Oliver is officially a toddler. He’s walking, learning his first words, eating small bites of whatever we’re eating. He’s there and it’s kind of freaking me out.
To say having a toddler is a challenge may be an understatement. I’ve heard of the terrible two’s. I’ve seen the kids screaming at the restaurant. I’ve been told that one day, my kids will find a way to push their boundaries.
Well folks, we’re here.
I am now the mother of a toddler who is curious and smart and stubborn. He’s not only pushing his boundaries, but mine as well. That’s the part I haven’t heard yet. I haven’t heard that every time your kid attempts to cross the line you’ve drawn, you’re being pushed too. You’re being tested on how well you can respond to a kid being a kid and doing exactly what he’s suppose to be doing, whether you like it or not.
I’m not perfect. I have moments that I’ll probably regret for the rest of my life and I haven’t even had the kid for 2 years yet. Moments where I’ve lost my temper, ignored every ounce of empathy I have, and expected that my one year old should have any understanding of the world around him.
The thing is, we’re both learning together.
While he’s learning to be a human on this earth, I’m learning to be a mother. I’m learning my standards. I’m learning which battles are worth fighting. I’m learning what I want to teach him and how I’m going to teach him. I’m learning to lead by example and I’m learning that all the things I want him to master, I’m still learning myself.
When kids reach toddlerhood, that’s when your role in their life starts to feel really significant. At times, it feels like every action I make is going to shape the person my son becomes. Before, he was just a baby who had basic needs that were pretty black and white to fill. The things I said and did around him didn’t mean much. As long as he was fed and clean, we were good. Now, he is becoming his own person with his own desires and ideas and it’s my job to mold that into something that will make him happy and good. It’s terrifying.
When he struggles at diaper changes, I’m afraid I’m teaching him that as long as you’re stronger, you can do whatever you want.
When he ignores what I’m saying and I can’t exert any authority, I’m afraid I’m teaching him it’s okay to disrespect other’s desires.
When I have a day where I’m constantly saying no, I’m afraid I’m creating a restrictive environment.
When I go back on my word because I feel like I’m being unreasonable, I’m afraid I’m teaching him that as long as he complains, he’ll get his way.
I’m trying to figure out how to create a human who respects others, but stands up for himself. Someone who is strong and kind. A person who takes responsibility and is humble no matter where he comes from or who he becomes. I want him to be better than me. To learn empathy and respect while remembering to never let unkind people walk all over him. I don’t want my kids to be afraid of the world. I want them to be excited about it. To cherish good people and recognize the bad while still remembering that even bad people have a reason for being the way they are.
Most importantly, I want them to be whoever they want to be and never feel pressure to live up to my expectations or in my world.
Maybe I want too much, but who doesn’t?
BEING A GROWN UP WITH A TODDLER
AVOID SAYING NO, BUT STICK TO IT WHEN YOU DO
I hate saying no all day. I hate saying no to the same thing over and over again. Really, I just don’t want to create a relationship with my kids where I am simply there to say no to everything all the time forever. At the same time, there’s nothing a toddler won’t get into and there’s a decent amount of stuff a toddler shouldn’t get into.
You don’t even know what they’re going to find interesting until they do. Like trash cans. I had no idea throwing stuff away could be so fun. I had no idea a trash can lid could be so tasty. I had no idea that I would spend half my time telling a human being to not throw away all of their toys, including the iPad. The things I have to say no to are hilarious and infuriating all at the same time. And the amount of times I have to say no to the same thing over and over again just goes to show how badly kids want to do things that are off limits.
So I picked up a trick. Well, three tricks to try so I can spend more time letting my son run freely about our home and less time restricting him from things.
Evaluate what you’re saying no to. I’m constantly evaluating and reevaluating my rules. Mostly I try to see if I’m saying no because it is truly a bad habit or a harmful thing to get into OR if I’m saying no because I just don’t feel like dealing with it. If it’s the latter, I may drop the rule and just realize that part of my job is cleaning up after my kids curiosities. Just let them be kids, even if it leaves a really inconvenient mess.
Let them try a couple times. This is something I’ll do every once in a while, especially if it’s a no that is simply said because I don’t want to deal with it. I’ve found that kids move from curiosity to curiosity pretty quickly. So if there’s something Oliver really wants to climb on or touch or use and he keeps going back to it over and over no matter what I say, sometimes I’ll just let him check it out supervised and most of the time, he realizes the “no” stuff that looks so fun is actually not that interesting and he’ll move on for good.
Remove the temptation. There are those “no’s” that you don’t want to budge on and that is totally fine! But that doesn’t mean your kid will leave it be. At this stage, they just don’t care about what’s important to their parents. They just want to do something and anything at all times. So when there is something I continuously have to say no to over and over again, I’ll take it out of the equation all together. Like the dog’s food and water bowl. A huge favorite in our house and a huge mess to go along with it. So when Oliver’s out and about, I’ll put the dog bowls away to avoid having to say no to my son the whole time he’s awake and trying to play
At the same, no is a very valuable tool in teaching boundaries that every kid needs to hear. They need to learn that sometimes they’re not going to get their way and they need to learn how to cope with that reality. While I hate the idea of my kids never getting their way, I also hate the idea of them always getting their way. If nothing else, it just makes my life harder and I’m not about to let that happen.
What you say “no” to is really up to you. You could limit it to only bad habits and things that may harm them. I think it’s totally fair to have a few no’s that may not be obviously understood, but are just common curtsies to yourself and people around you.
Like the dog bowl. It’s not hurting him to play with them and it doesn’t make such a big mess that it will permanently damage anything. I just really don’t like picking it up ALL DAY and I think it’s nice for the dog to be able to trust that his food is his property given that his whole environment is riddled with a kid who loves him and has no idea how to sweetly express it. So I have made the dog bowls a constant no. Same with pushing the chairs across the floor. It’s not doing anything but making a loud noise. But we live on the 3rd floor with neighbors that I’d prefer to not disturb all day, so that’s a no.
