Parenting can be stressful, especially when you have a preschooler underfoot, asserting her independence in everything. I’m thrilled to share Shelly from Awake Parent‘s post today that offers practical, actionable advice on boosting our own patience while encouraging independence in our toddlers. Here’s to stress-free parenting!
“Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama, MAMA, MAMA MAMA!!!” Sound familiar? If you have a toddler anything like mine, just hearing your beloved child repeat your name a dozen times is enough to drive you a little bit nutty.
And then there’s “No no no no NO NO NO!!!!” And by this time you’re thinking, why can’t he just cooperate?! Is it really too much to ask him to wash his hands before he eats?
Is it even possible to get out the door without a lengthy discussion on the merits of wearing shoes outdoors? And why in the world does she completely melt down when I give her the blue cup instead of the green one?
Parenting a toddler can be exhausting and frustrating, but wait, wasn’t this supposed to be one of the most joyful, fun, and exciting times of our lives?
I assure you, it can be again. Stick with me and I’ll show you how to go from a big fat “NO” to “Okay, let’s go!”
Toddlers resist when they feel forced
It makes sense, right? In fact, I think this is true of any person, toddler or not. When we feel forced to do something someone else wants us to do, we have a tendency to resist. We might not even dislike the proposed activity but as soon as it feels like a “should” or a “must” we resist.
That’s because humans need autonomy. And if you think about it, there’s one group of humans that get the least autonomy of all, toddlers. They’re just beginning to learn how to do things on their own, so we have a tendency not to trust that they can do it or to rush them or do it for them because they “take too long.” And since they were recently helpless infants, we’re in the habit of doing everything for them anyway.
But let’s take a look at this line of thinking. If we continue to do things for our little ones because letting them try takes too long (or is too messy or doesn’t produce the results we’d like) then before we know it we’ll be tying our seven year old’s shoes for him and doing our teenager’s laundry.
So consider your patience now as an investment in your freedom in the future. If we can allow our toddlers to try to do things on their own, they’ll be happier (because they actually have a very strong drive to learn to become more independent) and we’ll have more time and freedom later because our seven-year-old children will tie their own shoes and our teens will manage their own wardrobes.
At the same time…
We have got to stop treating toddlers like little adults.
Sure, toddlers are young people who deserve respect and the opportunity to develop their skills, but toddlers are not simply small-bodied adults. Their brains don’t work like ours and their interests are far different. I mean really, how can they spend that much time playing with dinosaurs?
Most toddlers see the world as a place to explore and an opportunity to play. The problem arises when we try to fight those urges by restricting access to topics of interest or by asking kids to get serious.
Instead, let’s harness those innate drives and provide ample time and access to learning materials and fun games.
So here are my 6 fun and easy ways to increase your patience and support your child’s budding sense of independence:
1) Make it fun
Children love to play games, have fun, and engage in imaginary play. So if asking nicely (or not so nicely) isn’t working, try creating a fun and engaging game to play that gets you the desired outcome.
For instance, when my daughter started to resist letting me brush her teeth, I found a toothbrush with a Beaver on it and began to talk in a high-pitched voice, creating a character she grew to love. Now she doesn’t resist tooth brushing and she never lets me put away her toothbrush without kissing and hugging “Beaver.”
2) Pick your battles
Young people need clear and consistent rules and boundaries in order to develop their sense of safety and an understanding of what’s expected of them. But sometimes when we get on a “setting limits” kick, we go overboard, micromanaging even very small details of our children’s lives.
Does it really matter if she’s wearing her shoes on the wrong feet? Or whether he’s eating with a fork or with his fingers? Decide on no more than 10 major rules of your household and stick to those, but relax about the rest of the stuff. This will allow your child the opportunity to know which rules really matter to you but also the freedom to experiment, try new things, and know that you’re there to support his efforts, rather than undermine them.
3) Take a deep breath and walk away
There are times when the best thing you can do for yourself and your child is to simply walk away. Try to do this before you erupt in anger, just notice the boiling, bubbling frustration coming to the surface and then excuse yourself, go into the next room, and rest, relax, and breathe for a while.
Remind yourself that you’re doing a wonderful job and your child isn’t trying to make life hard for you. Turn on some music, soak in a warm bath, do some yoga or whatever it is that has you feel cared for and nurtured.
A friend of mine recently gave me an eye pillow filled with lavender so from time to time I lie on my back on the living room floor, cover my eyes, and breathe in the delicious scent. Relaxing my muscles, resting my eyes, and reminding myself of my connection to the Earth helps me face the next challenge with more understanding, and it only takes about 60 seconds.
4) See it from their perspective
Our kids are really just trying to learn, grow, and have fun. Even their most annoying or frustrating behaviors are simply attempts to understand their world. When we can shift our perspective and see the needs and desires underneath a toddler’s behavior we can meet our children with more compassion.
Ask yourself “What could she be needing right now?” or “I wonder what she’s trying to express by acting this way.” Even a child who is biting and hitting is expressing an unmet need.
Guide your child in a more appropriate expression of their desire. For instance, if a child is grabbing toys from another, empathize with the need and offer a new way to meet it. “I see that you really want to play with that doll, but it’s Susan’s turn right now. Would you like to ask her for a turn next? You can say, ‘turn please’ and I bet she’ll share when she’s all finished with the doll.”
5) Rediscover your sense of humor
When we lose the ability to laugh at ourselves, the ridiculous things our children do, and our amazing lives, it’s definitely time to take drastic action. Watch your favorite comedy, make funny noises, do SOMETHING to get your laugh back.
Laughter is so incredibly good for your mind body. It decreases stress hormones, lowers blood pressure, increases immunity, decreases pain, and even prevents heart disease. But even more than for those reasons, you might want to try it because it’s super fun and it feels really good!
6) Prepare your home for independent play
Independent play gives you a break and helps your child develop crucial skills. But if you’re too worried about the safety of your home, or you don’t have an easily accessible area for your child’s favorite toys, it’s time to put some attention on preparing your home for everyone’s ease and enjoyment.
First take a good look around your home with an eye for anything dangerous that your child could get into if he were left unsupervised for a short time. Next, get down on your knees and look around, how inviting is the space? How comfortable is it for your toddler? Does she have a table and chair that fit her body? Are there low shelves with interesting items to play with and explore?
Preparing your home for independent play is one of the best things you can do to increase your patience because when your child is happily engaged in his work, you can sneak off and take a break! This will help you rejuvenate and your child will be experiencing joyful autonomy at the same time!
So those are my six favorite ways to increase my patience with my own toddler. I hope they’re helpful for you with yours. And I would love to know what you thought of my tips! Please share your insights in the comments section below
About the Author: Shelly Birger Phillips is passionate about being absolutely the best mom she can be and supporting other parents to do the same. With an extensive knowledge of child development and parenting theory as well as tons of hands-on experience as a preschool teacher, nanny and now as a mother herself, she offers Skype video parent coaching to parents all over the world using a connection-based conscious parenting approach. Shelly also has a free weekly blog about conscious parenting, a facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/AwakeParent She’s on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/awakeshelly and she loves Pinterest (maybe a little bit too much) at http://pinterest.com/awakeshelly/
Photo Credit: Free Digital Photos