- I have evil friends who send me links to articles that they know I’ll want to refute, especially articles that are in list form. I can never resist them. They just make it too easy. And,
- My obligatory disclaimer: This post is about ideas, concepts, and philosophies. It is not an attack on an individual. I don’t know the author of the original article. In fact on a second look, I couldn’t even find an author credited. It was published by a Montessori School. They gave their point of view; I’ll give mine. It’s kind of how the internet works.
Having said that:
The article in question is one titled, Six Unusual Rules For Disciplining Your Toddler That Are Effective. The author and I…. disagree. 🙂
I don’t have a toddler anymore (at the time of this writing, my youngest is 9), but I remember the toddler years very, very well. The author and I do agree on one thing: toddlers definitely require a very specific type of parenting. But we part company on what that specific type of parenting might entail. Toddlers need a ton of patience, a ton of understanding, and a ton of grace. It is HARD to be 1. 2, 3 years old. Their list, unfortunately, takes none of this into account.
Here are their six rules, and why I’d do things differently.
Rule #1: “If you’re in the room while I’m working, you need to work also.”
What’s the goal? As you complete your chores, your children should stop bothering you or help …. Tell her she doesn’t have to help you, but she can’t just sit there and watch you; she must go in another room. She’ll have the option to help you with your chore and be with you or be by herself.
Oof. This genuinely makes me sad. First, kids (and toddlers especially!) love to be with their parents as they work, whether it’s on laundry, sweeping the floor, or making dinner. They also generally love to “help” – help is in quotations only because a 12 month old unfolding your freshly folded laundry to put it in a new pile isn’t technically helping… but she sure feels proud about doing it! As they get older, more able to follow directions, and more dexterous, they’ll enjoy helping in more and more ways. And if they don’t want to help? Maybe they just want to be with their parent. Maybe they just enjoy your company. Maybe they want to chat. Good grief, let them! Don’t banish them to another room. Life is short. Time with your kids is precious and fleeting. For real. In a couple of months, my oldest “baby” is turning 21.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing parts about this point is when they say that this rule works because “she’s given a choice so she’ll feel as if she’s in control of the situation even though she’s really not.” What’s described in this sentence is manipulation…. and manipulation of someone we love is never, ever a cool thing to do.
My alternative rule: If you’re in the room while I’m working, you’re welcome to help. If you don’t want to help, you’re welcome to just keep me company.
Rule #2: “You get whatever you get so don’t get upset.”
What’s the goal? It ends the bargaining over such things as the color sippy cup he gets, which kids TV character is on his paper plate, which sheets are on his bed, etc.
This is just being controlling for the sole sake of being controlling. I ask you, seriously, WHY can’t your child have the sippy cup he wants, or the paper plate that he wants, or his preferred sheets on his bed? The answer to that question generally lies somewhere in the vicinity of, “Because they need to learn that they can’t always get what they want!” And/or “Because they need to learn that life isn’t fair!” Yes, sure. We can’t always get what we want. And life isn’t always fair. But guess what? These are lessons that life and circumstances will, unfortunately, teach them… ideally with you as the parent at their side to help them navigate. You don’t need to actually CREATE harsh lessons for your kids just because you can! On the contrary, home should be the safe space, the soft spot to fall, the place where you can drink from your favorite cup. I have a favorite cup (actually I have several of them, depending on my mood, what I’m drinking, etc) and I always make sure to use it. Am I so inflexible that I literally can’t muster up the emotional fortitude to drink out of another one if need be? Of course not. But you guys: we all have likes and preferences. A favorite cup is such a simple, simple way to honor your kids’ likes and wishes and show them through that one small gesture – which feels like a BIG gesture – that you love them.
My alternative rule: I will always try to listen to your needs, respect your requests, and YES… you can have the purple sippy cup.
Rule #3: “We aren’t going to argue about money.”
What’s the goal? Prevent your toddler from pleading and begging for things.
Here’s the thing about money (and I have been married for nearly 25 years and we have run the full gamut when it comes to our money situation): There are three general scenarios when it comes to requests at the store. 1) Sometimes you simply don’t have the money for something. You just don’t have it. In which case, it’s entirely appropriate to tell your child, “I’m sorry, we can’t buy that today, but we can put it on your wishlist/get it next payday/save up for it”, whatever. This is both honest and fair. Might your child still be upset or disappointed? Sure! I’m sometimes upset and disappointed when something’s out of my price range too. But you honor their feelings, you help them through it, and you move on. 2) Sometimes you do have the money, and you don’t want to part with it for some reason. Maybe you’re judging how they want to spend it. Maybe you want to spend it on yourself. Maybe you just feel inconvenienced by the whole thing and saying “no” seems the simplest option. If that’s the case, I’d gently suggest doing a little work to find out why you’re saying no. Maybe you have a perfectly valid reason. Or maybe you’re being a hypocrite who’s telling her child, “We’re not buying extras today,” at the very moment that you’re paying for your overpriced Trenta caramel iced coffee with an extra shot of espresso. (True story) Getting at the “why” is important, for both of you. 3) You do have the money, and you say, “yes!” This is honestly one of my simplest pleasures as a parent. I love being able to be in the moment, and gift my kids with something that will make them happy…. whether a pack of gum, a cake pop from Starbucks, or more slime supplies from Hobby Lobby. There is nothing wrong with saying yes to your kids.
