Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Toddler and a New (special needs) Baby?

The Question:
Dear Jane,

Oh boy, I've got a bazillion questions.  I've been thinking about your blog a lot and in particular your ideas on loving discipline.  It resonates with me, especially because I recognize the fact that my own upbringing was one where there was a lack of love felt, plenty of shame/yelling, etc.  {Not to be a cry baby and not that it was all bad, but it is what it is.}  With my own daughter I've tried very hard to form a strong, loving bond.  I try to be especially cuddly and physically affectionate.  So when you talk about the importance of these things, I get it.  Here's what I don't get....

I believe in being firm with discipline, rules and boundaries.  {Another thing I know I lacked in my childhood and thus actually contributed to me feeling less loved.}  So in my mind, I try to balance being the firm disciplinarian with being a loving, fun mom at all other times.  But again, I like what you've talked about...I like the idea of treating kids as we would want to be treated and trying to encourage behavior through love rather than force. BUT....BUUUUUUUT I'm really struggling to see how I could get my daughter--a toddler, who is 3--to do certain things any other way, than without using something that basically adds up to a threat.  If we ask her to do something, she often complies because she's genuinely and generally a good girl.  But she's still 3 and of course doesn't do everything asked of her.  Naturally.  Additionally, lately she's been going through a rather defiant phase and without saying things like {even very kindly}, "Sweetheart, if you don't do _______ you're not going to get any treats."  Or "Sorry sweetie it's time for bed, and you know if you scream and throw a fit that we take your book away."  I guess I can see how your approach over time really helps, particularly with teenagers, but I'm having a really hard time seeing how I could use this same approach on a toddler who would and could just say no every time I ask her to do something.  I know you talk about having high standards with your children and that they definitely have boundaries, but I just need help seeing this with toddlers.  Oh, and we've even done a bean jar lately to promote obedience and to use a positive approach, but I'm also afraid that now she's just being obedient just to "get a bean"  and of course it still doesn't work all the time.  I know that my aim isn't just to 'get her to do what I want, when I want' but at the same time, I do think there are times that when I ask her to do something, it needs to be done.  Period.  And so far I can't figure out how to do that without a natural consequences approach.  And I guess I've been sorta hard on myself lately because as I've really been thinking about this I've tried to utilize the method unsuccessfully a few times, only to get frustrated and even once to the point of yelling and walking out.  So I could use some help....I don't want this idea to be some elusive ideal that I can't reach and in the meantime only get frustrated with my lack of know how and end up doing something worse {yelling} than my original approach...does that make sense?  Also, as mentioned in the title, I'm feeling particularly rushed as I'm pregnant with our second daughter who is going to be born with special needs.  I know this is going to change everything in a lot of ways, and that I might feel additional stress of not just a newborn but a newborn that comes with a whole new set of issues.  {I'm seriously writing this in the hospital right now, preparing to have a c-section tomorrow 5 weeks early because she needs to get out don't have to put this part on the blog if you post my question, but I'm so desperate for some guidance that this is what's on my last minute to-do list.  I know...crazy much?} 

Anyway, thanks for your help.  You're a cool cat Jane and thank goodness for mothers like you.


The Answer: 
Dear Amy,
I am constantly amazed at the obstacles that mothers have before them and the strength and determination they meet them with.  By now, you have a new baby with special needs.  She's very blessed to have you.
As for your three year old, I really do understand your frustration.  You feel like she'll walk all over you if you use a loving approach and she often does.  Probably 80% of the questions I receive have to do with this age group.  The reason it's hard for me to answer this question is because I can hardly remember what it was like to have only one or two children.  I know I hovered over them and was aware of all of their behaviors.  But for the last five or six children, I just became very easy going.  I made few demands and just enjoyed them at this age.  I didn't really discipline much.  I fed them when they were hungry and gave them naps when they were tired and we all played with them and enjoyed their little antics.  I potty trained them when they were ready, read to them a lot, and taught them new things.  I just had very few power struggles.  I did teach them that no means no and that there were limits. I didn't give in when they cried or whined.  I would follow through.  "I really want candy.  I'm sorry but we'll have some later."   Big hug. Walk away.  And I was firm about things.  "You may never hit.  Hitting hurts people"  Focus on the victim.   As I've mentioned, the whole focus at this age is on teaching correct behavior--practicing it and rewarding it and helping to bring about success.  Role play so she gets a good picture of what you want.  "Let's practice walking through a store."  "Let's practice coming right when you're called."  I think the bean jar and things like it are good because they reinforce good behavior.  Hugs and lots of eye contact are even better.  Not just stern, teaching eye contact but "I love you" eye contact and lots of smiles.  "I'm going to tell you ten reasons why I'm glad you're my little girl."    Three year olds are still very small and irrational--though smart.  They don't really think through things yet.  Just be patient, love and teach.  As they get a little older, they really will have a more true sense of right and wrong and be able to make more good choices.