Somedays it’s easy and he’s just interested in all the in-limits activities. On the days when all he wants to do is everything he’s not suppose to and it’s a constant battle to try and keep us all happy, it makes me question everything.
That’s what I have to remember that it’s okay if we have bad days. Everyone does. It’s just another opportunity for our kids to learn to cope with the unpleasantries in life.
AVOID RESPONDING WITH EMOTION
The moments where I walk away with guilt are usually moments where I respond to something with emotion rather than intention. This applies to every part of life, but especially with my kids.
Personally, I’m a very emotional being. I don’t quite where my heart on my sleeve, but I am very open in expressing what I’m feeling in any given moment. While this is something that I actually kind of like about myself, I can definitely see where it could cause harm when trying to mold a child.
Emotional responses are often quick and poorly thought out. There’s not a lot of reason behind our emotional responses. They are instinctual and often utilized in moments when we need to protect ourselves. Our brains can do a lot, but they are bad at being objective in situations. Our brain can barely tell the difference between tickling and torture (which is why husbands get hit in the head and yelled at when trying to have fun and tickle their wives).
When it comes to kids, we may be a little more gentle. But a defensive response created by our instincts will always be more intense than necessary and could potentially lead to teaching really bad lessons to our kids and how they should deal with people in the future.
Take a few minutes before reacting.
Seriously, I have so many moments where I have to walk away because if I don’t, I will be a monster and 9 times out of 10, the thing my kid did to make me upset does not warrant a monster.
We’re not perfect and our first response is usually not the best one. It’s easy to quickly rationalize extreme responses to mild events in the moment. It may seem like accidentally breaking a Christmas ornament would warrant me taking away all the decorations in the moment (which almost happened the other day), but when you actually walk away and think about it, it makes a lot more sense to just gently teach Oliver how to play with the breakable toys carefully.
Sure, I may need to watch him a little closer for a few days. There’s always the reality that he could break something again. But in the long run, he’s not doing it to hurt me. He’s doing it because he’s a child who hasn’t been taught and hasn’t had the chance to practice playing carefully with fragile items. So here, rather than scaring him and making him think that innocent mistakes (that are mostly out of his control) will make everything he loves leave, I can instead teach him the value in being careful and aware when he’s around breakables.
PLEASE DON’T HIT YOUR KIDS
Okay, a little controversy and a little judgement coming from me but you know what, it’s for the kids so bare with me.
So I read this post, and it reminded me that there are somethings worth talking about and the treatment of children is definitely one of those things. They are some of the only people on this earth who truly have no voice. They don’t know any better and even if they did, their opinion rarely matters to the people who can actually do anything to help them.
Good adults come from good children and while there may be some instances that can prevent a person from being able to truly care about anyone’s wellbeing and contribute to making the world a happy place for everyone no matter what, I am a firm believer in treating your children the way you want them to treat the world.
If we believe that hitting an adult to get our way is wrong and we believe our children hitting us or other children to get their way is wrong, why is it okay for us to do it to our kids?
Now that I have a toddler, I understand why spankings seem enticing. I understand why utilizing threats of pain seems like the only way to mold a child into a respectful adult. There are times when I feel completely powerless and I know that if I really wanted to, I could absolutely force my kid to listen to every word I say. But then, what would I be teaching them? What am I truly gaining? An obedient child? That is not worth it to me.
I honestly cannot think of a single moment where a child could do something so terrible that it warrants being hit in any capacity. Not listening to me? frustrating. But does he really deserve pain? Is my word so important that it actually warrants physical pain?
When I was pregnant with Oliver, Ian and I did a lot of research on parenting and discipline. Specifically with spanking. Even minimal, seemly routine spanking can not only effect your child’s general trust in the world and lead to extreme anger issues, but studies have shown that it can actually effect their IQ and cognitive reasoning.
I don’t ever want someone to “take my word for it” on anything. I simply wanted to include this to encourage anyone who reads this to do a little research of their own and see what they can find on this subject.
We will all cause pain in our children’s lives one way or another. We will never be perfect. But I think it’s extremely important to do our absolute best to take in as much information as we can to avoid adding any unnecessary trauma to our children’s lives.
And if you were someone who learned that hitting was an appropriate response to being a child, I am very sorry you had to go through that and I can guarantee, you did not deserve it no matter what you did.
REMEMBER WHO YOU’RE DEALING WITH
To go along with all of this, remember you’re dealing with a child. You’re dealing with a person who doesn’t know anything but who is taking in everything. Every action they make right now has nothing to do with you. They are learning what they can do. They are learning right and wrong. They literally don’t know anything.
They don’t know how to be careful because they barely know how to control their own hands. They don’t know how to listen because there are too many things to take in.
They are suppose to break things. They’re suppose to be loud. They’re suppose to make messes and no, they don’t really know how to clean up or the value in cleaning up.
So what can we do?
We can respect them. We can mold our expectations to their plausible abilities. We can remember that we don’t even know everything, but the little we do know is a million times more than what they know.
When you scream at your child, you’re not teaching them to listen. You’re teaching them that the loudest person wins.
When you hit your child, you’re not teaching them to respect you. You are facilitating anger with in them. You’re teaching them that it’s okay to hurt someone who makes you upset.
When you react without thought, you’re not teaching them to care about you’re feelings. You’re teaching them that their feelings are the only ones that matter. That their reality and situation is the only one they need to consider.
So be kind to your children. Be empathetic. Be patient. Be encouraging. Be understanding.
If you want to see any good come from them, you first have to be good yourself.