For some, January 1 is a new beginning: a time for us to refresh, set new goals, or make a short list of resolutions for the coming year. Instead of getting stuck in the diets-always-start-tomorrow mentality, this is a perfect time to choose a reasonable goal and begin right away. In my work, I focus on creating strong parent-child relationships. Why not create some resolutions around improving your connection with your young child? Here are three ways to get started:
1) Listen more, talk less.
Parents often complain that their children aren’t listening to them. In truth, most of the time it’s more of a non-compliance than a non-hearing issue.
What’s the problem? Here are some common child-friendly reasons: “I’m not ready to stop playing,” “I’m nervous about that new food on my plate,” “I’m scared of being in my bed at night.”
My suggestion is to “listen” to your children’s behaviors—not just their words—and let them know you hear them by validating their feelings: “You’re not ready to stop playing,” “That’s not a familiar food, is it?” or “You feel afraid in your bed at night.”
Once your children believe you understand them, they are more likely to listen to your strategies for overcoming a roadblock to compliance (i.e., invent a new transition game, move the new food to a separate plate, provide some additional comfort items in bed).
2) Match your expectations to your child’s developmental readiness.
Young children cannot control their impulses. That’s just a fact about their brain development. Expecting them to stop playing with the remote control, stay off the dining room table, and resist the temptation to grab the cookie off the plate is unreasonable. That’s why we child-proof our homes.
If you’re fighting the same battles all of the time, change the environment. Put the remote control on a higher shelf, create a climbing area in your living room or backyard, and keep the cookies out of sight until it’s time for a treat.
“Clean up your room” is not an age-appropriate request. Cleaning up a messy space involves executive functioning skills not yet developed in a young brain. It involves categorizing, sorting, classifying, and breaking down a large task into smaller tasks. Instead, ask for a specific clean-up task: put the cars into this bin, the book on the shelf, the dolls go on the bed.
3) Find something to enjoy about every developmental stage.
Sometimes parents get overly excited about the “next” stage of development. Our children barely sit up before we wonder when they might crawl. Standing up means planning for mobility. Learning to recognize one letter means they’re ready to learn the whole alphabet.
Take time to enjoy each growth milestone. Even negative behaviors can be respected and appreciated. The first “No!” is a hearty embrace of the process of individuation. When a child hits or stomps in frustration, it’s a sign of learning to accept and cope with strong emotions. A crying, clingy child is learning to separate. Find five times per day to verbally—or, non-verbally, through a smile or a high-five—appreciate your child’s developmental triumphs and struggles.
We at Parents Place wish you and your family a very happy New Year, filled with play, laughter, and joy. If you need support, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. It takes a village to raise a child, and we are honored to be a part of your village.
Heidi Emberling, MA, is an early childhood educator and child development specialist at Palo Alto Parents Place.