The greatest advantage of my age and stage of life, is perspective.  I know that most of the things that I worried about with my earlier kids just corrected themselves with time and maturity.  I learned to relax and enjoy my children and as a result, they turned out to be sweet and loving.  That's really why I write this blog--to tell you the great secret--that you are free to love and enjoy your children without worrying about ruining them.  When they sense your constant disapproval, they'll be discouraged.  When they feel deeply approved of and accepted, they will thrive.  Think about the way your husband treats you and what kind of treatment brings out the best in you.  Especially when you are undeserving.   It's a universal principle.
Congratulations on your new little baby girl.  I'm thinking of you.


  1. I love this post, because it reminds those of us in the younger generation, trying our hardest to do everything "right," that we can relax, enjoy motherhood, and things turn out right. Childhood is magical, but that means so is parenthood of young children!

  2. I love this advice. Thanks! I also love this clip: . It is a video about motherhood, and it is a great confidence booster!

  3. Thanks so much for this, and thanks Jenny for sharing the link. I hadn't seen it before and it was wonderful.

  4. The key to this post was the last paragraph - I loved it and it summed everything up perfectly. I'm happy and excited about the idea of just loving my children through their lives and knowing they will turn out just fine. I'm throwing my parenting books out the window because "they" are confusing; loving my babies isn't.

  5. I've found that just ignoring bad/tantrum behavior has really worked well for me with my 2 and half year old. I just let him scream and cry all he wants until either he gets tired of it and then comes back to me very sweet or gets so exhausted that he forgets what he was angry about and is ready for loves, hugs and kisses. Sometimes it is embarrassing as a mother because it means letting him scream and roll around right in the middle of a public place... but usually other parents just smile at me and give me the "I've been there look." But it does take letting go of the pride factor of "looking like the perfect mother."

    I'm still struggling a lot with him, but at least now by ignoring his tantrums I don't get so angry and loose my temper. I think for me I just have to realize that this is a stage and eventually he will "snap" out of it... and even though it is hard I just need to love him through it and model good behaviors instead of overreacting and modeling bad one.

    Thanks Jane! You are wonderful

  6. Thank you so much Jane... I needed this reminder. I think I have been too hard on my own 3 year old lately... he is my oldest so I sometimes forget that he really IS still little...thank you, thank you.

  7. i love so much how you said that most things worked themselves out with time & maturity. it is SO SO true & that is the best secret we mama's have.

    i feel like i fretted so much with my first. i think so often i would see unwanted behavior in 2 ways: either this how they're going to be when they grow up & i need to fix it or the worst, i don't want people to think i'm a bad mom because my child is doing this or that.

    but it's true, children mature & with love & a good example they blossom on their own into the right way. sure they need some guidance, but mostly they need love & a good example.

    thanks so much for ALL your wonderful thoughts!

  8. Thanks for your perspective Jane. It's so refreshing to hear this simple counsel. I was raised with a very loving mother and grandmother, and the best decisions I've made in my life were the ones that I knew would please them the most. I look forward to loving my children in the same way!

  9. Jane, you are an angel. I just love, love, love your blog. I have an angel mother myself, but I really love seeing your thoughts written out. I love what you said about love. It's the reason the Savior is so powerful for all of us. He loves us through it all. Even when we act like three year olds! :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.