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.
My kids blew past me toward the door, an early-morning tornado of jackets, back packs, and lunch boxes.
“Come on,” called Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome, jiggling his keys. “We’re going to be late!”
“Wait! I want kisses!” I said. “That means you! And you! And you!” My three older kids clattered back into the kitchen, planted kisses on my cheeks, and then rushed to follow my husband out to the van.
When the door slammed shut behind them, my two-year-old looked at me in horror. “Mama kiss Dada!” she said.
I blinked at her for a moment, not understanding. I heard the sound of the van pulling out of the driveway.
“Mama kiss Dada!” she insisted, her voice becoming frantic. She tried to pull me toward the door.
Then I realized: She was right. I hadn’t kissed my husband. I chuckled, trying to justify myself. “You’re right, but Daddy is coming right back, so that’s why I didn’t kiss him.” Even to my own ears, the words fell limp, a lame excuse. Little Miss stared me down, authoritative even in her bare feet and plaid nightie. I was not off the hook. “Mama kiss Dada.”
I felt a blush creeping across my cheeks. “You’re right,” I said. “I should have kissed Daddy. I’m sorry.”
Little Miss seemed to accept this. We went back to our oatmeal. Ten minutes later, the door banged open again. My husband was home.
Before he’d even rounded the corner, Little Miss rounded on me. “Mama kiss Dada! Mama kiss Dada!”
Laughing, I stood up. “Okay, okay, you’re right! I’ll kiss him!” I walked over to my husband and planted one, two, three firm kisses on his lips. He kissed me back with a baffled half-smile.
I turned back to my daughter, who stood watching us. Weighing me. “There. Are you happy now? Mama loves Dada, see?” When she still seemed unconvinced, I wrapped my arms around him and snuggled into his chest.
She smiled her approval and toddled off to find her toys.
That day, she reminded me of several truths I had forgotten, lessons I’ll carry with me always.
The secret most kids won’t tell you
Our children have a secret, and it’s this: Kids love it when their parents are in love. Older kids and teens may pretend to be embarrassed by our kisses, but secretly, they love it. It makes them feel safe. Happy. Like they are a part of something special.
When my brother was young, he invited a neighborhood friend over. My parents walked into the room and gave each other a little kiss, and the neighbor boy said, “Ew! Your parents kissed! My parents never kiss!” My brother grinned and bragged, “Well, my parents kiss all the time!” My parents’ affection was a source of confidence and security for him—and for all the kids in our family. I want to give my own children that same gift, that same confidence, through my marriage.
Keeping the home fires burning
But let’s be honest: It’s all too easy, once kids come along, to neglect our spouse. To forget about even the simple things that keep us connected and close. We don’t do it on purpose, of course, but once a baby enters our world, our first and best cuddles and snuggles and kisses start going to the baby. When we walk into a room, our eyes slide right past our husband, hungry for another drooly “Mommy-Is-My-Whole-World” smile from our chubby-cheeked cherub.
And at first, our husband doesn’t mind. For a season, he’ll gladly serve as our Baby Gear Sherpa, the carrier of car seats and diaper bags and Pack-n-Plays. For a time, he’s happy to take a back seat while we figure out the whole new-baby thing . . . but before long—sooner than we think—he needs the front seat again. He needs and deserves our deliberate attention, our devoted affection—not just the leftovers. Not always the afterthoughts. Song of Songs 8:6 describes a passionate romance so beautifully: “Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame.” Every fire needs fuel to keep burning. If it runs out of fuel, even the strongest of blazes will die down to ember and ash. We have to keep stoking the fire of our marriage—nurturing it, coaxing it back to life when it ebbs, feeding it fresh fuel.
I get it: This is easy to write about, and not easy to do.Believe me, I know! As a survivor of four New Baby Adjustment Periods, I totally get it! I can’t tell you how many times my husband has turned to me after a few months of me disappearing into New Baby Land, and gently said, “Come baaaaack to meeeee!” Which of course made the post-baby hyper-hormonal version of me cry and feel terrible (which in turn made Kevin feel terrible and wish he’d never said anything), but also reminded me that I was a wife before I ever became a mother. So please don’t read this and feel guilty . . . It’s hard for EVERYONE. It’s complicated. We all have to figure it out in our own messy way, and give each other jumbo-sized packages of diapers grace. But here are a few strategies Kevin and I have tried over the years—I hope they give you some helpful ideas.
Five simple ways to stoke the marital flame, even with little ones in the house
These five simple tricks can help you connect with your spouse, even on chaotic days with babies and young children underfoot:
Remember simple acts of daily physical affection. Don’t underestimate the power of hugs and kisses to keep you feeling connected and close.
Use timers to set aside “Mommy and Daddy Time.” Tell the kids you need a few minutes to talk uninterrupted, and set a timer. The kids can’t come back into the room with you until the timer goes off.
Schedule sex. I know, this does not sound romantic in the least, but IT HELPS, especially when kids are young and life is crazy. We have found that if we wait for the stars to align—kids in bed early, house clean enough for me to relax, me not wearing exercise clothes covered in spit-up, both of us rested enough to be willing to stay up a little later, both of us “in the mood” at the same time—um, they will never align. But if we both agree ahead of time that on such-and-such a day, we will work together to put the kids in bed on time, get the dishes done and the house put back together so I can stop cleaning, shut down all the computer and phone dings, and meet up for an interlude in the bedroom—then as long as one of the kids doesn’t start vomiting, we actually stand a chance! We might go really wild and light candles and play mood music.
Build sacred Mommy-Daddy time into your schedule at a set time each day, so your children get used to it. (This idea comes from John Rosemond’s book New Parent Power.) Kids know, “This fifteen minutes always belongs to Mommy and Daddy, not to me.” You could try early-morning coffee together, before work and school. If mornings are too hectic at your house (like they are at mine), try setting aside a time slot right after you get home from work, or right after dinner. (When kids get older, we can even let them clean the dinner dishes while Mom and Dad catch up on the day! Let’s all take a moment to daydream about how fabulous that’s going to be . . . )
Buy yourself an extra half-hour on evenings when you need time to connect. How? Put kids to bed early with a book and a flashlight. They’ll think it’s a treat to read in bed—it’s kind of like they’re getting away with something—and you can start some early couch-cuddling before you turn into a pumpkin.
Strategies like this are especially helpful for the time of life when we have small kids in the house. But this isn’t just a new-baby issue. The older my children get, the more I realize that this is an ongoing struggle. Older kids mean a busy life and crazy schedule packed with homework, sports, friends, and activities. We will all have to re-learn how to put our marriage first in the preschool years, the elementary years, the preteen years, the teenage years, the empty-nester years. At every stage, it takes a conscious effort to give our marriage the attention it deserves—to give our husbands the attention they deserve.
My wise two-year-old saw what I didn’t see. My husband comes first, not last. No matter how late we are or how busy life is, everybody deserves a good-morning kiss . . . and every kiss counts.
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 loud 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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