When parents have more than one child, they dream of siblings playing together and sharing life. We envision bright sunny days of imaginative play and fun. We do not imagine them fighting or not getting along.
And then the fights break out and we police. We police their engagements, we police their toys, we police everything they do together. Sadly that policing is the reason so many siblings grows up hating each other.
Imagine for a moment the impact it would have on your intimate relationships with other adults if you had someone constantly polices your disagreements, your belongings and how you interact with said person. You hardly get a chance to do something or figure things out together as a team, before someone swoops in and takes control. It will feel as if you have a third party to your relationship.
This is the impact our interference has on our children when they are building sibling relationships. Our interference creates a space where they cannot get along without a parent present to step in and take control. Their relationship depends on your input. We are doing our children a disservice by interfering all the time. I am not saying don’t stop the biting, hitting, hair pulling or damage that can occur when they get really passionate about something. Absolutely step in when bodily harm is a definite possibility.
What I am saying though is. Take a step back and let them find a solution that works for them. Even when you disagree with the solution. Them being able to strategise together and find their own solutions, enables them to do co-operative team work, faster problem solving and it builds the relationship to the dream you originally had. Siblings that loves each other and are each other’s best friends.
When you have children, it is more than just a life choice or even a career. It is a lifestyle change. Recently I have found myself in conversations asking why people like myself offer training to parents. Why do I do what I do? Is there a need for training parents? Why can’t we just keep doing what we have been doing over milenia without formal training.
We could probably just keep doing what we did for milenia, but if history is any indication of how well that played out, we probably have to rethink how we raise children. We can just look and see how many parenting support groups there are, how often we as parents are at a loss as to what to do and to be honest the world is changing at such a rapid pace that now parents are faced with far more challenges than generations before. There are so many adults who have to heal from their childhood. The reality is, we need all the support we can get.
When we want to enter a specific career, we go and study for that career. We read books and even attend courses. We inadvertently surround ourselves with people who share the same goals and we talk endlessly about what we aim to achieve in life. We dream and we invest in this future. Yet for some reason we don’t do this when it comes to parenting.
Why is it? We will read a few books, maybe. We join social media pages and follow some blogs (like this one) and then we just get on with life. The reality is, parenting a child and being successful at parenting, will take investment, reading and yes even attending courses or workshops.
There has been so much research done on the development of children, the impact of parenting styles, that we will be remiss as adults to assume that we can just do what our parents did and all will be well.
Parenting does not keep office hours, and where if we mess up at work, most often the consequences of our mistakes won’t resonate through generations,with parenting, how we raise our kids will ripple to generations after us.
Raising children into adults who does not need to recover from their childhood is so vital and important. Knowing why we do what we do and teach our children what we teach them matters. It matters how our kids view themselves, it matters how they view us as parents. It matters how we view them, because in the end of the day, they will become adults who has an impact on society.
So buy a book and read it, follow more blogs and apply it, and book a course on parenting and get the right resources to set yourself and your child up for success. We and our children and society needs it.
One of the more difficult concepts when raising children is the concept of trusting our children. It doesn’t really come easy, does it? We’ve had to do everything for our children from infancy, we had to trust our own judgement and we all know how under developed a child’s ability to think rationally is. We have all done the “Have you brushed your teeth? Come here let me check” mantra. We have to do it, because they are still learning, easily distracted and some kids just really hate doing certain tasks, like brushing teeth. So we as parents have to check them.
The problem is, that our children start with a deficit of trust from parents, at least that is how they experience and view it. We do not take them at their word from the get go. I am fully aware that there is the belief that trust is earned and not just given, and we want our children to earn our trust. Well what if today we challenged that belief? What if from today you give trust to your child from the get go? No, I am not saying don’t check up on things as they learn how to do certain tasks, what I am saying is, always give them the benefit of trust until proven otherwise.
