If you have a child around the age of two or three, you need to brace yourself for a major change. If it hasn’t happened already, your sweet little baby will soon become something of a tyrant, demanding her own way, throwing tantrums when she doesn’t get it, and even hitting and screaming at you, the one person who has always demonstrated nothing but the most caring and gentle love towards her. This is a crucial moment in your relationship with your child–in fact, if you don’t take this moment in time to turn the tables on your toddler, you will be paying the price for years to come.
Your toddler, up until now, has needed your nearly constant attention; she’s depended on you for food, diaper changes, bathing, dressing, and just about everything else. You’ve done an excellent job of reassuring her that you will be available to her whenever she calls, and that she can totally trust you to meet her needs and many of her wants; she’s come to view herself as the ruler of her domain, and you as her willing servant. However, now she’s able to walk, talk, feed herself, and do other things independently. For her own good, and for the sake of the peace of your home, the sanity of her future teachers, and the well-being of the world at large, you must readjust her perspective, starting right now.
If you’re not sure why this is necessary, just consider what your hopes are for your child–not the college you want her to get into, or the career you want her to choose, or the income level you want her to achieve, but the kind of person she will become. You want her to be well-adjusted, able to accept responsibility graciously, respectful of other people, able to accept what life brings her way and make the most of it–at least, I hope that’s what you want. You want a young adult who is able to stand on her own two feet, make her way in the world without using other people or running over them, a good employee, friend, spouse, neighbor and citizen. Not a whiner, not a bum, not an arrogant fool, right? And if you’re like most parents, you want to have a healthy relationship with your adult children–to actually like the people they become!
It all starts here–at the “terrible twos.” The key is to move from the role of servant to that of leader, and this occurs primarily through your attitude. You have to gradually begin expecting your child to pay more attention to you than you pay to her, telling her what you want her to do, and expecting her to do it. You have to impose structure to her day, set boundaries that you don’t allow her to cross, tell her “no” to some of what she wants, and make her do things like go to bed, whether she wants to or not. This is hard for most moms, because we don’t like to upset our little ones, and this definitely upsets them! The only way to learn to bear a toddler’s disapproval is really quite simple: you have to take the long view, to remind yourself all the time that the future good of your child is more important than her immediate satisfaction.
Imagine your child as an adult, say, around age 30; do you imagine her living at home, still completely dependent upon you? In your mind, does she struggle with poor relational choices, have a hard time holding down a job, and seem incapable of simple things like getting out of bed in the morning? Or is she living the life of an adult, possibly married, taking care of a home and children, holding down a decent job, and making a positive contribution to society? In this future scenario, does it really matter where (or even if) she went to college? Does it matter, at age 30, how many after-school activities she participated in during high school, or if she excelled in sports?
Please tell me you want your child in the “life of an adult” category!!! If this is the case, examine what goes on in your life TODAY. Are you rushing around, trying to make your child “happy,” giving her the final say on what she will wear or eat, and allowing her to decide when she’ll go to bed? STOP!!! Step back and get a different, more reasonable perspective.
I can’t say this firmly enough, parents–I’m talking to YOU! Your child needs you to lead. Have set times for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Decide what’s good for your child to eat, and don’t give her a choice! She needs a nap every day, or at least a resting time–you decide when this will occur, and then see that it happens–every day. Set bedtime! Do not let your child stay up until she seems sleepy, don’t drive around until she falls asleep, or engage in any kind of trickery to “get” your child to go to bed. Put your child to bed! Ignore the crying! It doesn’t hurt her, it’s just unpleasant for you! And it will only last a short time–in a few days, she’ll simply go to bed when it’s time, without protest. You don’t have to be mean or harsh–being a good leader is just a matter of gentle firmness.
Listen, giving in to your child’s preferences is NOT a small thing–it’s permanently damaging to them. Think of it this way: your child loves candy, right? Or chips, or ice cream or whatever. She is very “happy” when she gets this food. If she thinks she’s going to get it and doesn’t, she makes a fuss. Is the solution to always give her candy so she is “happy?” No. You, the adult, understand that, regardless of how your child feels about candy, and regardless of the fact that she will not instantly balloon into obesity, drop dead of heart disease, or turn into a diabetic, these are all distinct future possibilities for someone who only eats sweets–your understanding of future consequences gives you the wisdom and strength to limit her dietary choices today–you feed her certain things and deny her certain other things, for her own good. The same reality holds true in all other areas–the habits you allow to develop now will have consequences in the future.
Giving in to your child’s preferences is nothing more than gutless selfishness on the part of parents; it gives you a temporary sense of satisfaction (because your child is happy), and avoids a potential headache for the moment. I know this to be true, because I’ve done the gutless, selfish thing myself in the past! You may convince yourself that you’re being a good parent, but all you’re doing is taking the easy way out to avoid conflict with your child–either that, or you’re bowing to cultural or peer pressure. Trust me, what is easier for you now will lead to tremendous difficulties later on. Even if your child is successful in school, gets a decent job, and doesn’t live with you indefinitely, cultivating the habit of never crossing your child’s wishes will ultimately lead to a very self-centered adult, and an unsatisfying, disappointing relationship. We don’t respect people who simply cave to our wishes, and your child is no exception; you will lose her respect, and any hope of a healthy future relationship with her, if you don’t teach her how to grow up and do what’s right.
If you want a healthy adult child, and a healthy adult relationship, based on mutual respect and affection, start today. Turn the tables on your toddler (or whatever age she is!) Do the right thing, not the easiest or most convenient. Teach your child to adjust to a schedule, to respectfully obey you, to delay gratification, and to pay attention to you and other adults. Give her what she needs to be a grown-up, don’t make her into that obnoxious person we’ve all met–a self-centered prima donna who thinks she’s wonderful, but nobody can stand to be around. Your little one may howl today, but when she’s all grown up, she’ll thank you, and so will everyone else. I promise.