(Above: my son with three of his cousins at a silly hat birthday party.)
Being a good parent is a challenge. Parents struggle with being present to their children’s needs, making a living, and maintaining a household and a personal life. What’s more, many of today’s first time parents have never been around babies and small children for any significant amount of time before having one of their own. It can be helpful to reach out to other parents and get some pointers on what to “do” with small children all day. Every home is unique but here are some suggestions that I have found useful:
Praise the child daily for little things he or she does well. Be specific. “I love when you help me pick up the toys” is better than “You’re so great.”
Forgive yourself for not being a perfect parent. Being imperfect is not the same as being a failure. Your child needs to learn this from you or else they will also beat themselves up for their imperfections.
Try not to measure your child’s achievements by achievements of other children his or her age. Each child is unique. Teach the child to compete with him or herself.
Children thrive with clear expectations and established routines. In particular, regular mealtimes and early bedtimes. Sleep is pretty much the best thing ever.
Keep directions clear and simple. Give one at a time. Many small children can only remember the last thing said to them.
Ask other parents about their experiences. It’s no good to go it alone. Laughter is essential.
Plan simple and short outings. Young children get over-stimulated easily. Preventing tantrums is easier than repairing the damage.
Parents need time away from their children. Occasional absences help the child develop independence.
Go out with your spouse. A happy marriage and home life is a gift to your child or children.
Give clear instructions. Instead of “Stop it” be specific. For example, “We do not hit.” Or, “I will help you if you ask nicely.”
Sing songs and say nursery rhymes, and let children complete them. These practices foster mastery of language, bring joy to the home, and help redirect a child’s attention.
Minimize the number of choices a young child must make. Decide for them, or give them only two options. Choices are stressful.
Give children household chores and responsibilities. Helping in the kitchen (beating, stirring, pouring). Learning to set the table (counting, placing). Sorting nails, screws, nuts and bolts. Give a child a rag and let him or her clean with you. Kids need a sense of purpose too.
Children can “work” alongside parents. Miniature tools make great toys: shovel in the garden, a rake for leaves, a little broom, a bowl and spoon for cooking, a wooden hammer and saw and some place to bang, a watering can or spray bottle for plants, an apron for cooking. Real tools can be fun too. My son loves to hammer nails.
Encourage care taking: taking care of animals, watering plants, helping younger children.
A few playmates is usually better than a big group.
Watch for signs of anger when a child comes home from school. She may have had a tough day.
Avoid too much sugar. Encourage the child to eat or at least try what the rest of the family is eating, a healthy well balanced diet.
If a child can do a task by himself and time permits let him try to do it. Maria Montessori was big on this.
Water. Putting a fussy child in a bath or pool (supervised of course) often calms them down and has the added benefit of tiring them out.
Limit TV time. If your child is watching a show: avoid violence, shows in which children disrespect other children and adults, and commercials. If possible, watch the show with your child and talk about it.
Make and pray with candles.
Read books, give hugs and kisses, and remember that we all have ups and downs, good days and bad days. This may not reflect on how you are doing as a parent. It’s just life.