Learning to say yes more often to my kids was one of the simplest, single most life-changing parenting decision I’ve ever made. We are designed to want to give to those we love (in both tangible and non-tangible ways) It feels good to give because it IS good to give! It is a win-win for both parties. The author’s takeaway from this point is, “The way this works is if she asks for you to buy, say, a toy then you say “yes” or “no” and nothing more.” I think my kids, even as young kids, are always deserving of honestly, the right to ask questions, and the right to a discussion. (P.S. A discussion isn’t the same thing as an argument.)
My alternative rule: If we have the means, I will try to say “yes” to your requests as often as possible. If I say, “no”, you are absolutely welcome to ask why, and I will always give you an honest answer.
Rule #4: “There isn’t any such phrase as ‘I’m bored’.”
What’s the goal? This teaches your small fry to entertain himself.
So, first of all, I have taken some long (LONG), required history classes in college with really, really dry teachers. BOREDOM IS REAL. Let’s just start there. It’s not a bad thing to be bored (some great ideas sometimes manifest themselves out of boredom), nor is it a bad thing to help your child think of something to do to alleviate said boredom, if he desires that help. We all get bored from time to time. As adults, we’ll often say, “Hey, I’m bored. Want to go for a walk, go see a movie, go get some frozen yogurt?” This rule is another example of expecting your child to be a robot, rather than a human being… AND expecting more of him than you do from adults. People get bored! It’s okay! Your “small fry” will learn to entertain himself all on his own, all in his own time. It’s controlling and cruel to tell him 1) that he’s not allowed to feel something 2) that the something he reports feeling doesn’t even exist, and 3) that you refuse to help him with the problem – if he does in fact, view it as a problem. If one of my children announces that they’re bored (which they honestly don’t do all that often, mostly because they do know how to entertain themselves, despite my not having ever implemented rule #4) I’d ask if they wanted some help thinking of suggestions. Oh and by the way, making your kids do chores when they’re bored – a popular suggestion in mainstream parenting – is also controlling, and cruel, and completely counter intuitive to actually helping them learn to navigate boredom in a healthy way.
My alternative rule: If you’re feeling bored, feel free to ask me to help brainstorm.
Rule #5: “I’m not working after 8 pm.”
What’s the goal? It creates established bedtimes as well as time for yourself …Tell your little ones that a new rule has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor that states you must not do any “mom” work after 8 pm. But hold firm to your conviction and pretend that it’s out of your control.
From the “It should go without saying” department: Parenting is a 24 hour job. I hate to break it to you. Yes, time for yourself is important, and yes, as kids get older you’ll be able to have more flexibility in this area. But when kids are little, especially when they are toddlers, they might need you at 9:00. Or at midnight. Or at 2:00 in the morning. I’m really glad that this was a rule we never implemented in my family, because some of my favorite memories of the kids were snuggled up on the couch watching TV together, sitting around the kitchen table for endless amounts of time, piling in bed to watch a movie. Chatting. laughing, having deep conversations. I wouldn’t give any of it up, for any amount of missed sleep. I’M THE MOM. I’m always the mom, and I don’t stop being the mom just because the clock strikes a certain hour.
Also, telling “your little ones that a new rule has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor that states you must not do any “mom” work after 8 PM” is a flat-out-unabashed lie. Like manipulating, lying isn’t something you should do to people you love. It’s just not.
My alternative rule: I’m your mom 24 hours a day. Full-stop.
Rule #6: “When you talk that way, I can’t understand what you’re saying.”
What’s the goal? It helps to stop screaming, rudeness and whining.
This is the only rule that I (kind of, sort of) agree with, only in the sense that it’s okay, and preferable, to set boundaries for yourself, and for how you’re treated. But – and it’s a big but – just like adults, kids are allowed a full range of emotions, of feelings, and of opinions. Sometimes strong feelings come out sideways (this does not just apply to kids). Sometimes we whine when we’re upset (this does not just apply to kids). Sometimes we say things in the heat of the moment that we might not otherwise say (this does not just apply to kids). And sometimes we take things out on the most convenient target, even if it’s someone we love (again… this does not just apply to kids). We are HUMAN BEINGS, and we possess a giant array of feelings, of behavior, and ways of expressing ourselves. In a perfect world, we’d all behave politely and communicate maturely every second of every day. But it doesn’t always work like that. Which is where grace comes in. Sometimes heaping amounts of grace. Yes, setting boundaries is important, and yes, it’s absolutely okay to talk to your child – in much the same way you’d talk to an angry spouse or friend or family member – about their delivery (for lack of a better word). But their feelings, like ALL their feelings, have validity.
Finally, the author says, “When toddlers do any of those things, they’re only looking for drama or attention.” Maybe so. But if they’re looking for attention in such a volatile way, perhaps it’s because they’ve failed to get it elsewhere. Perhaps their “screaming, rudeness, and whining,” is in fact, a literal cry for help. Behavior never exists in a vacuum. Find out why it’s happening, and you can address your issue. Ignoring your child, shutting him down, or insisting he stay quiet will ultimately only make the situation (and your relationship) worse.
Children are to be seen AND heard.
My alternative rule: Come to me when you’re upset, and we’ll figure it all out together.
The article closes with this:
We’re sure there are more fantastic rules like these out there—or perhaps you can create some of your own. Yes, it’s true that some of these (or maybe all) aren’t really rules but rather an announcement of policies in your home. Either way, whatever you call them, they’re sure to make your life (and your toddler’s) go a bit smoother.
Sure, it’ll make your life go a bit smoother if your goal is to have quiet, compliant, obedient children. But if you want to have…. REAL children? Children who feel valued, and confident, and loved? Children who know who they are, who own their feelings, who stand up for what’s right? Children who are capable of healthy and genuine connections with their parent/s and with the people around them? You might consider doing the exact opposite.