“Oh, but that is not how life works.” I hear you say. However it is how life works in reality. Think about it in these adult terms: You are looking for a job. You send your CV to a company. The person who reads your CV has to trust that what you wrote on your CV is in fact correct. For them to actually want to do a check on your qualifications and experience, they first had to trust the information you gave them. They do the checks – well some do, some don’t, you never know – if you were truthful, the checks will confirm their trust in the information you gave them is correct. Now you finally earned some more trust. However it started with you trusting that they will look at your CV and them trusting the information given. That small step of trust sets the foundation to earn further trust.
Trust is usually shown in the small things we do. If we feel the need to check up on our children to see if they followed through on something then either we thrust responsibility upon them before they were ready, or, we have unresolved trust issues of our own. Yes, I said it!
The last mentioned, heralds the need for deep introspection, it goes to how you were raised. Did your parents patiently show through how they treated you that they trust you or was your childhood littered with phrases like, “Let me check” or “Ï trust you, but not your friends or the outside world”. The problem with these phrases, as innocent as they may seem, is it always reflects back to the idea that you are not trustworthy and the mistakes you have made count against you. “Let me check” says: I do not take you by your word, you have let me down before, so why should I believe you now? I don’t trust your ability to be honest, thorough or capable. I know, when they are young, they experiment with lies and boundaries, and it never stops until the day we die. I also know they need support while spreading their wings, developing their independence and decision making skills. Starting from the foundation of trust, it is easier to guide them and help them manage the journey.
“I trust you, but…” the ‘but’ nullifies the trust and the belief that you are trusted. If you don’t trust my friends, then you don’t trust my ability to make valuable friends and build positive relationships. If you don’t trust the world, then you don’t trust that I will be able to care for myself in this world. That means you feel I cannot be trusted to make good choices when you are not around. This typically happens in the teenage years. Yes, I know, we don’t really trust the world or that weird friend our kid brought home. Our child’s ability to make good choices is not fully developed yet, so of course the trust is difficult.
They are our kids and we mean well. We want to set them up for success. How do we encourage independence, honesty and good decision making, if we do not set up boundaries and check up on them?
Trust, like connection works with a bank account. When baby is born, we don’t need to earn their trust. They trust implicitly that we will meet their needs. They trust us to listen to them and protect them and love them. We trust them too, to let us know when they need something, whether by cooing, looking at us, making small gestures or even crying. The relationship starts with trust.
In infancy our relationship with our children either deposits trust into the account or withdraws trust from the trust account. Every time baby signals their need and we respond, it deposits not just connection but trust into the bank. When we miss a cue, we withdraw from both accounts. In infancy, a healthy relationship between parent and child creates a positive relational bank account in connection and trust.
After infancy, we withdraw often from this bank account. When baby starts to walk and explore, but instead of trusting them to be able to learn how to trust their own body, we keep telling them how to do it. We keep on stepping in and thereby interfering in the learning curve. The more we helicopter their movements – I am not saying let them tumble down head first down a flight of stairs – the more we create a deficit in the bank of trust. There is a difference between standing close by and waiting to catch them when they fall, and providing supportive commentary like “I see your hands need a place to hold onto” and holding on to their bodies as they try to manage climbing down the stairs. In the first scenario, we trust that they will find a safe way to climb the stairs, while we show them they can trust us to catch them if they stumble or fall. But with the second scenario we hinder them learning to trust their own bodies and skills. Do they fall and get hurt, yes they do, however allowing them to fall and get hurt their brain learns how their bodies feel when off balance. They learn to trust themselves.
