The Examined Life: Parenting a Toddler

By kate on September 28th, 2007

I’ve realized that, when parenting a toddler, you must be very self-aware. That’s because anything and everything you do can be considered a precedent (in the legal sense). Every action, reaction, word, or activity could be something the child decides should be repeated forever. All day long, I stop and ask myself, “is this something I want to do (or want Ruby to do) over and over?”

It’s not just simple things like avoiding bad words (a topic for another post) or not giving her cookies. The most important area, and one of the hardest, is discipline. I need to keep myself ruthlessly consistent or Ruby will stop trusting that I mean what I say. If I decide to tell her not to do something, I have to make sure it’s in the form of a simple rule that I am willing to enforce every time. Sometimes it’s hard to distill good behavior down into simple rules (because human behavior is subtle and situational), but that’s the only way a toddler will understand it.

I also need to make sure my reactions to bad behavior are consistent. Anger (or frustration, or exasperation) has no place here; I have to remind myself that she usually does “bad” things because she doesn’t know any better yet, and that I’m helping her to learn. So, I select an appropriate punishment (usually a time-out, or taking away the object involved) and tell her clearly and firmly that if she does [whatever it is] again, I will do [chosen punishment]. And then I do punish her, without exception, if she repeats the behavior. I feel like if I threaten and don’t follow through even once or twice, the game is lost.

With all this talk of punishment, I should say that we’ve been exceptionally lucky and Ruby is a very well-behaved child. I don’t punish her very often (maybe once every 1-2 days), and she accepts the punishment without too much fuss. I’m sure the greater part of that is the personality she was born with, although at this point in her life I like to think Steve and I have had time to develop her better qualities.

But I can never let down my guard! I wonder how long this will last? Will I be scrutinizing myself for consistency until Ruby goes to college?

Filed under: parenting
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