Toddler 10 Commandments

September 8th, 2009 by Dionna | 5 Comments
Posted in Carnival and Special Series, Gentle Discipline Ideas, Successes, and Suggestions, Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

My husband, Tom, once remarked that he wished there was some quick and dirty parenting guide. He doesn’t have time to read all of the parenting books after I’m done with them, and he doesn’t particularly like to hear me quote entire passages. Go figure.

His wish is (sometimes) my command, so I set out to make him a list. I went back through several books I’d recently read: Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting, Lieberman’s Emotional Life of the Toddler, Cohen’s Playful Parenting, and half of Aldort’s Raising Children Raising Ourselves (I’m still finishing that one), and asked for the collective wisdom of my seasoned mama friends. I pared down a 10 page Word doc into a page and a half that I entitled “The Toddler Ten Commandments.”

There are a few minor corrections I should make to that title: 1) I could name it something with more originality, but the “10 Commandments” has such a ring, doesn’t it? I can’t put my finger on it . . .; 2) Ever hear that lawyers can’t do math? It’s a little true. There are actually 14 “commandments” on my list, but again, 10 is nice and round; 3) The word “toddler” could be removed from the title – most of these will apply to kiddos of all ages, but that’s where we are in life at the moment; and 4) of course these “commandments” aren’t really that – they are suggestions, and not everyone will like all of them. I compiled them based on our experiences and struggles as parents so far. 

So without further ado, I give you the Toddler 10 Commandments. I included a few links if you’re interested in reading a little more on the ideas.

1. Keep your eye on long-term goals. Toddler “behaviors” will fade; what will remain is how your child feels about himself and his relationship with you, which is based on how you react to those “behaviors.”

2. Take the child’s perspective. Sure it’s hard to be a parent, but it can be a lot harder to be a kid. We don’t mean to make children feel foolish or unsupported, but that’s just what happens when we trivialize their fears or tears by saying “shhh, you’re ok,” or “don’t be so upset,” etc.

3. Let your child make his own decisions. Our default position ought to be to let kids make decisions about matters that concern them except when there is a compelling reason for us to override that right. We should be prepared to justify why, in each case, kids shouldn’t be allowed to choose. The way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.

4. Reconsider your requests. Perhaps when your child doesn’t do what you’re demanding the problem isn’t with the child but with what it is you’re demanding.

5. Remember SALVE:
(S) separate yourself and your emotions from your child’s behavior to be sure you’re TRULY about to respond to your child, and not as a result of some crap in your life/childhood. (If it helps, run through any angry words in your mind, then get rid of them before speaking gently to your child.)
(A) give your kid full, honest attention;
(L) fully listen, be present for your child;
(V) validate your child’s feelings without adding your own (“I see you want ___,” “you were disappointed because ____”);
(E) empower your child to solve the upset himself. Believe in him; don’t rush to “fix” him.

6. Don’t say “no” unnecessarily. “Yes” should be our default response, such that you need a good reason not to go along with what’s being proposed, or to step in and forbid something.

7. Change the way you see behavior. Try to see behavior as “unmet needs” rather than infractions that call for “consequences.” Don’t take behavior personally! A toddler isn’t trying to hurt or inconvenience you or “misbehave.”

8. Respect your child. We can’t always assume that because we’re more mature, we necessarily have more insight into our children than they have into themselves.

9. Keep her age in mind.

10. Stop saying “good job.” Break the habit of saying “good job/sharing!” or “you’re such a great helper!” or “I like the way you . . .” Instead, try “describing, rather than evaluating (“there’s something new on the people you drew, there are toes”); explaining the effects of the child’s action on other people (“you set the table, that makes things a lot easier on me while I’m cooking”); asking, rather than judging (why did you decide to give some of your brownie to Michael when you didn’t have to?”).

11. Give her undivided attention. Don’t just occupy the same space, interact. It’s easy to feel distracted by emails or bills, and it’s fine to multi-task sometimes, but make sure your child gets a good portion of your total attention so they know how very important they are to you. Give them affection without limit, without reservations, and without excuse. Pay as much attention to them as you can, regardless of mood or circumstance. Let them know you’re delighted to be with them, that you care about them no matter what happens. This basic posture is completely different from praise, which is doled out as a response to something a child does.

12. Talk less, ask more, and wait. Step back and let your child figure things out. Wait for him to ask you for help. He may not. He may figure it out alone or he may do something else entirely, and that’s o.k.

13. Talk about appropriate behaviors. Try “please use gentle touches” instead of “stop hitting.”

14. Enjoy the journey – they grow up too fast. Don’t be in such a hurry!

Thanks for reading, let me know what you think!

5 Responses to:
"Toddler 10 Commandments"

  1. Ruth Ann

    I think that I had been lucky enough to have someone around like YOU when I was raising you and your sisters!!! As I have told you before, I am so proud of the way you and Tom are raising your little fella!!! I love you!!!

  2. Tammy

    It's funny that so many of these pieces of advice are literally the opposite of how most people raise their kids. The reason I think it's funny (or tragic) is that, upon reading these 'commandments,' I feel like the advice is to treat kids like people. "Respect them," "Believe in them," "Give them undivided attention." Almost all of these tidbits are applicable in our adult relationships as well. They seem like ground rules for how to be respectful to your child, which is fantastic. I hope I can be successful in treating my child like an intelligent human being :)

  3. Dionna

    Mom – thank you :) We were definitely blessed by having you at home with us. I know it's not for everyone, but I'm glad I can walk in your footsteps in that aspect.

    Tammy – that is SO true. How are we expect kids to treat others with respect, or to grow up and be good people, if we're not treating them "like we want to be treated" from the start?!
    It's kind of the same thing that we talk about with family – I always strive to talk to Kieran (and family) like I'd talk to a friend – with respect. Sometimes I fall short, but I do try.

  4. Anna

    THANK YOU! I’m printing this out for my wall to help keep my focus.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Thank you for stopping by, Anna – let me know if you ever have anything to add to the list!

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