At certain ages we hand over specific reigns of responsibility to our children. We stop brushing their teeth and they start doing it themselves. We stop feeding them and they start feeding themselves. There is still a learning curve involved here. Yes, you have been brushing your child’s teeth for 2 years, we would hope they have learned by now how to do it properly. They did not! They learn through doing. For the next two to three years, brush teeth side by side, prompting the next place or step in the routine. Eventually, you will brush side by side and you will see them brushing every tooth the way they learned how to. Now you can slowly extract yourself from their tooth brushing process. You remind them that it is time to brush teeth and send them off to do so. How do you know if they did it? Initially you can walk with them to the bathroom and see them off at the sink. Over time, you see them off at the door and finally you reach the point where you don’t walk with them. It is a gradual process and you can follow your child’s lead, they will show you and tell you to let them be, when they are ready. Never ask them to show you if they brushed their teeth. You will soon enough discover if they did not. That goodbye hug or kiss will tell you if they did not. Don’t scold them when you smell the stinky breath. Just hug and whisper, “I can smell your teeth are not brushed, quickly go and do it please.” and leave it there. If there is no time or the situation does not allow for going back and brushing, when they are younger than 8, have some breath freshener with you, just to help them out until there is time to brush teeth. If they are older, natural consequences is the way to go.
Brushing teeth is just a small example of how to maintain and build on the trust relationship. We need to apply this to all things they do, learn and have a responsibility for.
Steps for checking whilst keeping the trust relationship in the positive:
1 – Do it for the child
2 – Let the child do it with you
3 – Slowly step aside and give them space to do it on their own
4 – Be their back up, remember they are still learning this thing called responsibility – You are always a team
5 – Ask if they did what they needed to do, believe their answers
6 – If they did not do what they needed to do, and it isn’t life threatening, let them live out the consequences of their actions
7 – NEVER SAY – Let me check.
8 – If they have not taken proper responsibility for something go back one step and support them without condemnation i.e. let’s brush our teeth together today. That way you give them support without stating that you don’t trust them.
There is no incentive for a child to be honest if we constantly check up on them after they have stated that they have completed a task. There is only incentive for honesty if they get positive reinforcement and support when they make mistakes. Protecting our children from the consequences of their choices and actions while they are still learning responsibility, teaches them nothing. Punishing them for not doing what they said they did, will just increase the likelihood that they will rather do it behind our backs and develop better skills at being sneaky.
You can have a conversation about honesty and trust with your child. Have these conversations when you are calm and not angry. You can say things like “I am feeling disappointed that you did not brush your teeth like you said you did. Honesty and trust is important for us to be able to function as a family. I want to be able to trust you. So let us find a solution together to get your teeth brushed in the morning.”
This invites your child into a conversation and it will be a clear indicator of whether you have thrust a responsibility onto your child, before they were ready to bear it. Remember, each child is different and even though there are all these guidelines of at what age a child ‘should’ be able to take proper responsibility for a task, not every child will be ready at that age and your child is not failing if they need support for a little bit longer than others.
C3 Parenting believes in setting parents and children up for success. We offer parenting courses and workshops. Click here to find out more
The principle of sharing is stamped into our minds from very young, and we expect the same from our children. However this is a very difficult concept for a child to grasp. As parents we use the word share ambiguously, we share food and we share toys, we share a cake and we share a bike.
Children under the age of 7 struggle to understand nuanced words, as they are mostly concrete literal thinkers. So when we talk about the word share, it means literally having equal and fair amounts, all enjoying it at the same time. I can share cake or food, as we can all eat together. Food is something that can be divided up into fair and equal amounts. Toys cannot.
Children can take turns. Taking turns is easy to understand. You play now and then when you are done, I get a turn to play until I am done. This is a social contract that can be managed by the children themselves. This works on similar principles as toy sharing, but the language we use to explain this will either empower or disempower our children and others. Taking turns is a concept and word our children can both process and understand at a young age, whereas sharing is not
I cannot share a toy car between two friends, as one will play with the toy while the other waits. It also creates the idea or concept that the one playing with the car is not being a kind friend. This then places the parent in a position of having to manage or regulate how long a child gets to play with the toy. It eliminates the opportunity for the child with the toy to decide they are done, exercise control and learn from the social interaction. The child without the toy feels let down by the parent and then also struggles to learn anything from the interaction, except that they are feeling left out and rejected. Taking turns also creates opportunities to swap and negotiate use of the toys.
