1. Help: Ask them to participate and help - fold clothes, collect their undies in a pile, throw dirty clothes in the laundry basket/hamper, hold doors, find the diapers/wipes for a younger sibling. If I needed to buy time while I cook dinner, Augustine stands at the sink and "washes" dishes for me. It's so cute, and he'd do it for hours if I let him.
2. Picking Up - the best tip anyone ever gave me was to sing the Barney clean-up song - sounds cliche, but it got both of my 2 toddlers excited immediately to pick up their toys. A mom from church taught our kids the song, and now it's a regular thing in our house. Now if I could just get Grace to LEAVE stuff in place (she just wants to put it away, drag it back out, etc.) :). She's 15 months. We've got some time...
In addition, don't follow them around all day picking up behind them. You'll wear yourself out. Pick up right before they go down for naps (with their help), and right before hubby walks in the door - so he sees a fresh house.
3. Before-dinner snacks: try to pick foods full of protein or foods that 'stay with you' will leave them satisfied and not whining for more; it'll keep you sane through those last few moments before dinner. Some fruit - apples and PB, a little yogurt, a cup of whole milk, or baby carrots.
4. Doors - A huge problem in this casa in the 12-24 month age span is how my the little people go into every room in the house, digging through drawers or baskets and pull stuff out. Or splashing in toilets. Or going through trash cans. One day my mom said, "Really, just close your doors." DUH. It has worked like a charm. Out of sight, out of mind... and cheaper than dozens of baby gates.
5. Screen time - As a last resort, save your video entertainment (if any) for riiight before dinner. That crucial 20ish or so minutes you need to get the table set and put together without burning your meal. Utilizing their help during this time distracts them from their talking tummy - practice Montessori dexterity skills with your toddler and soon enough, they'll be setting the table for you! Augustine just started helping set the table and he feels like a 'big helper'. The only thing he doesn't carry are the heavy water glasses right now... but I can trust him with my dishes, silverwear, and kids' cups.
6. Distraction- In the end, it seems like 99% of our toddler meltdowns are avoided with a little bit of distraction. They want that crazy overpriced stuffed animal in hallmark? Look - a rhino up on the sign! Dohnuts? Is that a doggy out the window? You want the toy your sister is contently playing with? Let's have a dance party! The back-and-forth argument trying to reason with a 2-yr-old just doesn't seem like its worth the hassle or energy. SOME things I do have to explain (why you shouldn't play in the street, run away from mom in the parking lot, why you can't hit your sister).... but in general, even eating healthy foods are easy to sneak down their little mouths with some creativity and distraction. And then they end up liking the fun you come up with in the meantime.
7. Bedtime - If its a chore, make a routine and stick to it. The time, the order in which you do things, and lots of cuddling makes them feel secure. Bathing, stories, cuddle time, teeth-brushing, prayers, tucking in, lights out. We worried too much with Augustine about making sure he was breathing heavy and sleeping before we left the room. Finally, on a night I was flying solo and Kale was working late (Augustine was 22mos, and Grace 5mos.) - Grace was flipping out in her crib in the other room, and I, getting exasperated, told him that "I needed him to be a big boy, because the baby is crying and she needs mama." He whimpered a little, rolled over, and fell asleep. WOW. This continued for about a week, but there was no massive 'cry it out' sessions. He understood. And I underestimated his power to understand. So the moral (at least from my experience)... don't be afraid to let them whimper a little bit after establishing some routines, let them know you're nearby, and that they're safe. Ask their guardian angels to help them fall asleep peacefully. And turn off the baby monitor! Leave their door partially open if you are paranoid about not hearing them. You'll hear them if there's something wrong.
For Grace (15months) - she goes to bed first - I rock her a little and sing at the end of prayer time, but she is still wide-awake when I put her down. I've come to learn that she seems to need a little more cuddle-time than Augustine (is that a girl thing?) and then I lay her down and roll her to her side away from me with her blanket. She rolls over and falls asleep with zero crying. If she wakes up a night, before picking her up, I gently pat/rub her back and recover her blanket and slllooowly move my hands away and back off of her. Most of the time this does the trick and I don't have to pick her up to soothe her.
*Note - this is all assuming that they're healthy, well-fed, and no one is sick or ill. I think there are exceptions to the rules for those kinds of things...
Anyways, that's all I have. Any other tips/tricks of yours are greatly appreciated if you have them, I will surely use them when I run out of my own bag of tricks!
PS - for the curious, my lenten projects have fallen by the wayside these last 48hours, as I've had a very sick, very feverish clingy babe that needs one arm/one shoulder 24/7. This was penned was trying to get her down for a nap. I'll have the final pictures up by the weekend as I try to sneak more time in to finish it up.