The other day I was talking to one of my daughters, and I misunderstood something she was asking me to do—midway through our conversation, I realized I had handled the whole thing wrong. She had needed my help on a school project, and I’d been absent and unhelpful. When I realized what she was asking and how unhelpful I had been, I felt awful. So midway through the conversation I stopped her and said, “Hey, I just realized I have been completely misunderstanding what you were asking me to do and why. I’m so sorry—I didn’t say what I should have said. Can you forgive me and can I please have a do-over? I really want to help you on your project, and I’d like to respond a totally different way.” You know what’s amazing about kids? She grinned and forgave me and we started the whole conversation over again. The next time, I got it right.
We are big fans of do-overs in our house. Mom is impatient? Let’s have a do-over. A kid is whining? Let’s have a do-over. Siblings get too mad too fast? Let’s have a do-over. Husband and wife get snippy with each other? Let’s have a do-over.
If we can learn to offer each other swift grace with no time spent in the dog house, what a happy place our family becomes. Instead of hurt feelings, we enjoy gracious forgiveness; instead of stuffed feelings, we allow quick repentance. We learn to believe the best in each other. We fill our families with the forgiveness, trust, and kindness our heavenly Father so generously exemplifies for us.
They’re delightful one minute, demonic the next. One moment their mantra is “By Myself”; the next they are the helpless baby again. One of the most important things we have to do for our two-, three-, and four-year-olds is help them develop emotional self-control. They have to learn to handle disappointment, frustration, and delayed gratification—all of the feelings—without flipping out (ahem, screaming, kicking, hitting, falling on the floor in a writhing heap).
Emotional self-control is not something kids achieve after a one-time punishment or conversation, and kids don’t just automatically “grow into it” without guidance—it’s one of those things they only develop with consistent, patient help from us. Which means that we, the parent, must also learn a whole new level of patience and emotional self-control, ha!
How to Handle Temper Tantrums
So if you’ve got a three-year-old in the throes of throwing him- or herself on the floor screaming every time they don’t get their way…keep working on it. Be firm and consistent every time they shout, or flop on the floor, or hit, or stomp their foot—if they realize that tantrums NEVER achieve what they want, over time they’ll give up the tactic. But don’t just discourage tantrums; encourage patience and self-control (encourage them with praise, reward, etc.). Try equipping your child with simple strategies to help them get control of wild feelings (count to ten and breathe; go sit in the other room for a minute and calm down; squeeze your hands together).
But we can’t just deal with them in the crisis moment—if we want to see real growth, we have to take it deeper. In calm moments, talk to them about patience, sharing, being calm, about explaining their feelings in words rather than acting them out, about good and bad ways to deal with big feelings. Teach them, in simple terms, about the deeper, heart-level concepts of patience, not always getting your way, being unselfish and loving, and not being mean to others. Use simple scriptures to reinforce these principles. Preschoolers are smart, and they really do understand when we talk to them about these things—we just have to catch them in the right moment. They often “get it” in their heads, but then we have to help their feelings and self-control mature and catch up. (And watch “Daniel Tiger” together—seriously, that show and its little songs help!)
If we hang in there, our preschool days will be more delightful than demonic, and one day, this crazy emotional roller coaster ride will flatten out…at least until the preteen years…but that’s another post another day.
I recently spoke about helping kids with whining on Facebook Live—you can watch the recording here!
Where is God when life gets hard…and…what to do when kids whine!
Because we all have it. Maybe you experienced loss or hurt or abuse as a child; maybe you carry regrets from poor decisions you have made in the past. Sometimes our baggage can make us doubt ourselves as parents. We become tentative, insecure, inconsistent. We worry so much about hurting our kids—either by repeating mistakes other people have made with us or repeating our own mistakes—that we freeze up. Instead of leading our kids confidently, with a godly balance of firmness and grace, we hang back. We may become so afraid of coming on too strong that we back off altogether. And so our fear of hurting our kids becomes the very thing that hurts our kids! They are left feeling insecure, wondering why the boundary lines keep moving—or if they exist at all.
