Consistency is the key to good parenting. I once found that my family doctor wrote on my child’s chart “mother has unrealistic expectations of what toddlers can do.” The way I spoke to my children differed from what his own wife, who is a large attachment parenting advocate, practiced. I think children come in hard wired to learn how we do things and what is expected of them. They want to acculturate and become part of the family, the community, the civilization. The one driving questions is “How do I fit in?”
Children appreciate when we are honest communicators. When we are consistent and we don’t waffle, our expectations are clear. Our expectations become internalized by our children and they don’t have to be tested. Here are things children might come to “expect.”
A child should begin to know how we do things in our culture and what is allowed and what is not. I even encourage parents to write these things down throughout the varying stages your children go to so that both parents are clear; the language is consistent; and you can point to the writing and the children eventually point to it themselves. When they are babies, you might be writing for other adults but as they grow older, you will be surprised how much they like to talk about the “rules in our house.” Here are some of the rules we had at various ages and stages.
- We help children “do it myself.” (For instance, when we diaper it is a mutual task. We don’t distract him with mobiles and toys. We have this wonderful nurturing time together. We cooperate. We co-determine how this will go. But he does not expect to “be dressed.”)
- We practice safe behavior to avoid accidents. “These cabinets are okay for you to play in (pans and Tupperware) but these are not (glassware). “Please don’t touch Daddy’s guitar.”
- Adults model, rather than require, polite and respectful behavior. “Would you like some broccoli? Yes please? No thank you?”
- We understand what behavior is expected from us. “In church we sit quietly and listen to the people talking.” “In restaurants we sit quietly and eat.”
- We don’t take things from people’s hands. When a person is touching an item, they are the temporary “owner” of that item.
- We eat at tables. (Eating should be done on the lap until a child is sitting freely on his own. Then it should be at a low table he can get to himself. He can’t carry food away. When he plays, he’s finished. We offer a very little food and he can ask for more until he determines he’s finished.)
- We clean up our messes.
- We are respectful of the items in our house. We don’t “bang” materials as they may get chipped or broken.
- We use inside voices and save loud voices for outside.
- We are respectful of other people. We don’t hit. We don’t gloat. Our rights end at the other guy’s nose. When a child is exerting his will we are firm on our limits but also present and loving.