For 20 years, I have had the privilege of caring for Wichita families and watching many children I delivered become well-adjusted, responsible adults. One thing that has not changed in those 20 years is that parents still feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of turning completely dependent babies into independent adults who leave home and become productive members of society.
While much of the well-child check is spent examining the physical health of a child and ensuring he is current on immunizations, an equally important part of the visit is spent on anticipatory guidance for the parents — giving them the tools and advice to survive (even thrive) during the next stage of their child’s development.
In the early months, these conversations focus on treating fevers, getting the baby to sleep through the night and transitioning to solid foods. At about 18 to 24 months there is a major transition when the child learns to say that word most dreaded by parents — “NO!” None of us is ever quite prepared to parent a toddler. I have found there are several distinct developmental phases in these preschool years, each with a different strategy, and parents can successfully manage them.
• The “How far?” phase. This happens as soon as a child becomes mobile and has the ability to speak. Typically described as the terrible twos, the child is constantly asking “How far can I go? Is it still a no-no?” During this phase, the child is challenging our boundaries, not our authority. Be clear and consistent with your responses. Rules must be black and white and must be consistently and unemotionally enforced regardless of which parent is supervising.
• The “Who says?” phase. Around age 3 (sooner for many second- or third-born children), children offer a new challenge. They know where the boundaries are, they just want to see if you are big and bad enough to make them comply. They want to challenge your authority as a parent to find out who is really in charge. It can be frustrating and may feel like everything is a battle (and it usually is), but keep these few tips in mind: 1) This too shall pass; 2) Your child will ultimately find comfort and security in knowing that you are capable and worthy of being the boss; 3) Now is your opportunity to parent your future teenager (if you think it is hard to exert your authority now, just wait until your child is 13 or 14), and 4) Resources are available. Consider books authored by Kevin Leman, John Rosemond and James Dobson. Once your child realizes you are the parent and he or she is not, relative peace will return to your family.
• The “Why?” stage. I enjoyed this stage the most. It allows the teacher and creative genius within you to emerge. This usually begins around age 4 or 5 when children can comprehend more complex concepts such as respect, honesty, integrity and kindness.
Now that they know clear boundaries you have the opportunity to transfer lifetime values by using experiences and infractions to instruct your child. For example, suppose your child brings you a bouquet of flowers. A sweet gesture, but you know that those flowers must have come from the neighbor’s garden. This is a great opportunity to thank your child for his or her kindness as you explain that we don’t take things that aren’t ours. There will be opportunities every day to teach and reinforce principles that can transform your young child into a productive member of society.
Parenting is not for the weak and timid, but with a little coaching and a lot of practice, it can be the most satisfying job of your life.