I don’t know what baggage you carry, but I hope you find encouragement from these Bible-based truths:
–Our children won’t get any other parents. We’re all they’ve got. Our kids need us—want us—to fill our God-given role.
–“Love each another deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). If we are generous with affection and encouragement, our kids will still feel loved and secure even when we make mistakes. Children are wonderfully forgiving people.
–God is the only perfect parent; the rest of us make mistakes.
–It’s better to parent imperfectly than not at all.
–Our weaknesses and regrets can become wonderful parenting tools, teaching our kids about forgiveness, grace, and salvation.
–Never underestimate the parenting power of two simple words: “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t let me fall, Mommy,” my two-year-old says, trying to muster the courage to let go and come down the slide. Her eyes are wide, her fists tense on the rails.
“I won’t,” I promise, holding my arms out with an encouraging smile. “I’ll never let you fall.”
Down she slides, nervous and squealing, my hands holding her steady and safe, all the way down. At the bottom she leaps up, cheeks pink with pride. “Again!”
Again and again she slides; again and again, I don’t let her fall.
I think about it on the ride home, my promise: I’ll never let you fall.
Because even though I meant it, it’s not entirely true. It’s not a promise I can keep, not a promise I should make. As much as I fight it, the day is coming when I’m going to have to break that promise. Let her try, all by herself. Let her take a risk. Let her take a fall.
I think about it at bath time, as I scrub the sandbox sand out from between her ticklish toes.
One day she’ll want to learn to ride her bike without training wheels, and at some point I will have to let go. For a few glorious wind-in-her-hair seconds, she’ll ride—she’ll fly—and then she’ll fall.
One day she’ll procrastinate so long she doesn’t get her homework done, and I’ll have to let her face the consequences of getting a bad grade.
One day she’ll try out for something, give it her best, put herself out there. They’ll post the list of names, and her name won’t make the list.
One day she’ll give a piece of her heart to a boy, and come home with puffy eyes and a broken heart.
I think about it that night, when I tiptoe in to watch her dream. I want to keep her here, safe in her bed, safe near my arms, safe from the world. I want to swaddle her body and heart in bubble-wrap, so she’ll never get hurt. But I know I can’t. I remember my husband the quarterback once telling me, “Great athletes know how to take a fall.”
Resting my hand on my daughter’s back, feeling the rhythmic rise and fall of her breathing, I rethink my promise. My role. The gifts I want to give her in our precious few years together.
The gift of knowing that everybody falls.
The gift of knowing it’s okay, maybe even good, to fall.
The gift of knowing she needs to fall, because falling is part of risking and growing, of living and loving.
The gift of knowing how to take a fall; how to fall in such a way that she’s hurt but not broken.
The gift of knowing how to get back up after a fall. How to wipe away the dirt and blood and tears. How to stand once more on shaky legs, take a deep breath, and give it another go.
The gift of not wasting her falls. Of letting them make her stronger and better, braver and wiser.
Maybe the best promise I can make my daughter is that if she falls—when she falls—for as long as I live and as long as she lets me, I’ll still be there at the bottom, waiting. Still loving her. Still liking her. Still believing in her. When she’s young, I’ll be there with bandages, with tissues and shoulders she can wet with her tears. When she’s older, I’ll be there with stories of my own falls, so she knows she’s not the only one. At every stage, I’ll be the one cheering loudest when she picks herself up and tries again.
I lean down and whisper a new promise in her dreaming ear, “When you fall, you won’t be alone.”
She sighs and blinks up at me, bleary-eyed. I sing lullabies until she falls asleep.
Hi! I'm Elizabeth, and Lizzy Life is all about clinging to Christ in the chaos of daily life. As a minister, speaker, and novelist (The Thirteenth Summer), I love finding humor in holiness, and hope in heartache. I live in North Carolina with my preacher husband and four miracle children. I believe the recipe for a happy life is simple: laugh-cry daily, pray continually, caffeinate constantly. My new book, When God Says "Wait," is now available from Barbour Publishing. READ MORE.
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