Obviously the younger the child, the more guidance they will need while learning this concept, but they will get the hang of it over time.
What are the rules for taking turns?
1 – When your child is playing with a toy and someone else wants it, they can ask for the other child to wait their turn.
2 – Your child determines when they are done with said toy.
3 – If your child wants a toy and someone else is busy with it, they can ask the other child to pass that toy to them when they are done.
4 – No parent is the gatekeeper of a toy or time played with said toy
5 – If your child is having difficulty waiting, help them find something else to play with while they wait.
Guiding your child:
It is important in the beginning to give your child the words to use, but not speak on their behalf, unless it is necessary.
Here is a list of sentences you can teach your child to say:
“When you are done, can I have a turn?”
“I am not done yet. When I am done, you can have a turn.”
“Thank you for remembering that it is my turn.”
“I will wait and play with something else.”
“Would you like to play with this toy? Can we swap when you are done?”
What would this teach our children in the long run?
1 – Delayed gratification and patience – Having to wait and not being the one determining the time they need to wait is important for impulse control and emotional development.
2 – Negotiation skills – learning to swap and negotiate for toys, will one day serve them well when they need to negotiate in adulthood.
3 – The ability to move on and find something else to occupy themselves with. Thus learning to manage and regulate their emotions and expectations.
4 – What they are busy with is important and they don’t have to sacrifice their own learning and development to satisfy someone else’s needs. – This is so important! Kids learn through play, so when they are busy with a toy, they are actually learning and developing their brain. Adults have the tendency to want to intervene and stop the play for the sake of peace, but we are really doing no-one any favours by intervening.
5 – Social contracts are there for them to manage – We want our kids to be kind and inclusive, both now and in their adult years. By giving them the skills to manage the playground dynamics and letting them learn this when they are young we are setting them up for success.
6 – Self-reliance and independence that leads to problem solving skills – They need to be able to learn to trust themselves and their own needs. We as adults won’t always be present all the time during their lives, so being there while they learn the skills, and allowing them to manage it themselves, gives confidence in their own personal skills.
When would a parent intervene.
1 – If a child gets so upset that they get violent – you block and remove the violent child
2 – When your child struggles to wait, you help them work through their emotions and redirect. You do not intervene with the toy situation.
3 – Block snatching of toys
4 – Allow your child to work through their emotions
5 – Keep giving the words to your child and empower them to use it.
Parenting a three and four year old is pretty intense. They are the concentrated essence of their being, their personality and everything in the world. This age is when they mirror us as parents the most. This is the age where they start whining (which is a good thing) pushing harder on boundaries and become bossy. This is the age where it feels as if you want to give up on parenting all together.
Each age has their moments, however it feels as if these two years are the longest and toughest years a parent will ever have to parent. These years creates in us the everlasting fear of the teenage years. They are not called threenagers for nothing.
At this age your child has basically completed a very big developmental leap. At the age of 18 to 24 months their brain disconnects the idea that, the primary caregiver and they, are one and the same person. The physicality of their being is now two entities. Only at the age of 7 does it dawn on them that they do not share a brain with their primary caregiver or anyone else for that matter. From age 2 years to approximately 2.5 to 3 years, this discovery is what they focus on. So they will start to experiment with independence in play, always using the primary caregiver as a homing beacon.
These skills takes time to develop and practice. They look to their parents for guidance on how this will look and they try to mimic everything we do. Their frustration levels is through the roof. Have you ever looked at something being done, try it yourself and it just did not work out? This is a constant for them. They can see how things are suppose to work, from social interaction to engaging with the material world, but the result is just wrong more often than not.
