Over the last two years we have been respite foster carers for a little girl. Her full time carer works shift work, so when she works nights or weekends we have Little Miss to stay. It has thrown us right back to the toddler issues. Here are some key thoughts that I have been thinking about in terms of parenting a toddler:
1–Be intentional – know where you are going and how you are going to get there. It is easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to parenting a toddler, they are so full on and physically demanding, but we need to know what we are aiming for, why are we doing what we are doing – what is our goal. In brainstorming, what do I want this child to be like when she is 18, is one way to start setting goals and being intentional with our parenting.
2–We need to be teaching and training the whole child: the spiritual, moral, emotional, social, intellectual and practical. I like this quote from my friend, Joan Grosser – a reminder to teach the whole child:
Academic skills without values, Values without healthy emotions, Happy feelings without productivity and Physical stature without moral wisdom All represent developmental imbalances
3–When we create age appropriate activities for our kids to engage with throughout our day, we have less mess and less conflict to deal with, and at the same time, our toddler is learning right responses and practical life skills. When we consistently repeat an activity (like reading on the couch, playing in their bedroom/cot, playing outside etc) they gain confidence in their ability to do that activity on their own. This is learning.
4–Four significant responses we teach a toddler are: Obedience, Self-control, Responsibility and Respect.
- Obedience: to follow instructions
- Self-control: to stay safe and do the right thing
- Respect: to consider the other person
- Responsibility: to look after property
5–Training a toddler takes time. We need to Model – Teach – Practice – Expect. This process can take a long time. We need to spend more time in teaching and practising than correcting them. If we are correcting our toddlers all the time, then we need to change tack – we need to go back to practising, helping them do the right thing. Only once this is established can we expect them to do it on their own. This takes time as they need to practice over and over and over again.
6–We need to give our toddlers boundaries that keep them in a place where they can do the right thing most of the time. If they are constantly doing the wrong thing then we are allowing them to do things that they aren’t ready for: they don’t have the moral understanding, the skills or the knowledge to do that activity well. To do something well, means they can do it with obedience, self-control, responsibility or respect. Having a purposeful and yet flexible routine, having age appropriate toys, being aware of their emotional, social, and physical limitations helps us create a safe but challenging environment for our toddlers to live, learn and grow in.
[Tweet “With toddlers the question isn’t “Can they do it?” but rather “Can they do it well?”]
7–Clear instructions will eliminate a lot of tension. We need to first gain their attention – call their name and get them to come to you. Or go to them, and kneel down at their level. Get eye contact. If your child is particularly distracted – hold their hands. This helps them stay focused and gives some physical touch which is loving. Give instructions that tell them what to do, instead of what not to do. For example: tell them to hold onto their cup with two hands, instead of telling them not to spill their drink! If they are yet able to do what you’ve asked ‘well’ then help them, and in this way you are modelling obedience and showing them how to do what you’ve asked.
8–When correcting our toddler we need to understand what is going on in their life that enabled that action. Do they have attitude against your instructions? Do they lack ability? Are they wilful or immature? Not everything needs to be about obedience – remember we are teaching and training in obedience, self-control, responsibility, and respect – which issue needs to be addressed with this behaviour. We are teaching more than morals, we are also teaching skills and understanding; taking all these issues into account instead of just reacting against their disobedience will foster learning and encourage more peaceful homes. The purpose is to establish the importance of what you are teaching them. If the correction process doesn’t give them an opportunity to learn, it is just punishment (which eases our frustration as a parent, but does nothing to help the child)
9–When we are overwhelmed with toddler here’s a few things to consider:
- Make sure we are interacting with our toddler – not just organising his day – are we having fun together, and giving plenty of hugs and praise.
- Check on how obedient your toddler is – will they come when you call their name? If not this becomes the first issue to deal with – it will set the tone and groundwork for all other training.
- Maybe toddler is overwhelmed with their day too – an overstimulated and/or overtired toddler is irrational!
- There are always things to teach our toddler, but we can only deal with one at a time. Choose your battles carefully – and commit to being consistent.
10–Keep your marriage strong. Having a baby and/or a toddler is very physically demanding and it is easy to get so focused on doing a good job as a parent that we forget that we were a couple first. Spending time together will not only strengthen your own heart relationship it will also tell your toddler that all is right in their world. Let the children see you talking together, enjoying each other’s company and helping each other. Don’t let them interrupt and take over. Tell them you’ll have family time, once you are done talking.
And with all this I am then reminded of one of the greatest gifts a toddler gives us: their laughter. A toddler laughing is spontaneous, and contagious. I remember with my own kids, and it is no different with Little Miss, toddlers generally love baths. Bath time used to be my downtime; I’d fill the bathtub with water and bubbles and let toddler play. They would giggle and have such fun, and as I sat there I gained perspective after what was often a hard day. With having Little Miss with us we have that opportunity once again: to laugh just for the joy of the simple things.
Though there is so much teaching and training to do – we cannot do it at the expense of enjoying our toddler; enjoying their little personality and enjoying their joy in life.
Heart Focus Parenting: This ebook is a collection of articles and snippets of thoughts that address the issue: what is the heart and how does it affect our parenting? Purchase here, paper version also available for Australian readers (postage costs are ridiculous for overseas readers, sorry.)