Toddler Ten Commandments

by Dionna on February 11, 2010

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My husband, Tom, once remarked that he wished there was some quick and dirty parenting guide. He doesn’t have time to read all of the parenting books after I’m done with them, and he doesn’t particularly like to hear me quote entire passages. Go figure.

His wish is (sometimes) my command, so I set out to make him a list. I went back through several books I’d recently read: Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting, Lieberman’s Emotional Life of the Toddler, Cohen’s Playful Parenting, and half of Aldort’s Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves (I’m still finishing that one), and asked for the collective wisdom of my seasoned mama friends. I pared down a 10 page Word doc into a page and a half that I entitled “The Toddler Ten Commandments.”

There are a few corrections I could make to that title: 1) There are actually 14 “commandments” on my list, but ten just has a certain ring to it; 2) The word “toddler” could be removed from the title. Most of these will apply to kiddos of all ages, but that’s where we are in life at the moment; and 3) of course these “commandments” aren’t really that – they are suggestions, and not everyone will like all of them. I compiled them based on our experiences and struggles as parents so far. I welcome your thoughts and input on the list based on your own experiences.

We’ve printed out the Toddler Ten and taped it to our bathroom mirror and a kitchen cabinet. It is nice to have reminders every now and then! So without further ado, I give you the Toddler Ten Commandments. Please click on the links if you’re interested in reading a little more about the ideas presented.

  1. Keep your eye on long-term goals. Toddler “behaviors” will fade; what will remain is how your child feels about himself and his relationship with you, which is based on how you react to those “behaviors.”
  2. Take the child’s perspective. Sure it’s hard to be a parent, but it can be a lot harder to be a kid. We don’t mean to make children feel foolish or unsupported, but that’s just what happens when we trivialize their fears or tears by saying “shhh, you’re ok,” or “don’t be so upset,” etc.
  3. Let your child make his own decisions. Our default position ought to be to let kids make decisions about matters that concern them except when there is a compelling reason for us to override that right. We should be prepared to justify why, in each case, kids shouldn’t be allowed to choose. The way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.
  4. Reconsider your requests. Perhaps when your child doesn’t do what you’re demanding, the problem isn’t with the child but with what it is you’re demanding. I’ll give you a fluff example: Kieran (my son) and I were doing a craft last week. I kept suggesting that he cut the pictures, not the paper that he would eventually glue the pictures onto. He kept ignoring me. I realized that I was trying to impose my own vision of his artwork onto what he was doing – so what if he wanted to cut what I thought was the “wrong” thing! This same lesson can hold true in a number of different situations. As long as a child’s safety isn’t at risk, why not stop to reconsider whether you are imposing your own views and experiences onto them.
  5. Remember SALVE:
    • (S) Separate yourself and your emotions from your child’s behavior to be sure you’re TRULY about to respond to your child, and not as a result of baggage from your own life/childhood. (If it helps, run through any angry words in your mind, then get rid of them before speaking gently to your child.)
    • (A) give your child full, honest Attention;
    • (L) fully Listen, be present for your child;
    • (V) Validate your child’s feelings without adding your own (“I see you want ___,” “you were disappointed because ____”);
    • (E) Empower your child to solve the upset herself. Believe in her; don’t rush to “fix” her.

  6. Don’t say “no” unnecessarily. “Yes” should be our default response, such that you need a good reason not to go along with what’s being proposed, or to step in and forbid something.
  7. Change the way you see behavior. Try to see behavior as “teachable moments” rather than infractions that call for “consequences.” Don’t take behavior personally! A toddler isn’t trying to hurt or inconvenience you or “misbehave.”
  8. Respect your child. We can’t always assume that because we’re more mature, we necessarily have more insight into our children than they have into themselves.
  9. Keep her age in mind.
  10. Stop saying “good job.” Break the habit of saying “good job/sharing!” or “you’re such a great helper!” or “I like the way you . . .” Instead, try:
    • describing, rather than evaluating (“there’s something new on the people you drew, there are toes”);
    • explaining the effects of the child’s action on other people (“you set the table, that makes things a lot easier on me while I’m cooking”);
    • asking, rather than judging (why did you decide to give some of your brownie to Michael when you didn’t have to?”).

  11. Give her undivided attention. Don’t just occupy the same space, interact. It’s easy to feel distracted by emails or bills, and it’s fine to multi-task sometimes, but make sure your child gets a good portion of your total attention so they know how very 2010-01-30important they are to you. Give them affection without limit, without reservations, and without excuse. Pay as much attention to them as you can, regardless of mood or circumstance. Let them know you’re delighted to be with them, that you care about them no matter what happens. This basic posture is completely different from praise, which is doled out as a response to something a child does.
  12. Talk less, ask more, and wait. Step back and let your child figure things out. Wait for him to ask you for help. He may not. He may figure it out alone or he may do something else entirely, and that’s o.k.
  13. Talk about appropriate behaviors. Try “please use gentle touches” instead of “stop hitting.”
  14. Enjoy the journey – they grow up too fast. Don’t be in such a hurry!

This post was originally published on Code Name: Mama.

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Dionna (20 Posts)

Dionna writes at Code Name: Mama, where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler/preschooler.


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