They get frustrated because we just don’t seem to get what they want and they struggle mid-frustration to use their words, just like us. So they scream and whine and cry. Whining is a sign that they are trying to override their emotions to interact with their rational brain, where they have a better command of words and better control of their body. It takes time, be patient with them and yourself.
So how do we parent through the emotional outbursts and the whining? The feeling of constant push back and willfulness?
6 Tips for parenting 3 and 4 year olds
1. Eye level:
It is so important to remember to go down to your child’s eye level and engage with them there. A towering person, feels threatening and increases the hormonal output of fight or flight. Make the effort to look them in the eyes when talking with them. First it is less scary and secondly it invites them into a conversation, instead of a confrontation.
2. Acknowledge their emotions:
Nothing is more empowering than knowing that your emotions are recognised, respected and valid. Help them through it with support, recognition and being present. Emotions are nothing to be scared of, if you run away from their emotional expressions, you are telling them that their emotions are bad and should be feared. That in itself stunts the developmental process they are engaging with.
3. Lean into the situation:
This is contrary to how most of us were raised. We were raised that negative emotions and expressions in behaviour should ostracize the person expressing them. They should remove themselves until they feel better or can better express themselves. This is not healthy. Yes you can move your child away from a public setting, but only to help them work through what they are experiencing and feeling. Never leave your child alone to work through these big emotions. Try to remain unruffled and matter of fact.
Things you can say:
“I am moving you to a different room, so that you can work through your emotions with me.”
“ I am not scared of how you are feeling, you are safe”
“I am with you”
“I love you”
“This is big emotions. I sense You feel frustrated” – (whatever emotion you can pinpoint at that particular point in time)
4. Don’t step into the power struggle:
Power struggles are only effective if there is two people in the struggle. Your child is trying to determine their own authority and abilities. There is no need, nor will there ever be a need to try and prove who is in control. The moment you as the parent start arguing with your child about who is in control, your child is in control of the situation. If you lean into the emotional expression and just calmly keep your boundary, there will not be a power struggle. The moment you feel like you have something to prove or have something to lose, that is when you stepped into the power struggle. In a power struggle no-one wins. Children find security in the calmness of the parent.
5. Give them real choices:
Children this age wants more autonomy. Giving choices, that are real choices for autonomy, will help navigate this learning curve. Real choices are important. A real choice is where no matter what they choose, their choice cannot and will not be overridden or punished. If the choices you give your child is choices that ends in a situation where you as the parent will have to override the choice or one of the options given is punitive, the choice becomes manipulation instead of empowerment. Ie Real choice: “We are going to a park with thorns. Would you like to put your shoes on now, or when we get there?” Manipulation “Put on your shoes or we don’t go to the park.”
6. Check your own behaviour:
This is the toughest one for parents to embrace. We are our children’s main sphere of information. They look to us for the “how, when, where and why” of behaviour. If your child speaks rudely or bossy to you, chances are that you have been speaking to your child and other that way for a while now. Children in this age group start to experiment with authority. Where do they learn how authority is expressed and engaged with? From you as the parent. So check yourself. Check how you speak to them. How often do you ask them to wait before you engage with them? How do you say no? If your behaviour has been dismissive and abrupt, go apologise to your child and admit it. Tell them you will try to pay attention to how you speak to them. They will internalize that apology and start checking their own way of doing things.
Lastly, give your child space to grow and learn.
Parenting is messy and fun. Enjoy it, learn and grow in it.
My eldest was just over a year, when a very powerful realisation struck me. I was not able to explain why I felt the way I did, nor could I verbalise as to why I spoke up. It just happened. Later it all made sense. My eldest was going through a developmental leap, he wanted nothing to do with any person besides his mom. Dad was proverbial chopped liver and so was the rest of the world.
We went to visit my folks, and as soon as anyone tried to take him away from me, he would wail and scream. Initially I would let him cry for about 2 minutes in the family member’s arms and then whisk him away to breastfeed. He would stop crying and calm down at my breast, but as soon as he was calm, another well meaning family member would try to take him away again. So the day continued. My son crying more often than usual, family members taking him, because they want to play. Me having to use breastfeeding as a shield and excuse to get him back so that he can stop crying.
