The Five Rules of Disciplined Parenting
I’m sure you remember the overwhelming feeling of love you experienced when your child was first placed in your arms, that animalistic feeling of wanting to protect. I bet you also remember the tremendous sense of responsibility to get it right as well, the realization that this tiny being is totally dependent on you and you want to give him everything he needs and be the best parent possible. Throughout the first twelve months or so of your baby’s life, you were focused on meeting his needs for sleep, food, and stimulation, as well as all the other developmental milestones that come in that first year. Once you figured out what his various cries meant and a schedule to meet those needs, life with your little one made you a bit more confident, didn’t it? You felt proud you got through the first year and adjusted well, with thousands of photos to prove it.
Then she starts walking and one day, as you’re trying to get her to do something—perhaps get her clothes on, or get her in her car seat—it happens. She digs in her heels and throws a wobbly: kicking like a Premier League soccer player, screaming at the top of her lungs, throwing herself down on the ground. Hello . . . and welcome to the toddler tantrum.
But it isn’t just tantrums you have to deal with now. Suddenly you have a Mini-Me who tells you what she does and doesn’t want. She’s a bundle of contradictions. She wants independence—and she wants you to do everything for her. One minute it’s “Feed me!”—the next she’s refusing to eat. She wants to pour her own milk, but it spills all over. She wants to get out of the stroller and walk, but she won’t stay by your side and you’re afraid she’ll dart out into the street. She’s learned the power of the word no and uses it as frequently as possible: no, she doesn’t want to go to bed; no, she doesn’t want to share her toy; no, she doesn’t want to sit at the table in the restaurant . . . No, no, no, no.
Now what you need to give your child is more challenging than ever before. You want to give her all she needs in order to grow into a happy, healthy, productive adult with good morals, healthy boundaries, and the ability to function well in the world. You see the long-term vision in your mind. And you still want to be the best parent possible so that one day when she’s grown, she’ll look back and say, “You did a good job, Mom. Thank you.” Parents know that when you have a child you get the title, but here’s where you start to earn it.
Take a moment now and think of a picture that represents your desire to give your child the best. Is it you and your little one snuggled warm and cozy in bed while you read a story? Is it pushing her on a swing and her belly laughing in the wind with delight? Is it the classic holiday card with you and your spouse surrounded by your smiling children? Whatever it is, take a moment to visualize it. Freeze the image. See it in color. Experience how happy and content that picture makes you feel.
That picture is possible. You can have it. But it takes knowing what fundamentals you need to put in place, the skills you must have to get there, and the discipline to do what’s needed day after day for years. Remember, you’re aiming to be a conscious parent to your toddler, the person who consistently provides for your child. To achieve this, you have to make sure your child has:
•The right amount of sleep
•Consistent mealtimes with proper portions and the right kinds of foods
•Opportunities for getting out and about, for physical activity, stimulation, and socialization
•Early learning activities to help with child development
•A clear sense of your family’s expectations for behavior, and appropriate corrections when necessary
Of course parenting is 24/7 throughout childhood. But what you give in the toddler years are paramount. That’s an incredible responsibility, one that should be held in much regard and respect. You have been given the gift of raising a human being in this life. Not to mention for those of you who already know me, my techniques are tried, tested, and proven. You’ve seen me do them hundreds of times.
So often I hear parents say, “I don’t have the time.” I read somewhere recently that over 40 percent of today’s parents say that they don’t have time to think about how to keep their children safe in their own homes. That’s so rudimentary that it is inconceivable to me! But if they can’t even think of their toddler’s physical safety, how can they possibly put these five cornerstones in place? Your interest in this book tells me that you are part of the other 60 percent—parents who realize the importance of putting in the needed time, and of trying hard to get things right from the start. Not the cliché of “I’ve tried, but it doesn’t work.”
Imagine you are holding two packs of playing cards. One has cards that say obesity, type 2 diabetes, poor attention and other learning issues, and social relationship problems. The other has cards that say health, learning up to one’s potential, fruitful relationships, and the ability to function well in the world. Which pack do you want to hand to your child? It’s not rocket science, right? I’ve seen what a lack of these basics does. I’ve seen children delayed in their speech, arrested in their development, and having trouble socializing with other children. I’ve seen children frustrated by wanting to learn but not being able to because they haven’t been taught to sit down and pay attention. I’ve seen children eat and eat and be given praise for being on their third helping, when it’s been shown this overfeeding is a setup for obesity and type 2 diabetes while still in childhood. I’ve seen two- and three-year-olds who act aggressively and have been given no guidance or boundaries turn into bullies and be kicked out of school at age six.
I know you don’t want those consequences for your child, and I also know that what I am asking you to do takes time and energy. That’s why I say you need to be a disciplined parent. It takes discipline to feed your child right, to make sure he gets to bed on time, to teach the early learning activities that will stimulate his brain, to teach him how to be out in public safely and to play nicely with others, to reinforce positive behavior and to curb naughty behavior. And it takes discipline to create and follow a routine to provide everything you need to in a day. With routine comes organization, good timekeeping, and the ability to do everything that needs to get done, not just for your child but for you too! In doing so, you can all have fun.
I remember a Colorado family I worked with. They were juggling running their household and running their own company out of their house. The mother had no set times for work and focusing on the kids. She felt guilty they weren’t getting enough of her attention, so she kept them up too late; as a result, they weren’t getting the amount of sleep they needed. Being overtired and missing her led to her youngest getting up in the middle of the night, and she’d feel so guilty that she’d let him stay up, creating more tiredness. I helped her divide her day so that she could do what was necessary with her young ones and still have time to work. That plus putting the Sleep Separation technique (page 72) in place turned the situation around.
