” “Gretchen really feels the cold, so we can’t be outside for too long.”

The fact is, if you’re dealing with a toddler, you have to plan. You have to think ahead about eating, sleeping, proper winter clothes, necessary equipment, a limit on sweets, etc. Because with a toddler, the consequences can be very unpleasant. In the same way, to be good-humored and well-behaved, I need to make sure I have my coffee, my cell-phone charger, my constant snacks, and my eight hours of sleep.

I mentioned this new approach to a friend, who laughed and said, “As a toddler, I don’t handle noise or crowds well. I can’t be in that kind of situation for long.”

It’s easy to expect that you “should” be able to deal with a particular situation, and of course, to a point, it’s admirable to be flexible, to be low-maintenance. But I realize that I’m much happier — and more fun to be around — if I recognize my limits.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* If you’re looking for a way to make a quick, handmade present for someone, or just a way to have fun yourself, check out Wordle — a playful way to generate word clouds from text. So fun!

* Follow me on Twitter, @gretchenrubin.

  • Amie aka Mammaloves

    I find we’re also much gentler with ourselves when we remember there’s still is a little toddler inside of us.

    Thanks for the reminder—especially at this time of the year.

  • Contrarian

    And you’ll sleep just like a baby …but let’s hope you don’t wake up every two hours hungry and crying. 😉

    On a serious note – the only reason people don’t set personal boundaries and live according to their own set of rules ( i.e. get your coffee, cell-phone charger, constant snacks, and my eight hours of sleep) is they are approval-seekers.

    When you seek and require the approval of others, you are in effect saying, “Your opinion of me is more important than my opinion of myself”. When you make someone else’s opinion more important than your own, what happens when you don’t get their approval?

    Enjoying and appreciating approval is a healthy and normal condition. Needing and seeking approval is not.

    Find 20 approval-seeking behaviors and 10 strategies for eliminating them at

    Enjoy your much deserved holiday, Gretchen.

  • Gretchen, you’re brilliant and so right!

    Less toddler but still the novice perspective…when I travelled with a group to Spain at 16, the teacher told me to look with child’s eyes: be surprised, curious, delighted. I took the advice to heart, and it was the best trip of my life!

    Maybe the hippies are right…listen to the inner child. She knows a lot!

    Thanks for your open, generous, “childlike” bog. Enjoy your vacation.


  • Thanks for this terrific advice, Gretchen. Boy do I need it — I seldom get enough sleep the night before a big trip, and while I remember goldfish and apple slices for my kids to snack on, I may neglect my own food needs.

    We tend to think of being treated like a child as a bad thing, but I often find that many tips for dealing with children apply equally to dealing with adults. (e.g. acknowledging/validating their emotions, active listening, etc.)

    And I love Anne Lamott.

    Have a great time in KC!


  • Rose

    Have read a ton of “self help” books over the years, but never saw anything that hit the bullseye like this. The biggest truths are the simplest, aren’t they ?

  • Peninith1

    Ah, a great way to think ahead and plan to have a good time under the stress. I must say that I look back and wish to my soul that I had even known how to treat my kids like Toddlers when they were toddlers! Letting them get beyond their limits was one of the miseries of their little lives, and mine. Your post is definitely a ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ one for me, as well as a great message for how to treat myself in the week to come, as I drive more that 1500 miles to make sure I see everyone I can!

  • Stacy

    This is an fun and interesting idea. I have a couple kids myself so I know what you mean about how important managing the details is. I look forwad to giving that more focus on myself as well.

  • Mogrady

    Excellent Holiday advice! Thank for the idea. I just love it.

  • Ilafleche

    Fantastic advice! If you’ll excuse me…Isabelle is going back to bed, she needs to take a nap now….

  • Since one of my resolutions for 2011 is to be kinder to myself, this fits right in as a way to make that happen.
    Thanks for a great idea!

  • That’s excellent and so true. We’re planning a trip with my parents and I found that although it was easy to express what our children might need and be (or not be) capable of, I felt sort of guilty asserting my and my husband’s needs that way. But why?? — we do need some quiet time, we need to not be over-committed and if these things happen, like toddlers, we will be more fun to be around!

  • I love this post – and so true! Even as a grown woman, I need to keep in mind that regular sleeping hours, mealtimes, and snacks help me stay a “happy camper!”

  • Tracy

    Hi Gretchen,
    After reading your post, I decided that I am a toddler, too. What a great post and a proactive way to think about traveling. Thanks.

  • Peninith1

    Wow! Take advantage of free gift wrapping at the store! Stop for a hot bowl of soup! Come home before you’re cranky! Say Merry Christmas to everyone! Get yourself a little treat too! YEP this is a GOOD plan.

  • LivewithFlair

    When my daughters were toddlers, they needed all their favorite books when we traveled for the car and the hotel rooms. I’m remembering that for my travels next week. I’ve got Mindsight, two novels, and a devotional written by a man who studied with Gandhi.

  • REALLY love that technique .. I’m recovering from a serious bout of illness and I’m going to use what you’ve just said from this moment on! Thank you so much.

  • Great post. I think there are too many times when we “think” we should “act a certain way”. Always good to step back and look at things from another perspective, especially that of a toddler.

    Will have to try this to see how I feel and react. Probably will keep it to myself so others don’t think I’m crazy 😉

    Bryce Long

  • Anne

    Perfect timing, Gretchen. I’m flying with my 17-month-old tomorrow.

  • Sunshine

    Absolutely insightful. I think I have a very very similar philosophy that I fall back on in life’s more challenging moments, only the way I’d phrased it in my mind was “It is time to be my own mommy.” When I “be my own mommy” I do things like put myself to bed, feed myself a snack, make myself clean up my room a bit on the night before something important, and/or feed myself vegetables.