I did not have the guts to say to them, don’t pick him up or take him. Just engage with him here in my arms. I swear I fed more that day than on a growth spurt. By the end of the day, both him and I have had enough.
In came my brother. He wanted to show him off to his colleagues over skype. He wanted to “bond” with my son. The moment he picked him up, my son started crying, for the umpteenth time that day. I have had enough. I asked for my son back. Which was refused, I asked again and my brother walked away with my screaming child in his arms. That was when I snapped and said “Please respect my child’s feelings. Now give him back to me.”My child was shoved into my arms, he stopped crying almost immediately and my brother stomped out of the room.
I was shaking angry and scared. That day the reality dawned on me, that I am my child’s voice, but I have been compromising him for the sake of family and my needs to not be rejected. I was angry at myself that I was so scared to cause a scene or a fight, that I did not protect my child. It took me almost eight hours, of a screaming child and then nursing said child, to finally not care that I upset a family member.
We so desperately want our family to love our child. We so desperately want the approval of our family members, that we forsake the very child, who needs us more, we and compromise on their needs, wants and feeling of safety and autonomy. A few weeks later, my brother informed me, that he can no longer love my child because of the way that I spoke to him, and the fact that I restrict the interaction (read when my child cries I step in and remove my child from the situation), he no longer feels like he wants to build a relationship with my son. That moment was when I found the words for what I have instinctively been fighting for and against. That very moment it became crystal clear.
To them, my child is an accessory to their happiness. He has to respect their needs. My child was not a human to them, but a means to stroke their ego and have their own needs fulfilled. My child’s need to feel safe and okay was not even secondary on their priority list, it just never featured. They wanted to be known as the uncle or grandparent who could calm the baby down. The uncle or grandparent who could make the baby smile. The uncle or grandparent who gets to brag about how cute this baby is. My baby became the the collar for their own self worth and I became the obstacle to their selfish drive.
They were taught no different while growing up. They could not see their behaviour as wrong, because that is just how things are suppose to be done. A child has to fit into the family, the family does not have to create space and change for the sake of the child.
From that day forward I had to learn how to be brave enough to set boundaries and accept the backlash it caused. With every boundary I enforced, I could see my child grow stronger in his own voice and he became more confident. I wish I could say that I never stepped into that compromised, scared and angry place again. That I always put my child first when dealing with the family. I stumbled on this new terrain of rejection and struggled as I grew. However I did grow and my voice became louder and prouder.You may ask, why is it an issue when we compromise for the sake of family?
It is simple really. While we teach our children to be afraid of stranger danger. We teach our children that their bodies are their own, unless it is a family member who just wants a hug, or just wants a kiss. We tell them especially at the infancy age, when they literally can only cry to announce their needs, that their needs does not matter when it comes to older family members. We try to keep the peace and ignore the cry for as long as we can stand it, because we are scared to make the family member feel unloved or scrutinised.
We allow our family members to override our parenting, because we are scared to be “that” parent, or we are scared to be ostracized by our clan. Our drive to belong creates an environment where we compromise our children’s sense of autonomy, safety and self, all for the sake of peace.
We don’t realise that we are teaching our children to compromise themselves for the sake of belonging. We teach them to compromise their safety for the sake of others. We look at the world and ask why do children so easily forget the values we teach them, yet we taught them that the core value of their personhood is compromisable for the sake of belonging.
Children and babies are not responsible to make adults feel loved and happy. It is not their responsibility to be brag worthy. It is adults’ responsibility to make kids feel loved, protected and safe. It is adults’ responsibility to listen and adhere to the rules of personhood. Adults need to learn to respect children as whole human beings and that their NO and STOP has the same value and power as that of an adult.