I am fairly certain that all children receive some kind of inter-kid memorandum upon each birthday, informing them of what new and inappropriate behaviors they now have at their disposal. Dear Three Year-Old: Congratulations! You now have the requisite motor skills to stomp your feet *and* scream at the same time. Sobbing until you turn purple because costumes aren’t allowed at preschool is encouraged. Suggested activities include whining, pretending you can’t hear your parents and demonstrating how inadequately they’ve “childproofed” their home. Oh, and you’re adorable. Godspeed.
Needless to say, the Little Lady definitely got the memo. She is alternately precious and monstrous, which based on everything I’ve read means that (despite my irrational fears to the contrary) she’s completely normal. This, however, is cold comfort when my kid is shrieking because her favorite dress is in the laundry or because the plain grilled chicken I made is “spicy” or because, you know, it’s Tuesday. In addition to many, many deep breaths, here are a few terrific parenting tips I credit with keeping my last nerve intact:
1. Engage Your Toddler in Problem Solving. My eyes immediately rolled when I saw a friend’s Facebook link to “10 Alternatives to ‘Consequences’ When Your Child Isn’t Cooperating.” COME ON. I’m all for empathy and positive discipline, but when those fail, a special toy is going bye-bye for the day or there’s going to be a time out. This makes me a hard-ass by modern parenting standards, but I don’t see how raising my child in an artificially consequence-less world teaches her how to handle herself in our very real one. If she runs into the street instead of holding my hand, she *will* get hit by a bus; the bus driver isn’t going to stop and warmly suggest they both take turns using the road.
So I was prepared to think this article was a bunch of hippie nonsense (and some of it was), but the bit about engaging children in problem solving piqued my interest. When my daughter launched into her usual bedtime histrionics later that evening, instead of threatening to take her Elsa dress like usual (hey, it works, people), I said, “Look, it’s bedtime and your screaming is making it hard for the rest of the family to have quiet time, too. Can you help me figure this problem out?” She immediately stopped crying, rolled her eyes around like she does when she’s thinking *really* hard, and then calmly asked for a cup of milk. It was *stunning*, and this technique has since become an essential part of my parenting toolbox.
2. Make Apologies Count. When you combine the territorial nature and emotional intensity of a three year-old with a clueless, drooling 11 month-old, “sorry” happens a lot. And what I hadn’t noticed until I read this terrific blog post by cuppacocoa is that these apologies weren’t accomplishing what I thought they were. Just muttering “Sorry” by rote is so much less powerful than asking your child to articulate (1) what they’re sorry for, and (2) why the thing they did wasn’t okay. “Sorry” suddenly becomes not merely atonement, but an opportunity to internalize that shoving your brother for chewing your Disney princess doll could have really hurt him. (Props to my toddler for countering,” But it’s a choking hazard!” Well played, kid.)
3. Be Kind to Yourself. (That means you.) My daughter recently changed preschools, and where her former teachers were all bright-eyed enthusiasm, her new teachers have the calm wisdom that only comes from eons of experience. After chatting with one of them recently about the usual toddler nonsense, the teacher looked me right in the eyes and said gently, “Be kind to yourself.” And isn’t that the truth? So many parents take it personally when kids act up, like each act of misbehavior occurred because of some parental failure. This is nuts of course, but the stakes of parenthood have never felt higher. Permission to cut myself some slack, it turns out, just may be the parenting advice I needed the most.