He fell asleep in my arms and I couldn’t remember the last time he fell asleep in my arms. Probably right around the last time I nursed him. That was a year and a half ago. He’s three now and maybe this will even be the last time he’ll fall asleep in my arms. (I hope not, but you never know these things). We’re both sweating and red -faced. It’s summer and it’s hot and there’s 80% humidity in the air and no breeze, but that’s not why we’re sweating. I’d just had a knock down, drag out fight with my three year old.
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t something I was proud of. And it had left us both defeated.
He’d been a jerk lately. No, really. Maybe that’s an awful thing to say, but he had. This boy who had been my most peaceful child up until a few months before turning three. I’ve often said three is worse than two. We’re all jerks sometimes, obviously. But to watch this quiet sweet little toddler turn into an angry, frustrated and disobedient three year old was taking its toll.
He’d thrown toys at the baby’s head. He’d kicked him as he walked by. Not hard, just enough to upset his little brother on purpose. He’d spit at his father and I when he was mad. He hit. He took toys from his big brother. When he’d get bored he got into mischief- squeezing toothpaste onto the floor, or throwing things into the toilet. Much of this was him learning to process how to go from being a toddler to being a big kid, experimenting with creativity, pushing boundaries to test how far he can go. He’s learning independence and practicing leadership. These are all normal behaviors for this age. Some kids experience these changes more extremely than others. Some float and flitter through age three like a butterfly. Others plow their way through like a bulldozer in high gear.
I’ve had more bulldozers than butterflies. Perhaps that’s representative of a parenting fail on the part of his father or I. Or maybe it’s an in-born streak, a wild trait acquired from one of us, that must be tamed, re-directed.
Regardless of the reason for the behavior, it most certainly needed addressed. It’s just not OK to throw metal tractors at your baby brother. Not OK one bit, even if afterward you give him a giant “sorry” hug and kiss. So, lacking time and patience to remember what we really needed to be doing, we tried every form of punishment out there. We explained, we yelled, we did time out, we took away toys, we made sure to reward good behavior, and we even spanked. Nothing, nothing worked. Not that any of these punishments are wrong, we just weren’t fortifying them with the practices listed below. Honestly, you’d think this was our first child. Because guys, after over 18 years of constant babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I’d like to think I’ve figured out what works here; the magic formula for transforming a frustrated child into a content child. Sigh.
The bad news is, there is no magic formula (if you’re aware of one, do share, please please please) But although there is no magic formula, the truth is, there is a system. This system takes time and patience and consistency, but works wonderfully.
You will start winning those battles. You will feel effective and strong and encouraged. Because relying on quick – fix parenting rarely works. And that is the truth. I needed to sit back and remind myself of this. With every three year old I seem to need to do this. Duh, me.
So now that I’ve reminded myself of these things I want to share them with you. Because they do work.
There are four things you need do to win that fight with your child. These are not new concepts. Yet perhaps, like me, you need a reminder to begin putting these back into practice in your own home. May these be an encouragement to you.
Here they are:
1. Pray. For, and with your child. I know you know this. Hello, Captain Obvious. But are you doing it consistently, and not just in the moment? As you start the day they (and you) need prayer. Throughout the day you need to be praying with them. And at the end of the day you should be praying over them. Prayer is powerful, and our greatest weapon as moms.
2. Time and Attention. I’m a stay at home Mom. In other words, my kids get a LOT of my time. I smile sweetly at them as I hand out meals and snacks. I kiss the sorrow of 10 hundred boo boos away each day. I judiciously break up fights and decide who gets the last cookie. All day, every day they get an abundance of my time. So that should be good, right? Nope. They need my attention too. My mind needs to not be always off on a whim. I need to be present. I need to play with my children, have tickle fights and car races, soccer games and cuddle time, tea parties and superhero fun. I need to laugh with them, and just be with them. Sometimes it means that the house will be messier than I’m comfortable with, there will be sandwiches for dinner (again), or a blog post begging to be written will need put off for another day. Those are small, insignificant things and these days of training our little ones are fleeting. Give them attention. You must win their hearts before you can expect obedience.
3. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency, Calm Consistency. If yesterday you promised that dessert would happen only if the meal was finished (or at least the vegetable, for us softies), don’t renege on that today. If the punishment for stealing a toy from your brother yesterday was five minutes in the corner, don’t ignore it today (or even worse, over-react in a moment of frustration). Rules are rules. And although there’s no need to go overboard and get lost in a sea of miserable rigidity, if you consistently enforce and stick with a few general regulations you will have a more confident, secure child. I forsook a lot of rule – making in the early years trying to be my childrens’ friend. There’s nothing wrong with being their friend. But God gave parents the role of parents for a reason. We have the great responsibility to guide, direct, and coach our children, and that requires rules. Consistent rules, and loving follow – through. *And the wisdom to know that it’s also ok to be flexible sometimes, too.
4. Read the Bible. To them, with them. My mom taught me long ago to read the Bible to my children after they’d done wrong. Bible indexes (or Google) is great at giving you just the right verse for the situation. For example: here are several verses on lying: All I did was google “lying and the Bible”: https://www.openbible.info/topics/lying
This is another area where consistency comes in handy because it’s easy to forget this step, or get too caught up in the moment, or simply not want to take the time. There is no such thing as reading the Bible too much to your children. And if it seems like it’s not doing any good, I can guarantee you that it’s giving them the wisdom to seek God’s Word in the future when an uncertain situation arises. At the very least, they’ll recall how “Mom always opened her Bible as a way to teach us.”
No magic formula. Your kids are going to disappoint you. Your own failures are going to disappoint you. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. And it’s not a responsibility to be taken lightly, either. But if you remember to follow the above guidelines to the best of your ability, I promise that not only will you start winning more fights with your child, you will start having less fights to win. Isn’t that a lovely prospect? A win for the both of you.
And despite the ugly picture I may have painted above, as you can see in these pictures, he really can be a delight. Smooch! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go kiss a certain sweet, sleeping three year old. <3