Raising a Toddler

Here are some pointers from Rebbitzin Shprintza:

1. The most important principle I keep in mind when parenting my children is that the way my children perceive me is the way they will perceive G-d, their Father in Heaven, in the future as adults. This impression is imprinted in a subconscious way, and is fundamental to their belief system. Before you act towards your child, think: is this the way G-d would act with me, if I was behaving like that? What impression will my action make in this vein?

Here are a few rules about the way that G-d runs His world, as far as I was taught:
  • G-d makes rules (I make clear rules for my own children and try to be consistent), and He establishes reward and punishment (my family has that too, in as fair as possible way as I can make it).
  • G-d only acts out of love (so if I am unsure whether I am acting out of love or anger, I refrain from acting altogether, or at least delaying the action until I am certain my anger is over).
  • Sometimes G-d shows us the reasons for the rules, sometimes He does not.
  • Sometimes G-d bends the rules (such as, miracles that override laws of nature, or exceptions to one commandment when another commandment applies instead or takes priority), but always and only to teach us a lesson… I hope you understand this lead-in. I would never want my children to think of G-d as distant, non-involved, vengeful, etc., so i try to follow this in my discipline method.

2. The following two books are TREMENDOUS resources which I read and reread:

  • Parenting with Love and Logic – they also have a weekly email that you can sign up for on their website loveandlogic.com with great tips and ideas.
  • The Happiest Toddler on the Block (the author Dr. Karp also wrote one about infants, called The Happiest Baby on the Block – a MUST READ before the second infant shows up very soon!)

3. About potty training, I would suggest the following book: Toilet Training in Less Than a Day http://www.amazon.ca/Toilet-Training-Less-Than-Day/dp/0671693808

4. I can not stress enough the importance of asking friends for tips and ideas! You would be surprised at how normal and regular these experiences are – mostly everyone has dealt with this stuff at one time or another – and all it takes sometimes is one little trick to change things around, that another nearby parent has already figured out or learned from someone else.

5. I am not an expert, but it’s possible that there is something emotionally bothering a difficult toddler – e.g., less attention from a mom who is not well or overtired, or some trouble he’s experiencing at a playgroup – it could be anything (that might seem like nothing to an adult)!!! My husband and I have made a point, since my children could say their first words, to TALK TO THEM, and to take them visibly seriously (although inside our brain, it is with a grain of salt or a two or three – but I try to never let my children see skepticism or amusement on my face or hear it in my voice, when they think they have a problem and they are sharing it with me). If you make a point of having regular conversations, things come out in the open that can sometimes point to the source of a real problem. When children are taught to communicate, and they have someone with whom to communicate, they will most often be honest and give a lot of information about things that are bothering them.  If there is something that is bothering your toddler, it might also be the cause of unwillingness to potty train, for example. Try talking to your toddler about how his day went, every day, before bed. Don’t ask “How was your day?” – that’s way too big for a 3 year old. Ask: “What was in your lunch, and what was most yummy?… Who did you sit with at lunch?… What was your favorite activity?… What was the weather like?… What are you planning to do tomorrow?…” It might not be on the first tonight of these conversations, but over time this will create a wonderful closeness between you and your young child, and will also reveal things that are bothering him that can be fixed on a practical basis. Then, with this close relationship, your efforts at parenting will be easier, because a lot of distractions from a good parent-child relationship will be avoided. The child will listen to you better when he is not full of anger about something else entirely, or when he feels that it’s “him against the world.”

6. Especially for a child at so young an age, insolence and disobedience are not really directed personally against the parent, and they rarely happen because he is really a difficult child. That’s just the natural age when children start to test their parents! They want to know the rules, they want to know how much you love them even if they misbehave, they want to know how consistent you will be in general, and things like that. So the three most important things, I think, in dealing with a 3 year old misbehaving are:

  • Patience (stay calm, only use a calm voice, don’t get frantic or emotional, etc.)
  • Consistency (make certain rules, stick to them and always use the same consequence)
  • Love (give hugs and kisses and say “I love you” and do fun things WITH the child, like reading stories, playing ball, etc.). And show that love all the time!!! Sometimes, depending on the situation, even a consequence can be accompanied with a hug and kiss. Sometimes when I take my 3 year old to time out in his room to finish a tantrum because he refused to go himself, I scoop him up and hold him in my arms, hugging him close and kissing his cheek the whole way. Then I put him in the room and say “I love you! I can’t wait to see you again when you are happy” (with real joy and sincerity in my face), and then I close the door while he has time out, until he gets over his tantrum.

7. It’s important that the parents present a united front. Whatever system you both come up with after reading these books or hearing any ideas, you should discuss them together. even if the parents do different things, they should each know about it so that they don’t contradict each other when disciplining.

8. Very often, a toddler’s disobedience arises about something the parent demanded, but which shouldn’t really have been demanded in the first place. For example, I have seen a parent tell a child to switch his shoes from the wrong to the right feet, and then the child refuses, and it becomes a disobedience issue. That should never have been demanded in the first place. Such things can be dealt with using Love and Logic that’s age appropriate, if they need to be dealt with all. When we limit our demands on a toddler to things that are really important, there will be less to fight over. The only things that should come up as discipline issues at that age are the real big things – like safety, or things that make other people’s lives unbearable (like screaming at abnormal decibels), and issues that come up in the teaching of values and morals.

9. PRAY PRAY PRAY. That’s the last thing. Really, it’s up to G-d how our children turn out. Pray to G-d that you will have enough strength and patience and wisdom, and pray that everything will turn out right, and your child will really grow up right. Pray to Him all the time – especially right in the middle of a difficult moment with your child! It keeps you focused, and you will make a better decision with a more rational thought process. And of course G-d will help you, if you are sincere.

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