My Favorite Parenting Strategy

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Cee’s long, drawn-out process of getting ready in the morning. She was maddeningly slow at changing from pajamas to her clothes for the day, but she also insisted on doing it herself. If I tried to help, the pace of progress slowed even more. If I tried to take over, it became a physical battle, and I was sure that wasn’t worth it. I tried a few strategies to keep our mornings moving, and readers offered more great ideas in comments on my post.

One of my more brilliant ideas, I thought, was a hand-drawn morning schedule for Cee. I drew a step-by-step diagram of what she needed to do each morning – get dressed, go potty, brush teeth – and then I showed that we could have a few minutes to read a book or play together before leaving the house, assuming she could move through her schedule at a reasonable pace. We drew out the schedule and discussed it the night before, and she was really into it. She showed it to Daddy and carried it around for her bedtime routine, then carefully placed it by her bed before she went to sleep. In the morning, she was excited to follow the schedule and get to book time, and she did it! I thought it was quite a success story. But, by the next morning, Cee was bored with the schedule idea. In fact, I’m pretty sure she saw right through it as one more pressure tactic from me. Cee doesn’t respond well to pressure, thinly disguised or not.

So. I settled on my favorite parenting strategy: patience. Honestly, I can’t think of a more important asset to the parent of a toddler.

I did a lot of little things to ease our morning crunch. I got as much ready the night before as I could; I went to bed and got up earlier to get some work done before Cee woke; and I asked Husband to take over on mornings when he could squeeze it in his schedule, just to ease my nerves. And then, I tried to summon more patience and relax. I trusted that this was a phase that wouldn’t last forever.

dressed and ready

Dressed and ready to go

I’m happy to report that I was right. For the last few mornings, I have woken to the sound of little feet running down the hall. Cee has been waking early, dressing herself, and then coming to wake me up with bed head and a big smile. That whole dressing fiasco? It’s gone. She’s getting dressed on her own, while I’m still snoozing.

Why the change? It isn’t anything I did. Me telling her that she needed to get dressed faster had zero impact, I can assure you. It’s more likely that it prolonged the process. Maybe she’s discovered that it’s more pleasant to get dressed without me breathing down her neck. Maybe she herself got bored with the snail-paced process and figured she’d rather get on with more interesting things in her day. But whatever it is, she is very proud of herself, and I am too. We’re both relishing her autonomy.

But now Cee has moved on to other time-consuming projects. Lately, she’s been wanting to buckle her own car seat. She can do this, but it takes long minutes of sitting in the car waiting for her. Sometimes we’re in a hurry, and I tell her that I have to do it this time, and sometimes that causes a meltdown. But if I can, I try to find my patience and let her do it herself. Just like the dressing process, the learning part takes time – much longer than if I did it myself. But I trust that at some point she’ll get really good at buckling her own seatbelt (always followed by my check). And then she’ll feel proud and independent, and ultimately that means that she does more things for herself. So again, patience.

Patience tells a toddler: You don’t have to be more than you are right now. And when I choose the patience strategy, I’m telling myself the same thing: You don’t have to fix this. You don’t have to have an answer. Staying calm is enough.

It’s tempting to try to fix the little challenges of every stage, but so much of childhood we really can’t control. We can try to prevent meltdowns with attention to sleep, food, daily rhythms, and choices, but when it comes right down to it, the meltdowns are bound to happen at some point. We can do everything right (whatever that means) in the transition from diapers to undies, but we’re probably still going to have some accidents and setbacks along the way.  We can cosleep or sleep train or something in between, and we’re still going to have days when we’re dead tired. So much of parenting is riding out the stages, focusing on the parts of each that we love and then coping with the tough parts as best we can. And then waiting, with patience, trusting that we’ll come out the other side with our kids, who will be moving on to new challenges before we know it.

What are your kids working on that is requiring your patience? And maybe more importantly, where do you find more patience when you’re running low?

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34 thoughts on “My Favorite Parenting Strategy

  1. My son is *still* working on whether it is okay to hit/kick/pull hair. I just patiently put him in time-out every time. I think if I reacted dramatically, he’d be engaging in even more of this behavior.

    • Cee’s just started doing some hitting. Not a lot, and mainly with me and her dad, and it is in a slap-happy kind of way. I also try not to react dramatically, but it is one of those things that we HAVE to react to – consistently, and then be patient, right?

      • Very patient. Very consistent. I also am working on coaching my 7 year old on how to be patient and consistent when he hits her. Making progress…

  2. Cleaning up his own mess takes a loooong time! But I know that if I continue to do it for him, he will NEVER do it on his own. So even if we have company on the way, I ask Miller to clean up his own mess, and I always offer to help.
    And yes, patience is key with toddlers!

