Our ultimate goal for our kids is that they self-monitor and do the right thing. For that to happen we need to instil what is right in their hearts. We teach them right from wrong, then we teach them to choose right, then we give them opportunity to make choices, and we help them through the consequences of their choices. This is the process of parenting. This process is gradual over many years and growth happens in spits and spats, in and out over many levels and many issues. It is not a strictly linear development. Being the parent means we keep our eye on our goal (moral maturity) and their development.
The Bible says out of the heart is the well-spring of life…. Every action we do is driven by what is in our heart – the heart is where we think, our beliefs, our conscience, our character, our emotions and passions. This is what we are shaping as we parent our children.
This process can start at the toddler years – we can start to put in their hearts what is right and what is wrong. But a toddler needs it to be concrete – they need to see it, hear it, feel it. As they grow older they are able to process more abstract ideas, but for now they need to see what you want them to do, what you say is right to do.
- I want my children to be gentle and kind – this means they stroke and pat instead of hitting and swiping. When I say to Toddler, be kind, she immediately strokes, pats and hugs. These are actions she has learnt to associate with the word ‘kind’. As she grows older she’ll learn a broader, fuller definition, but even as a toddler she can understand the actions that go with the idea.
- I want my children to say sorry – Sorry is such a huge concept but it can be broken down to actions for the toddler. First they need to get over being ‘angry’ and you can tell this by the softness and relaxed nature of their body (they may need time out to get there). Once again a pat and a cuddle can be actions for sorry (and I want to be friends again). Toddler strokes your face and says ‘orry, orry’ – it is very cute. But more than that, she is learning that her actions can hurt others and she needs to put things right.
- I want my children to be able to wait – and be patient, which is ultimately a self control issue. So we teach them to hold their hands – I find a great place to teach this is waiting for food – to practice holding their hands. Of course they don’t have a lot of patience, so it is a gradual learning process, and I try and not train when they are long overdue for food!! But once again here is a physical action that they can do, that helps them learn a very abstract concept.
- I want my children to obey – so I make them come when I call. (And I’ve already talked about this in a previous post on obedience) Going over and taking them by the hand, and walking back to where you were when you called them, is giving them something concrete to an otherwise abstract idea.
As our toddler goes through the day, and you want something from them, ask yourself – am I showing them how to do that – am I showing them how to be quiet, be quick, even to play. These are the types of instructions that we give a toddler all day – we know what they mean, we know what they look like, but does our toddler? We need to show them, give them something concrete to do, and as they grow older they’ll start to understand the values behind what we want of them, but for today, they just need the action.
You can see the rest of my Living with a Toddler for 31 days series here.
Or find more 31 day series here.