The metaphor I like to use for what parents need to be is a five-tooler. In baseball, a five-tooler is a player who excels at hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning with speed, throwing, and fielding. He is disciplined in five areas of the sport. I’m asking you to become a five-tooler—a disciplined parent in the areas of
A baseball player usually shows strength more in some than others, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t work on the other areas. You too may find that one or two of the five come easier for you. That’s okay. It just indicates where you need to keep improving.
By becoming a five-tooler, you’ll become a better parent, one who knows that you are making a profound impact in your little one’s life, not just now but for later on too. That requires thinking long term. Some parents do this better than others. We live in a society that wants quick turn arounds. But trust me, there are no short cuts. So many parents are just trying to get through the day or the week. When you think long term, you pull that healthy frozen meal out of the fridge more often rather than running to the drive-through. You take the time to notice and praise your child for what she’s done well. You read that story again even though you’re sick of it. And though it may be easier for you when it’s eight o’clock at night and you’ve just come back from some event to tuck her in quickly, you recognize the importance of the bedtime ritual, so you do a shortened version of your usual routine.
Why All Five Matter
These five basic rules are extremely interrelated. If you don’t provide healthy food, restful sleep, great socialization, and stimulation, behavior problems will increase. And if you don’t deal effectively with behavior issues, you will have trouble with bedtimes, eating, getting along with others, and sitting still long enough to learn.
Here’s an example. When I first started helping families on television, I worked with a young mother who had a little boy. He could not sit down and focus on anything for even one minute! When I spoke to him, I wondered, “Is he partially deaf, or has he just got selective hearing?”
So I tried an experiment. “Who wants ice cream?” I asked. Well, he heard that! But as soon as I said to him, “Let’s tidy up now,” the words fell on deaf ears. So I knew he chose what to listen to. His parents gave him no consequences for naughty behavior, and because they hadn’t gotten a grip on that, they’d lost the motivation to do early learning activities such as reading to him, because all he wanted to do was damage the book or puzzle.
He didn’t have any social skills either, because he’d never been taught to expand his attention, to understand the rules of a game, and to take turns. We were playing Chutes and Ladders, but he couldn’t enjoy it because he couldn’t sit still long enough to learn how to play. He ended up throwing the board in frustration.
Yes, this child had behavior issues, but he had learning and socialization issues as well. I taught his mother how to put boundaries, expectations, and consequences in place. I helped her learn how to expand his attention span. I helped her teach him the importance of taking turns with others. I helped her put a good routine in place so that he was getting proper sleep and nutrition at the right times. And last but not least I helped her connect lovingly with him again so that she could praise him, cuddle him, and give him love. These efforts, taken together, turned the situation around for the better.
Love and Affection Too!
When talking about the five basic rules, I want to make sure you understand that they are all done with love. I want you not to forget how important it is to hug, to kiss, to cuddle, to speak to your child kindly and with respect. I can tell when children are held and cuddled frequently and given lots of warmth and love—their exterior is soft and their spirit fed. I’ve spoken to parents who say they were never hugged as children, so being affectionate may not come naturally. And I know that when kids are misbehaving and parents don’t know what to do, they can unconsciously withdraw from their children and therefore give fewer cuddles and hugs. When you’ve had a difficult time with your child, in addition to disciplining when necessary, make sure to surround him with your love. Detach his behavior from his core. Hug him, kiss him, hold him. He will soften and the bond between you will grow stronger.
I remember working with a family of five kids headed by a single mother whose husband had just walked out on her. She said, “The kids are being so naughty. I just can’t get them to behave.” I saw her kids throwing food at the table, not going to bed at night, hitting, and fighting. I mean, everything needed sorting out!
What those kids needed most, before I could do anything else, was love, comfort, and stability. They missed their dad and were acting out as a result. I gave lots of cuddles and hugs. When they got angry and threw something, instead of going on to the Naughty Step (a form of Time Out that I’ll talk about later), they went into a corner where they could paint, draw, or read while they calmed down. After they were comforted and loved, I could then put a healthy routine in place with early learning, proper bedtimes, and so on. As they began to heal, only then did I start to implement discipline. Because you hope to heal what’s broken, first with love before the rest can be dealt with.
Creating a Routine
As you’ll see when I discuss the rule for each basic childhood need, putting routines in place is a common theme. Young children love routine because it’s predictable—they know what’s coming next. Recently I came across research that backs up my belief. It turns out that when a young child’s environment is chaotic or disorderly, it negatively influences the development of her cortex, the part of the brain responsible for good judgment. So the more orderly your daily life, the better support you are providing for her brain to grow well. That’s a powerful incentive!
To create a routine, start with a consideration of the amount of sleep your child needs. See page 50 for a list of appropriate total hours of sleep by age. Then work out when she needs to go to sleep and wake up. Schedule the rest around the sleep times: breakfast, getting ready, getting to day care or having morning learning activities, snack, more activities, lunch, nap if she’s still doing it, snack, play inside or out, dinner, bedtime ritual, bed. (See the “Sample Routine” box for a sample.) You will clearly see there are two snacks per day, three mealtimes; five and a half hours dedicated to mental and physical activities for your toddler, and one or two nap times or rest periods, depending on age. This also gives you a break as well, time when you can recharge.
Excerpted from Jo Frost's Toddler Rules by Jo Frost. Copyright © 2014 by Jo Frost. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.