There are many things I just can’t do. Any kind of sports. Cook eggs (seriously – ask anyone. My eggs are terrible, even scrambled). Juggle. Take photographs.
But I can teach. And I think my years as an elementary teacher and my degree (which included courses in early and late childhood development) have really benefited me when it comes to parenting. As a teacher, you quickly learn not to take everything personally. You love your students and want them to succeed, but there is an intrinsic separation between you that allows for at least a little perspective. I learned time and time again that no matter how much I disciplined my students or how consistent I was (the kids would say “strict”), they came back each morning feeling loved, validated, and happy to see me. I ran a tight ship – but because of the structure, the students knew they could trust me to mean what I said and follow through. They knew just where I stood and exactly what was expected to them. It allowed for us to really relax and trust each other.
These habits have made their way into my parenting style…and it works for me and my 3-year-old daughter. I want to be clear – I think every parent needs to figure out what works best for them. All children are different and all parents are different. So please don’t take what I say as the gospel or THE magic parenting solution. That’s the thing: there is no one right way to parent. You take what you read, the advice others give you, and use trial-and-error to piece together something that fits you. And when it blows up in your face (and believe me, we’ve had some pretty big explosions), you try something else. These are just the things that work for me.
No1 turned three in October. She’s very verbal, inquisitive, and focused…and extremely stubborn. Like all little kids, she craves attention and loves to help. Her favorite activities always involve imaginative play and her collection of animal toys. She’s not perfect – and I wouldn’t want her to be – but she’s a great little girl. Kind, responsible, helpful, and a problem-solver.
I’m proud of the routines Hubs and I have managed to make a part of our home and of the little girl we are raising to be confident, self-sufficient, and considerate of others.
- In the morning, one of us takes her to the bathroom. After she pees, she has a choice: sleep with M&D in bed or play toys in her room. We leave our door open and she knows that our room is the quiet room in the morning. She usually chooses toys. Who wouldn’t? We sometimes get a good 20 minutes of extra sleep out of this. It’s amazing.
- She is expected to eat her meals at the kitchen table. Snacks are often eaten while playing or on the couch. But meals are at the table, and rude manners mean that you must be done eating. After she’s finished, she usually remembers to ask to be excused and then chooses to either clear her plate or take everyone’s napkins to the hamper.
- After rest time (about 45 min each afternoon when she plays quietly/looks at books in her room since giving up naps at age 18 months), her room needs to be picked up. Not spotless. Not perfect. But just not a mine field of legos and barbie shoes.
We’ve managed to get routines like this in place by thinking of discipline as teaching her about consequences. She’s only three – and truly doesn’t know better – so it is our job to teach her how her behavior impacts herself and others. Punishments don’t stick with children long-term, so we try our best for the consequences to be logical. For example, if she throws a toy at the cat, she is told that she showed she doesn’t know how to use the toy safely and can try again later with it. It goes up on a shelf. No warning. Just consequence. Not staying with Mommy in the store results in her riding in the cart. After we talk about why she needs to stay with Mommy, she can have another chance to walk.
And here’s my big secret on how we get all of this to work: we follow through. If we say we’re going to do something, we do it. Both positive and negative. If we promise her we’ll play after dinner, we play after dinner. And if we warn her that yelling at the cat will result in a timeout, we don’t give two more warnings. My dad likes to say “kids don’t play with outlets because it’s the one thing parents are consistent about”. And I think he’s right.
Believe me when I tell you that there are still plenty of days when I am at my wits end as she runs out of timeout laughing and all I want to do is scream. And I may *ahem* have once threatened at the top of my lungs to “take away her bed if she jumped in it one more time”. (She stared right at me and jumped one. more. time.) But more days than not, we get through a day with our toddler without yelling. And I consider that a triumph.
These are my favorite books on parenting – some from my teaching days, and some I’ve read recently. I don’t use any single book as “the parenting” method. I pull what will fit us from everything I read and disregard all the stuff I think sounds like crap. You have to trust your gut as a parent. YOU know your child and family best. If something feels wrong to you, then it’s not for your kid.
Positive Discipline – From my teaching days. Emphasis on understanding the motivation behind a child’s behavior and great for learning the difference between punishments and consequences.
Playful Parenting – I reviewed this book ages ago here. I love its take on how to diffuse situations with play and have seen first-hand how making more time for play with your child can have a profound affect on their behavior.
Nuture Shock – Recommended to me by a friend. It dispels common myths about child development and got me thinking about my parenting choices on a deeper level. I’m a total nerd for sciencey reseach books. It’s fascinating.
So…happy reading! And happy parenting! Trust your instincts and listen to your inner-mama. And remember. You know your child best.