    • Oh, this is such a great example, Esmee. I’m so tempted to always clean up after Cee, because it’s much faster to do it that way. It’s something that I’m working on – being consistent with asking her to clean up herself.

  3. So pleased to hear of your progress! In fact I am really impressed. And now a bit concerned as my C who is the same age as your Cee is nowhere near this milestone. She’s still in her crib, not potty-trained and can take clothes off but hasn’t expressed interest in putting them own (though she can be very opinionated about what she wears!) She does want to put on her own shoes from time to time. Am I holding her back by not encouraging reversal of any of the above?

    • Oh, I wouldn’t compare between the two. They all work on their own passions, and Cee’s has happened to be careful choosing of clothes and dressing herself:) I see NO reason to rush moving out of the crib. We only did it because she was climbing out, although I must say that was a surprisingly easy transition. And potty training – that was completely Cee’s idea, too. I wouldn’t rush any of it – they all do it in their own time. I’m sure your C is busy with other stuff right now:)

  4. I am 100% with you on this one! In the early days, I read on the blog “Chronicles of a Babywise Mom” to give a toddler 15 seconds to respond after asking him to do something. It is amazing to me how long 15 seconds feels every time. Even though we’ve been doing it for over a year. And when I do pause and give him that time, he often does what I ask. I just need to wait and be patient. (Ironically this is something I so often ask of him!)

    • That’s a great tip! I often have to busy myself with something else for a few moments while I wait, because I get very impatient (and look it) if I’m just hovering over her.

  5. I just want to thank you for your blog. I’ve been a subscriber for about a year now (I came across it when I was searching about sleep and CIO) and have loved every post! I am a scientist/engineer and now a mom of a 19 month old boy. I like to see whats “ahead” in terms of the next challenges, and also refer to previous postings for what we are currently going through. Cheers to you! Keep up the good work!

    • Thank you! I’m glad you enjoy the blog, even as I’ve been posting so infrequently. I worry that some of this parenting stuff is mundane – and well, it is, but it feels really important when we’re in it!

  6. Lack of patience has to be my biggest parenting flaw. With a 5 and a 1 year old, I find my supply quickly dwindles. If you have any suggestions or strategies for improving patience, I’d love to hear them.

    • It’s so hard. I don’t know if I have any tricks, but it has helped me tremendously to just try to keep some perspective and put myself in Cee’s shoes. But it isn’t easy by any means. I’m hoping to get more ideas in the comments on this post!

  7. What wise words! My favorite line: “Patience tells a toddler: You don’t have to be more than you are right now.” We have to set realistic expectations for our children and I know that I am guilty of wanting my girls to be able to do more or be quicker about things. I am going to keep this line in my back pocket for the times when I am losing my patience, which happens more often than I’d like to admit. My girls will be 2 and 4 at the end of the summer and they test me everyday. Sometimes, I tell them that mommy needs a few minutes to herself to calm down because I am getting frustrated. I like this strategy because it teaches them that it is okay to take a breather when their emotions are running high. Sometimes, I just mix things up by turning up the music and dancing like a fool – it just resets the moment and we can start over. And sometimes I just lock the door and camp out in the bathroom for a couple minutes. ;)

    • I like your strategy of letting your girls know that you need a few minutes. I think it is so important to articulate our feelings to our kids, and in doing so, teach them that not only do you have feelings, but that talking about them helps. It’s definitely important to recognize that we need time-outs sometimes!

  8. When I’m feeling impatient, i usually DRINK. Water, that is. I have cups and bottles of water everywhere – all over the house, in the car, in my purse. It started when I needed patience when my daughter was sounding out words when learning to read. Now it’s a great tactic from my 2 year old little guy too.

    Found your blog through my wordpress reader. Will follow you as your combo of science and heart sounds interesting.

  9. We are working on having patience as well (mommy, daddy AND B who is two and a half).
    My biggest challenge is remembering to have empathy for the toddler living in an adult-centric world.
    I love your blog – thank you for your insights, tales and wisdom!

  10. Our 10 month old twins are currently learning/trying to feed themselves finger foods. Mealtimes can take an hour at times. One is more adept at it than the other but they both have more trouble when they’re tired. Sometimes they refuse to let me feed them with a spoon even if they cant quite get those cheerios in their mouths. Sometimes I wish they were of an age when they could talk and communicate in words! Having empathy and patience can be hard, but I’m learning that I have more patience when I get enough sleep.

