5 of My Best Parenting Tips From a First Timer
Learning on the Job
Now that my daughter is almost five years old, I look back on these first years and wonder how we stumbled through them and managed to raise a happy and well adjusted preschooler. There are countless things I wish I'd known before she arrived in the world, but l've found that learning comes best from experience..and oh, how packed with learning these five years have been!
There are very few absolutes in parenting. The art of raising a child, in my first timer's experience, has meant an ability to deftly multitask, think on my feet and stay flexible. An employer's dream in the work world, maybe, but qualities that are just an everyday necessity of parenthood. I devoured every parenting book and article I could find pre-baby, but it turns out that some advice just didn't work for my family. I've had to frequently reassess my priorities and figure out potential problems.
Following is the wisdom I can share; if it helps even one stressed parent, I consider this list worthwhile.
#1 Everyone is an Expert
Open Your Ears
Prepare to be bombarded with advice from family and friends, and it can be tempting to tune it all out. Don't! Whether it comes from your mom, brother, cousin, best friend or even your new parent spouse (who may have insight to share from growing up in a larger family), resist the temptation to nod and do it your way. Everyone wants to succeed on their own and claim victory due to their brilliant decisions, but that's unlikely in those first tentative years of parenthood.
My daughter suffered major difficulties with eating and sleeping, as well as fearful tantrums centered around getting her nails cut and her hair combed - basically all the necessities of everyday human life. Thankfully, each of these problems has occurred at different times in her development and has since been resolved.
Her eating woes prompted a trip to a medical specialist, and we finally discovered she had a food allergy. Her sleep schedule became more regular after we started (and stuck with) a sleep routine, which I've covered in more detail below. After working with an occupational therapist, we found out she was very sensory sensitive, which could explain her extreme reactions to the nail clipping and hair combing. The therapist offered some practical solutions that we could use to help calm her during these stressful times. If I had remained stubbornly set on solving all these problems myself, and and not taken any advice or suggestions, I would still be stumped and frustrated.
Think of advice from family and friends as a valuable gift that may provide a helpful solution; at worst, consider it a well meaning attempt to ease your stress. After all, your loved ones just want to see you and your child happy.
#2 Routines Make for a Happy Household
Every single child will benefit from household structure and an established routine
This was a difficult lesson for me - not because I didn't believe it, but because I procrastinate often and am a disorganized person by nature. I realized quickly, however, that my daughter had a restless and easily distracted personality. A regular routine was desperately needed in our household. When she expects to follow certain house rules and chores, she feels calmer and cooperates more. She feels safer when there are firm expectations of her behavior, and certain daily routines that are unchanging. We have a colorful "House Rules" chart than be easily referenced whenever she is unsure of a rule or has a question.
Even with the beauty of a regular routine, you will find there are still times that present unique challenges. Traveling with young children, for instance, can test your resolve. I've been tempted, while waiting in long airport lines, to let my daughter binge on candy and buy all the gift shop toys we can afford. Do whatever you can to provide at least a little structure in these situations. Keep your child's belongings well organized, allow them to participate in the trip planning and progress, and don't forget to bring a special familiar toy.
I bring an small activity bag or backpack whenever we travel. This also works well whenever you are in long lines- at the doctor's office, in the DMV or at a restaurant-with your family. I pack it with mostly simple toys - crayons, markers and blank paper, puzzles, paper dolls, word games, Play-Doh, flash cards, etc. These are great toys to keep your child busy and happy. I try to save the smartphone apps and games for those special occasions when nothing else is quite working!
#3 Sleepy Time Consistency
Speaking of routines, bedtime consistency is an idea worth its weight in gold.
I'm not talking about the time your child goes to sleep every night; while you should aim for similar times on both weeknights and weekends, life will sometimes throw curveballs. Strict bedtimes can be unrealistic. Be a little flexible, and your child will learn to adapt as well.
A bedtime routine or ritual, though, can really help to calm and prepare your child for quality sleep. I've found that the following steps have really benefited my child:
- A quiet bath
- Teeth brushing with "finishing touches" done by Mom or Dad
- Child chooses pajamas (given a manageable choice of 2 sets). This will give the child a sense of autonomy.
- "Tucking in" and giving comfort items like stuffed animals or blankets
- Briefly discussing the events for the next day
This last step will differ, depending on whether you are a working parent or a stay at home parent. I'm a stay at home mom, so certain daily activities can vary. That's why I prepare my daughter by telling her about any appointments, people who will be visiting, stores we will be going to, classes she will be attending, etc.
#4 When All Else Fails, Change Course
You're allowed to shift your position about discipline and privileges.
You may find certain discipline techniques are no longer effective as your child gets older. A concrete time-out with a time limit, for instance, may work beautifully for a toddler, but may fizzle out once the child reaches preschool age. You may find that removing privileges, like playtime with a friend, can be way more effective for a socially aware 4 or 5 year old. Whatever works! The one key here is: don't switch back and forth between discipline techniques from day to day. Announce clearly to your child there will be a new way of handling things when bad behavior happens, and be consistent when trying the new method. Counting firmly from 1 to 10 has always worked well as a warning system for my daughter; she knows that a consequence will follow if she does not follow directions by the end of counting.
#5 Loving Discipline
When your child behaves badly, label the behavior and not the child.
I consider this such an important point, especially for a child who is more impulsive or has problems with self control. If children hear that they are "bad" or "a brat", they may start to believe the assessment and fuel a self fulfilling prophecy. But if you say, for example, "I'm disappointed in your bad behavior and have decided on a consequence", then you are firmly placing the emphasis on what they have done and not who they are. If you can then find a way to end it on a positive note, then the outcome will be even better. Reminding your child of those times when you've been proud of their good behavior, as well as offering a loving hug after a consequence, can motivate them to behave better the next time.
The Rewards of Parenting
Parenting must be very individualized to work well for each family, but the personal approach can also make it a very isolating experience. Methods that have worked for me may not work at all for another parent. I always love to hear comments and stories from other first time parents, because sharing the highs and lows can be a great source of comfort and support. As parents, we are all in this crazy journey together - a tough, yet incredibly rewarding journey.