One thing that strikes fear in the heart of many parents is a child that’s too hard to handle. How can we avoid bringing up a little tyrant?
The common way is to instill fear in your child so that they know if they cross the line there will be some type of punishment. Be it a smack, a ‘time out’ or the withdrawal of privileges. This might seem like a great idea, but isn’t likely to raise a child with the right values. You might find that they’re ‘out of control’ when there isn’t anyone around to catch them. If they get in trouble they’re also more likely to feel self pity than regret.
Parents who don’t want to go down this route may avoid punishment but find that their children are walking all over them. They feel stuck and have no idea what to do. In their frustration and confusion they may have blow outs, where they get really angry at their children and then regret it. This isn’t a great situation for anyone. The parent isn’t enjoying their children and the children have no idea what to do, as they don’t have a leader to follow. A definite recipe for kids who are out of control.
So what do we do? A third way is to stop thinking your children need to be ‘controlled’. Of course, they need to get dressed, eat healthy food and all the normal things in life, but they key is to make them want to do these things from their own desire. This does mean you need to see your children as individuals, with their own likes and dislikes. You also need to trust your children to take care of themselves. So, how does this look?
The third way with dinner
You’re cooking dinner. You hope your toddler will eat it, because you think they’re not eating enough or not eating the right variety of food. You caved to their whining and bought them sweets at the shop and feel really guilty about it.
You put the food on your toddler’s plate and put them in their seat. You tell your toddler that they need to eat all their dinner, especially since they had sweets today. This might be in a ‘pleading’ way or perhaps with a threat, ‘eat your vegetables or there’s no dessert!’.
You watch what and how much your toddler is eating, You might try to feed your toddler yourself.
You’ve created a power struggle, where your toddler’s need for independence means they HAVE TO refuse your pleading and threats. You’re angry and your toddler is defiant.
Not long after your hungry toddler comes to you asking for food. You’re fuming, but due to your concern for their health you make more food. You think your toddler is ‘controlling you’ and has you under his thumb.
It’s dinner time! You put your toddler in their seat, the food on their plate and start eating. You enjoy your food and don’t pay attention to what your toddler is eating.
You trust that your toddler is taking care of their own needs and you make this possible by only feeding them food that you’re happy for your toddler to eat and you don’t keep junk food in the house.
You also don’t worry if your toddler isn’t eating enough, because this is the last thing you’re cooking tonight and if they’re hungry later they can have more dinner or perhaps fruit – something easy.
Everyone is happy and relaxed. Everyone’s needs are met. No one is controlling anyone.
Other examples of the third way
- It’s cold outside but your toddler doesn’t want to wear a jacket. You bring a warm jacket with you and pretty soon your toddler is asking to put it on because they are cold!
- You need to change your toddlers nappy but they’re refusing. Your toddler then asks you for something, but you tell them they need to change their nappy first. They happily change their nappy right then and there!
Of course, the third way isn’t without its challenges. For instance, I haven’t found a way to get my toddler to brush their teeth. It’s a struggle every night and often there are tears. I can limit this by only feeding healthy food, making sure my toddler at least washes their mouth out with water and continuing to show him the whole family brushing their teeth. I know one day this will pass!