How to Parent Toddlers and Youngsters
Isn’t it amazing how toddlers can be so strong-willed? The “terrible twos” are not so named without good reason. And parents are almost universally challenged when it comes to how to parent a toddler who already seems naturally bent on resisting orders, commands, and even less harsh forms of guidance. But that’s the way it is, and once the child learns to say “No” the battle of wills is underway.
Many youngsters, meaning children up to the age of ten, eleven, or twelve, don’t seem to lose that innate spirit of autonomy and desire for independence in the least, either. Wherever that spirit comes from, and however strong it develops in any given youngster, may be a matter of conjecture. But it’s the single most serious cause of family problems that I know of.
That good old “battle of wills” that started around the time the child reached eighteen months or less is the cause of more heartache, tension, and anger in both parents and children than any other normal developmental process.
Once the child learns to say “No,” or even to express that unwelcome sentiment non-verbally by whining, crying, throwing food or toys, etc., the parent is faced with the indomitable human characteristic of free will and the natural yearning for autonomy, freedom and independence that authority figures thoughout history have rarely learned to deal with appropriately. How do you get someone (whether one year old or ninety-five) to do what you are convinced is “the best thing,” when they have other designs?
I maintain that parents almost universally overreact to the toddler’s and the youngster’s drive for self-determination, and therein lies the single biggest mistake parents make, because parents almost always scold the child and firmly, or even angrily, demand more acceptable behavior. They thereby make things worse, because they child now has two problems to deal with: the unacceptable behavior AND the parent’s anger. Parents do not need to scold, criticize, or punish that toddler’s or youngster’s misbehavior. Why? Because, guess what! Toddlers (starting around age two) and youngsters really can negotiate agreements with you about right behavior and how they are going to behave in the future if parents take the time to sit and dialogue with them about it. Parents CAN negotiate acceptable behaviors with them and demand that they stick to their agreements just as they expect their parents to.
Of course, toddlers and youngsters will break their agreements many times over, but with the Accountability Dialogue parents can hold them accountable for breaking their agreements. Even two-year-olds understand the inherent fairness of the Golden Rule (at least in primitive terms and to a reasonable extent), and that’s what accountability and the New School Approach to parenting is based on.
My whole approach (what I call a “New School” approach to how to be a parent) is aimed at helping parents learn to give up the desire to try to accomplish the impossible–trying to “make” their children do things. It simply can’t be done. The best you as a parent can get is the chlid’s free-will consent to go along with you. And it’s up to you to learn how to do that, because children’s stubborn free will isn’t going away any time soon.
That’s what all my writing and teaching and coaching is about, really: helping parents learn to stop trying to accomplish the impossible (the control of children’s behavior), and to stop inviting what they don’t want (resistance and disrespect). It’s never too late–and never too early–for a parent to start to learn to give up the desire to control.
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.