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The 5 Parenting Strategies That Have Gotten Me Through Life with a Toddler

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The number of ways there are to parent are countless and infinite and at times overwhelming. When I was pregnant with my first child, I poured over books about baby supplies, pregnancy, and childbirth. I never once thought to look at a book about actually taking care of a newborn or heaven forbid raising a child.

I was so caught up in the pregnancy part of things and the newness of it all that I couldn’t possibly think past that. Or actually I could, but I was too scared to. I figured we’d just get to it when we got there.

But then came tantrums. Terrible twos. Threenage woes. Hitting. Biting. Rebellion. All the things I thought we had plenty of time to prepare for hit us before we knew it. In fact, we were often deep into the trenches of any given obstacle before we figured out that our once cute, wide-eyed baby had grown up yet again and taken us for a spin; he was running our lives instead of the other way around.

Seasoned parents will laugh at the idea of a toddler dictating the day or ruling the house, but as a first-time new parent, it happens right in front of you as if you’ve been parenting with your eyes closed for months. What you think is just a rough day or moment or phase suddenly turns into your new normal before you have a chance to grab the reigns. The only thing left for you to do is scramble around until you can figure out how to undo your wrongs and right your course.

It took me several phases of speed-reading and cramming in every bit of info from every book and blog and Google search I could find on any given parenting woe before I realized I had the ability to mostly figure it out on my own. I had to learn to trust myself and my parenting (as green as I may be) and make it work.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a few helpful things from the books. Although, of course, for every one thing I learned, I discarded a thousand others. You just have to decide what works for you.

Here are the ones that have worked for us – not just through a phase, but continually since enacting them. Like all things parenting, they may not work for every one, but these are the strategies I’m happy to have in my arsenal, and you just might too.

1. Counting

Oh my gosh, if I ever thought I’d be one of those moms that’s constantly “counting” at her kids, I would have groaned and laughed at the same time. But there’s something magic about the numbers one through five when it comes to young child behavior.

To get them to do something when they’re not listening, you slowly and authoritatively count down from five, and then dole out a consequence.

To get them to stop doing something, you count to three, much like the old three strikes you’re out adage.

The best part about this strategy is that now that the strategy is fully ingrained in both of us, I rarely have to say more than one number, which means I’m not the mom running around counting at her kid after all. I can simply say “five” loudly and he knows I mean business and comes running. It’s truly like waving a magic wand.

2. Praising positives

While there’s a whole parenting camp on using positive phrases, it’s too much for me to fully embrace as a parenting philosophy. While I appreciate it, it’s not for me. (Do you know how hard it is to avoid using every form of no and don’t?)

But there are bits and pieces that I’ve picked up from giving it a try, like turning a “no” into a “yes” whenever possible.

The most beneficial for us was something I tried in a period of true desperation in the midst of a prolonged toddler takeover — instead of constantly telling him what he’s doing wrong, I overly obnoxiously point out all the times he’s doing something right.

It sounds like the most absurd and ridiculous thing in the entire world and I felt like a fool narrating all the positive things my son was doing, but I was amazed when it worked. I felt a little crazy using it to right a wrong behavior, but now we can use it as a way of keeping the peace.

I take what I learned – pointing out positive (or simply not-negative behaviors) as a way of avoiding problems in the first place.

3. Telling him what to expect before it happens

This works for just about anything. It could be a simple list of things on the agenda for the day, like we’re going to eat breakfast, then get dressed, then go to school today. Or it could be geared towards behavior I expect in a given situation. This is my favorite way to use it.

For example, you’re coming to the doctor with me today. At the doctor’s office, we have to sit still in the chair while we wait and use quiet voices when we talk. Sometimes add something a little more fun on the end, like, “When we’re done, we’ll go to the playground where we can be loud and run around.” Letting my son know what to expect and what I expect from him ahead of time works much better than me yelling at him to be quiet and sit still because he didn’t know he was supposed to.

4. Giving warning before leaving or making a transition

I often joke I’m in so much trouble when my son learns to tell time because I’m constantly (and arbitrarily) telling him what will happen in, “5 minutes … 3 minutes … 1 minute!” This is fantastic for leaving places where kids are having fun, like the playground or a party. Moms everywhere seem to use this one (you can hear variations being shouted across playgrounds worldwide), and it’s for a reason — it prevents the otherwise inevitable meltdown that comes with you destroying all their fun.

5. Telling him to “touch the car”

This one sounds like it comes out of left field, but it has literally saved both of us a million times. I can only imagine it’ll come in handy when we add another kid to the mix. Simply pick a spot on your car that keeps your kid in your eyesight and out of harm’s way — for us it’s the circular gas cover — and have your child touch it until you say he or she can move (or you can grab their hand, etc.).

My son likes to hop out of the car right away, and I often still have something else to grab or to lock the doors. Even though I’ve trained my son to look for moving cars in streets and parking lots, it’s not 100% ingrained in him yet and I don’t want the one time I can’t stop him from darting away from me to be the time there’s oncoming traffic.

Telling him to simply “touch the car” goes over much better than telling him to stop, wait, hang on, or any other variation of the kind because it’s specific and an easy action for him to follow.

What strategies have helped you over time? What do I need to add to the list as my son gets older, and I have more than one kid to juggle?

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