Some thoughts about raising a young child:
Young children, especially children under 7 years of age, are not capable of delaying gratification. Children live in the present, and what children see or what they hear about they want now. They do not have the cognitive capacity to resist temptation or delay gratification – for example a “special” advent calendar. Learning, as adults, not to verbalize all our ideas and plans in front of the young child, who would subsequently want to do everything we mention – NOW!
If we are confused about a limit or boundary then we confuse our child. Children push until they find our boundary. Arguments about seat belts are not as common as bed-time arguments. Our children quickly learn that they can continually ask for water at bedtime (how could we possibly deprive a thirsty child), ask for a snack after they are in bed (how could we send them to bed hungry), ask lots of questions about everything in the whole wide world (how could we not satisfy their intellectual curiosity), and on goes the list. It can sometimes take us some time to sort out and prioritize our own values and thoughts so that we present clearer boundaries to our children.
Young children, especially those under 7 years of age, really can read our thoughts and are barometers for our own soul moods. We are usually taught that nobody can read our mind. Maybe babies can sense our anxiety by the rapid beat of our heart or breathing rate, but that is as far as perception goes. For a toddler, if one did not say it, then the thought did not really exist. In other words, we can feel really angry with our child who would not know unless we actually say we are angry or show the anger by the tone in our voice or expression on our face.
Another way to see this is that it is very important to hold good thoughts because a young child has the ability to sense thoughts. We have all had experiences of our children bring something up that we have been thinking about, as though they can read our minds.
Thoughts are as powerful as actions. It is not only what we do, what we say, or how we move, (our gestures) that matter. It is also what we think. We can influence each other in so many ways that go beyond our hearing, sight, and movements. What we do for our children, tell our children, how we move in front of them, and the thoughts we think all matter. The thoughts we hold about ourselves also have a lot of power. We can be our own worst enemies sometimes. If we don’t believe something will work out for us, then it usually doesn’t. What we fear the most often comes to us. There is a power to positive thinking. This is why so many Olympic athletes hire sports psychologists to teach them the skills of positive thinking and visualizing a perfect performance.
What ever you tell a child not to do, they will then proceed to do. Young children hear the verb, the action work, and not the rest of the sentence. “Don’t jump in the puddle”, is heard as “jump in the puddle”, and they do! We can also go as far as to include the pictures in our minds, which we know the child can often, if not always, read. “Don’t run out into the street”, comes with the picture of a child running into the street. If instead, we say and hold the picture “stay on the sidewalk”, then chances are the child will stay on the sidewalk.
When making a request of a child, saying “YOU MAY….” Closes the door to negotiation. “You may……..” works far better than “would you like to……..”, or “don’t you think it is time to…….”. If there is no choice, don’t give one. In addition children like to see what happens if they don’t do what their parents ask. They need to test the waters and the boundaries. Giving too many choices draws the attention of the child prematurely to itself and can encourage a more self-centered child. It can also weaken their will. They stand there frozen trying to figure out what choices to make or what to do.
Discipline issues are greatly reduced when there are strong rhythms. Activities are taken as a matter of fact and become habits. Observe how a child can go into fits when he is occasionally required to clean his room. Or, what becomes of a child who has spent the entire evening shopping, out to dinner and at meetings or social engagements. Often this child will appear perfectly content through the hubbub. But melts down at the end of it all. Learning that there is a time for all things is a life lesson. Of course, there is time for play dates and excursions. But, the place of the modern child’s life is often more than he can handle. While adults occasionally feel “burnt out”, imagine how it must feel to be a “burnt out” 3 year old. Rhythm gives children a sense of security and a sense that life has real form. Knowing what is next enables the child to go with the flow with greater ease.
Young children need at least 10 hours of sleep at night. 12 to 15 hours is within normal limits! So, if your child is having a hard time waking in the morning, consider the amount of sleep he is getting. Bedtime routines can revolve around hygiene and bonding. The more repetitive the tasks, the better. Their bodies will know to brush teeth after putting pajamas on if that is how it is done every night. Your child can relax at bedtime by doing the same preparations in the same way, at the same time every night. One simple story shared from a book, or better yet, an oral tale, can be told again and again for weeks. This allows the child’s mind to calm and relax into sleep. When we read 36 books before bed, it is no wonder that he lies there with his mind filled with images, unable to relax in much the same way as adults lay in bed contemplating their to do list or the plans for the next day.
Regular mealtimes, naps and bedtimes help to introduce the child to the concept of the passing of time. If children have regular external rhythms, internal rhythms will develop. When dinnertime and bedtime are consistent, your child becomes hungry at dinnertime and sleepy at bedtime. Rhythm is a blessing for both the parent and the child. It requires much less energy, prevents struggle and supports the activities of the family. It requires inner discipline, and even sacrifice, for we adults tire easily of the normalcy of life.
One trick is to turn every day tasks into quality time together. What else is there? We often have unrealistic expectations of children – “they should be able to take responsibility for ………. by now”. If there is a fuss around a particular time of day, say getting dressed in the morning, stop and observe, stepping back, noticing what is going on with the child, the environment and the like, relax yourself, meet the child where he or she is. If he is having difficulty choosing his clothes, simplify, chose them the night before, do all you can to remain light hearted.
Reverence, gratitude – be worthy of imitation. Young children learn through imitation. Ennoble instead on enable. Treat them as though they are……….. Expect the best with grace – it just is. Avoid letting things slide. This undercuts trust and integrity, now is the best time. “If you don’t teach your children, someone else will have to, and they probably won’t love your child as much as you do.”
Using stories or fairy tales to work on a problem. Because the fairy tales are so rich in imagery, children benefit greatly from hearing the same story told for three consecutive days. During the first listening, they are usually most focused on the plot. During the second listening they know what will happen, so they can live more fully into the images. On the third day, it is common for children to inwardly tell themselves the story as they are hearing it.
Behavior challenge plan:
a) observe from a distance
if behavior persists – go closer – let the children see that you see
put yourself right in the spot
trust that they know how to be upright human beings – no victims.
Remember a little bit of humor can go a long way.