My parenting style and worldview – and the life we’ve created for Javi – place high value on independence, choice and accessibility. Call me lazy, but giving him time to learn and work on his own, incorporating him into our routines like feeding the dogs and washing dishes, and teaching him how to wash his own hands and put his own clothes away works for me.
Javi is in a Montessori toddler program that pushes even my expectations of what he can do at this age, which I love. They eat soup for lunch, family-style. Even I, a person who doesn’t mind messes for the sake of fun, barely do that with my own kid, much less fourteen of them. They cut their own apples with a butter knife. They have full access to the bathroom and sink at all times and use it to fill up water bottles for washing the windows without a teacher following them in. (Door stays open all the time.) They pull down and up their own undies, sit on the potty, pee, empty the potty into the toilet, and wash their hands. All of these things I discover only when my kid does this at home and I stand there, floored. Then I up my game at home.
That said, having access to most things at his level and based on his choices can make not having that tougher. This feels a bit like the first time you let your dog off-leash and thought, OHMYGOD I have no control! Even us, with this philosophy, were doing things FOR him rather than giving him the chance to do them himself. We caught onto this when he started screaming like a banshee and losing his shit over seemingly random and minor things.
Toddler Rules/ Lessons Learned in our home with our kid and us as parents:
If it’s in his hand, it’s his. He has just discovered the concept of “mine” and we were mindlessly negating his pride at learning that with responses like, “No, that phone is mama’s” or “Give it to me so I can put it away.” He’s right, though. While it’s in his hands, it is indeed his. We now acknowledge this and ask for our turn and HOLY HELL HALLELUJAH he hands it over. [Canine side note: a similar dog rule is that if an item is between a dog’s paws, it is his. Older dogs will teach and reinforce this to puppies.]
The “mine” rule applies EVEN IF HE’S ASKED FOR MORE. Oy, the cup meltdowns. He’d ask for more milk/ water, we’d agree, we’d take the cup to refill it, he’d have a fit. Turns out one shouldn’t be rude and take anything out of anyone’s hands, MOM. Now I hold my hand out and wait for him to put it there. If he doesn’t, no refill and we continue on our way. I don’t like things snatched out my hands either. (Note: if it’s dangerous and he doesn’t hand something over, I count 3-2-1 and take it away. Period. Sometimes he hands it over at 1 and we cheer; other times I take it away and he melts down on his bed until he can get it together again… often with my help.)
Give choices when we can. I posted to some friends that the Happiest Toddler on the Block felt a lot like more negotiating with a little toddler terrorist and I couldn’t fit that into my head. MORE negotiating? With some thought, though, I’ve come around. Life is rough when you realize, at 18-ish months, you can do things and choose things but every step of your life is a limit. However, it is our job to help him learn how to respect and react to the emotions that come with these boundaries, too. When we can, he gets a choice, but A or B, not yes or no. (This takes practice.) I think this should also help him move past “YeaaaSSSS” and <shaking head> to naming things.
When there is a choice, respect the choice! “Do you want a song?” He says yes, I put him in bed, he loses his shit – yup, my bad. Luckily for me, when I do this mindlessly, he reminds me.
When there is no option, don’t ask! We’ve fallen into this trap too. First time I ask, “Are you ready for bed?” If he shakes his head, cool, we sing. But then if I ask again, “Are you ready for bed?”… I have to respect that and sing again, but now we have a pattern. Uh, oh. My internal rule is one ask followed by one tell. I keep messing this one up by asking him if he needs to go to the potty when, at this stage in our potty learning, I need to be telling him it’s time to sit on the potty.
In the end, I’m an Independent Kid all grown up, so I need transition warnings, to have my choices respected if I am asked for them, and to be told directly if I don’t have a choice. I raise my kid the same way but have to practice and pay attention to make sure I’m consistent. Joey needs lots of explanations and reminders to follow a somewhat similar approach. The differences between my parenting and his aren’t as big a deal to me lately, though. I figure Javi will have to form a relationship with his dad that does not involve me (and vice versa) so I try to stay out of it or consider myself a facilitator in between them rather than a role model I want Joey to follow when needed. I try not to be needed.
Is this helpful/ interesting/ useful? If not, I will cease to write as though I know things. It’s about to bite me anyway just for feeling a little bit like I have a few things learned.