    I love this framing of the concept, and it is the absolute perfect thing to hear today! Adult “tantrums” have the potential to be way more destructive than toddler tantrums, so I’d like to suggest we owe it to those we love to do the simple steps (eating, sleeping) which prevent these icky meltdowns. Thanks for the post!

    • gretchenrubin

      Oh yes, adult tantrums. I recently threw one of these in the midst of — yes
      — building a castle out of Legos with my family. exactly like a toddler. My
      five-year-old handled the frustration better!

  • Thanks for a great tip on dealing with myself. As a parent and husband, I am usually looking on how to manage / deal with others. Referring to myself in 3rd person and as a toddler is a great idea I will try.

  • Tracy

    I love this!! I’ve already started thinking this way about myself since I first read it a few days ago. Last night I put myself to bed at 8:30! It was wonderful. My list would include:
    Tracy needs exercise at least 3x a week, otherwise she doesn’t function well
    Tracy needs quiet alone time to regroup and reflect
    Tracy needs to easy on the sugar – it can trigger some crazy behavior
    If Tracy is going to have a conversation that is heavy, or in any way taxing, it needs to happen before 9pm. And, her best time of day, when she really shines and can take on the most, is from 8:30 am-12noon.
    I did this for my son ALL the time when he was a toddler, and have continued to do so, as he has Asperger’s Syndrome, so I am in the habit of communicating his needs to others, and managing expectations for him. I deserve it too!
    Thanks Gretchen!!!

    • Jenerickson

      Tracy, are we sisters? 😉 So glad to hear I am not the only one who has these needs! I am so hard on myself and reading your post lightened my heart!

  • SophisticatedFrench

    Europeans already think you Americans are whiny, naive, stupid babies.
    This blog and the related comments confirm our thinking.
    Your empire is fallingggggggggggggggg!

    • Rjmetz

      Perhaps if Americans had 5 weeks of vacation, a dozen public holidays and a maximum 35 hour work week like the French do we would be less “whiny”.

    • Chive

      You canvassed an entire continent for their views. Wow!

    • BLynn

      Sounds like someone missed his nap.

    • Anne

      “I will speak ill of no man and speak all the good I know of everybody.”
      — Benjamin Franklin (borrowed from Gretchen Rubin’s Moment of Happiness today)

  • I really like this technique as it’s a simple way of framing our basic needs in such a way that we remember how important they are, even as adults.

    I think one big issue with why we *forget* these needs is that we somehow think that as we grow up, it isn’t as important to get enough sleep, regular food, quiet time, etc. This is not at all true. What changes is that we gain the ability to recognize other people’s needs and sometimes postpone or compromise our own.

    That ability is good to some extent, but the problem is when we start forgetting our own actual needs, start to think they aren’t needs, and start to feel that it’s selfish to sometimes consider our own well-being. Timely reminder as the during the holidays we’re often on overload with family and commitments!

  • MH

    GREAT post.

  • I have been through an emotional breakdown this year and had to impose limits on my life and myself. I love the way you have it here though, sounds so much more fun!

  • This is a great article. So often we push ourselves into situations, thinking that we surely should be able to fit in or adjust. There are some things that make us all uncomfortable, whether it be a crowded party or demanding co-workers. It’s okay to say enough, give ourselves a limited time in these situations, and allow ourselves to live a life that fits our own unique requirements.
    I took a big left turn and moved to Costa Rica. The rhythm fits, I think I was always fighting a lifestyle that just didn’t work for me. I guess I wanted to treat myself like a toddler again. I’ve never looked back and it feels great I’m finally living the life I always dreamed I’d be living.

  • Katherine

    I love Wordle! I had never heard of it before. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jungefrau1

    i have been talking to myself like this for a long time and i thought i was crazy for doing it so i never mentioned it to anyone! I like to take long walks or drive alone and “have it out” with myself sometimes. Last week i dropped a coconut on my foot in the store and it REALLY HURT but instead of acting like a baby I said (aloud), “Jen, take a deep breath, shake it off, and let’s get over to the freezer section before we forget dinner rolls for the meal tonight. Your foot will be fine.” Ahhhh….

    • trinity

      I was going through hard times a few years ago and I wanted to run away from work. I would just talk to myself all day, “three more hours, Honey, you can do this. Just go get a drink of water and come back….You can take off tomorrow if you have to, but right now… and on and on.” It works. I have a better job now, which I don’t think would have happened if I had abandoned that job.

  • titleist golf, ping g15

    Pretty! This was a really wonderful post.. Thanks once again for the push!

  • nielmalan

    This is good advice, but for a man it is even harder to heed. We’re expected to handle any situations, and consequences are not to be mentioned. What complicates things even more is that the consequences for a man may not appear until a day or two later, so it becomes very difficult to make the connections.

  • Grainne

    I have very slowly come to same realisation over the past decade without quantifying it and you really have hit the nail on the head. Knowing how like a toddler I am has definitely made me a better parent in terms of organisation. When it was just me, I was never aware of time passing but with a two-and-a-half year old I am hyper aware of mealtimes and sleep times – now if only I could listen to my own needs and stop overeating and just go to bed I might make more progress but…baby steps 😉
    My handbag always contains food and water (for everyone) and naps are sacrosanct for both mama and baby (I use this time to sleep, blog, daydream, read and breathe). My mum and mother-in-law can’t fathom a grown woman going to bed in the middle of the day but I know that *everyone* benefits when I do 🙂
    Thank you for giving words to our thoughts Grethchen and providing us all with a framework to better ourselves and our lives