Tips for Parenting Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers from a Veteran Mom of Eight
After 30 years of parenting 8 kids, I can tell you that this is the age where things are the simplest. I know sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, especially if you are convinced that you have a strong-willed baby, toddler, or pre-schooler. However, this is the time to establish your authority as a mommy with your little ones. You don't have to be mean or unloving. In fact, sometimes the most loving thing you can do for your child is to discipline him/her for stepping outside of the boundaries. They really are much more secure and happy when those are clear. Decide ahead of time what things are “yes” and which are “no”. At home or in a new environment, take a minute to look around and see what things your little one may try to get into and decide if those are a “yes” or a “no” ahead of time. I’m telling you, you have to be one step ahead of these smart little critters! Then you can head them off at the pass clearly and concisely. Above all be consistent.
Of course, some or all of this can and should be discussed with your husband so that you are on the same page and you can provide the necessary uniformity. It will be the first of many things you will have to agree on to provide those consistent boundaries for your kids.
There will be a lot of boundaries that you get to decide for your own family that may not look like another family's boundaries. For instance: will you let the baby play with magazines, certain books, things on the coffee table, things in the cupboards, your purse, etc.
However, when it comes to their responses to your boundary setting, I highly suggest that you do not let them scream at you, hit you, whine or fuss a lot. They will not grasp the fact that you are the mommy (you are in charge because God said so) if you let them “talk back” to you in their own small child way.
Sometimes this requires us to take the time to sit in the room with our child and watch him/her, clarifying the boundaries each time they cross over them. You won’t regret taking the time to do this. I called these "training sessions" and they have saved me so much grief!
If you are out somewhere, like the grocery store, don’t be afraid to leave your groceries and take your child to the car or home if you have to deal with a screaming fit. Generally speaking, it only takes a few times before they figure out that you mean business. I’m telling you they are smart! This isn’t fun and it can be really embarrassing, but when you are thinking long-term, it’s a very small chunk of time in the big scheme of things.
One of my favorite ways to deal with this particular age is to “tomato stake” them. I actually recently did this with our 9-year-old. What it looks like is this: when my child has had to be disciplined for the same thing over and over again or often for several different offenses, or just being a consistent problem in general, I “tomato-stake” them to me. That means that I keep them by my side AT ALL TIMES, sometimes for several hours or days depending on the situation. I remain cheerful and include them in whatever I am doing…folding laundry, doing dishes, caring for the baby. When I am doing something they cannot participate in, they sit close by so I can see and hear everything. When I see a definite change in attitude, I wait a little bit longer and then let them try the normal boundaries again. It’s like when you have a tomato plant that is falling over and trying to grow in all kinds of directions that are not good for healthy growth. If we don't give the plant the support it needs, the harvest will be far less because the branches crack and break off and the fruit doesn't get the nutrients it needs. It also becomes more vulnerable to pests and disease. We stake the plant to something straight and solid to save it from itself and other things that could harm it. We do the same thing with children. Our kids need us to protect them from themselves because they often don’t know what’s best. That’s why God made us the parents…to parent them. When we tomato-stake them, we restrict their freedom for a period of time, along with very intentional, loving oversight. Then when they go back to the “norm”, they often respect those boundaries much better. I am not saying this is easy and it may become necessary to change your agenda for the day, but it is worth the effort. The long-term benefits far outweigh the present inconvenience. You can learn more about tomato staking in this podcast.
Another helpful tool our family has used is to teach our babies and toddlers some simple sign language so that they can communicate if they are hungry, thirsty, tired or all done. This waylayed a lot of frustration and for us. We also were able to instill manners at a very early age by using this tool.
Lastly when having conflict with your child, remember that sometimes our kids are tired, hungry, overstimulated, bored, etc. Be sure that there aren’t obstacles that are making it more difficult for your child to “do the right thing”, while at the same time, not using it as an ‘excuse’ for poor behavior.
So, again, don’t be afraid to ‘be the mom’, but also don’t forget to love and enjoy these precious little ones, smiling at them, laughing with them, and playing with them along the way. It’s time well spent!
(This particular book was a game-changer for us: Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp The emphasis is on reaching our kids’ hearts which is essential for effectiveness and lasting change. A wonderful practical companion to this is my friend Ginger's book, "Don't Make Me Count to Three!"
Also, Gospel Powered Parenting by William Farley. I love this one because it centers around the gospel and how it affects or should affect our parenting. So simple and straightforward. I know Bill personally and can vouch for the fact that his kids turned out great!)
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