    • Your comment brings me back to that time… Cee took an hour for meals at that age as well. She really wanted to feed herself, and she ate a lot! I hardly had time to leave the house between naps and feeding. It is a really fun stage, though, so enjoy it! And yeah, sleep makes a big difference to my patience supply, too:)

  11. My lack of patience is exactly why I’m not going to be ready to have children any time soon. When talking to my mom about child rearing (which I think she was excellent at, but I suppose I’m a little biased ;) ), she says that patience was the most important part of bringing us up.

  12. Alice, once again, so wise and empathetic at the same time! It’s taken me so long to realize how kids’ development (at least my son’s) works. When my son is learning a new skill or just going through any kind of new experience, he gets really irritable and prone to tantrums. I used to always immediately try to “fix” it, usually by distracting him. I’ve realized that a better strategy is just benevolent patience. He usually works through things on his own and gets back to “normal” if I leave him be. Lovely, thoughtful post!

    • Thanks Jessica! It’s so true that we really see changes in our kids as they work on new things, and they’re almost always temporary. Knowing that that’s normal can help us ride out the more challenging days.

  13. My 9 and 11 year olds have taught me how important patience is. They are already dealing with so much, the last thing they need is an angry mother. But that being said, after a very long time of crazy stress, I finally got a prescription for Klonopin which I will only take when things are completely nuts. I am glad that I am not the only parent out there that feels that parenting isn’t about punishing more. Some children just don’t respond.

  14. Some days work schedules simply do not allow us to take the time our four year old wants. We worked out a catch phrase “Today is a fast-like-the-wind day” which lets her know that mommy or daddy is taking over today, but only for today, and even if she fusses, it will be simply overruled or ignored.

    • I love this, and it’s an important point. We can’t be patient all the time. Whatever our responsibilities, our children are never the only ones, and they need to be able to understand that. I do tell Cee when I’m starting to get impatient, and I think she’s starting to understand it. She knows that time is running out. “I’m getting impatient, and we need to go soon, so if you don’t start moving fast, I’m going to help you.” I used to count to 10, and she used to like that, but now she asks me to stop counting. So – I try to use patience whenever I can, and give fair warning when I can’t:)

      • A very wise mother of four little girls told me, “always count down towards zero”. If you count up, kids negotiate for more numbers. But they instinctively know that zero is as low as they can go. It is amazing how much of a difference counting down actually does make!

        She also taught me to say “Stay where you can see me” to a child, since a little child thinks Mommy can see everywhere all the time, so “Stay where I can see you ” in meaningless :)

  15. Pingback: Recovering From Procrastinitis…One Day at a Time | The Do-Gooder Mama

  16. Not having patience is my biggest parenting downfall; I will admit to that. I try to put myself in his shoes, but it is hard. I understand that my son (who just turned 2) can not vocalize his thoughts well and this makes him frustrated (which usually leads to throwing things on the floor or at people). That would make me upset too. I totally agree with the other moms who need to have a mommy time-out to cool down. Asking my hubby to help sometimes works, though sometimes we’re both so tired from work that neither of us wants to deal with him, which can make things more complicated. I guess it’s worse at times when I know he understands what I am saying, but chooses to ignore it to see how much he can get away with. He knows for sure he can’t do that with Daddy though.

  17. Current challenge – previously awesome sleeper now fights bedtime and gets up to ask for a cuddle at 3:30 a.m. I get patience only by remembering that he’s not even two, and he’s bound to bounce back as long as I keep insisting on “it’s bedtime” or “go back to bed until morning”. But after a week, I’m tired!

  18. I just came across your blog and i love it!! we had the getting dressed challenge too and it took a while to overcome — still sometimes my 3 yo wants to only wear PJs — but he gets dressed on his own much of the time now. Often i find offering 2 choices works well to like “get the hint, it’s time to GO, are you going to wear your flip flops or your puddle boots?” BUT now that i have an infant too being patient is HARD. “baby is buckled into car seat and crying, can you PLEASE buckle your seat belt now because we have to GO??!!” if anyone has tips on this I would love to hear them!
    (also random aside note i am particularly interested in toddler eating habits and would love to read an update from you on that topic.)

  19. Patience is key! The last 4 months, I’ve become a better mom because I’ve managed my anxiety by diet and being present. Not an easy accomplishment but totally worth it. Every morning, while preparing her breakfast, I make a juice or green smoothie. I store it in an old wine bottle with air sucked out by a wine vacuum. Nutrition is key for my mental health. And on those super tough days deep belly breaths center me and remind me to calm down.

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