Joyful Toddlers & Preschoolers: Create a Life You and Your Child Both Love by Faith Collins was a great book and, after listening to the audiobook, I bought a hardcopy to keep on my shelf. It’s one of those I’m going to be rereading every couple of months because I want to be sure I’m implementing the ideas of the book. If you have time, definitely get yourself a copy. If not, here is a summary of the principles of creating a joyful life with your young children.
Ten Main Ideas
1. Healthy relationships are mutually responsive.
Key word mutually. The goal is to have responsive children, meaning having children that respond quickly and positively even if they don’t — or can’t — immediately comply with your request. In the toddler years, cultivating responsiveness is two-fold: (1) support your toddlers in impulse control and help them practice being responsive to you (the parents or caregivers). (2) Practice adjusting our parenting to be responsive to our toddler’s needs but not giving into their whims.
Collins extensively talks about the early children development research that states the importance of a child feeling: CONNECTION, COMPETENCE, and a sense of CONTRIBUTING.
2. When we hear “No” from our young child, this most often means “I don’t feel as connected to you as I wish I did.”
The way we can tell an activity is providing a good connection is when we hear “yes, let’s do it again!”
Incorporating the concept of S.M.I.L.E. — SINGING MOVEMENT IMAGINATION LOVE EXAGGERATION — into requests is a good way to get child buy-in (happy compliance and responsiveness).
If we want our children to be pleasant and nice to be around, we have to teach them good ways to ask for attention to avoid annoying, attention-seeking behaviors. However, it is critical that we respond just as consistently to the polite requests for attention as we do to the annoying behavior.
3. Cultivate a habit of yes.
Our brains think in pictures and “don’t” just doesn’t mean much to children’s brain. Instead of saying stop or don’t, tell the child what they can do. For example, if a child is being too rough with a sibling, instead of saying “don’t be rough” say, “we can hug brother like this.” Choose to believe that children want to be enjoyable and helpful. Working from that mindset makes you more able to shape behaviors and less likely to get upset. Ask your child ONCE to do something, then say: “Can you do it on your own or should I help you?” and immediately come and give physical help, but make your help connecting rather than aggressive.
4. When we can’t transform no to yes through connections, explaining and convincing won’t either.
Over-explaining just makes little lawyers and leads to a battle of wills. And dropping request when we can’t convince them teaches them to only do what they want to.
How to tell if your requests/connection is in balance.
When you ask a child to do something, if he:
- Tries to explain why he shouldn’t have to obey: you’re using logic too much.
- Throws a tantrum: you’re withdrawing your request too much and not insisting often enough.
- It feels like you’re constantly making him do something and it’s exhausting, you’re forgetting to use positive language/make things connecting (see ch 1 & 2)
- “It looks like you need some help” and your child jumps to do what you’ve asked, things are in balance. Yay!
5. Regular tantrums and meltdowns show out of balance relationship.
If your child is struggling from regular misehavior, they are likely trying to communication something that they can’t put into words. They may not even know what it is, they just feel off. Collins suggests a “Pouring in the Love Campaign.”
- If it works, you’re child needed love
- If the negative behavior gets worse: it’s a call for boundaries. Increase your firm but loving requests and stick to them. Maintain warmth but help them learn to out their desires on hold and recover from disappointment.
- If the negative behavior briefly improves but then gets bad again: it is a call for consistency or a call to slow down. Work for slower, more spacious, more regular days.
6. Anger management for parents.
Don’t wait until your patience is gone. Often anger is derived from your baggage from the past and your fears for the future. Sidestep those. Look for another possible explanation. Rather than “My child hit their friend; she’s going to grow up to be a bully!” try to see what caused the behavior in the moment.
7. Teach self-regulation to kids.
Help your child be more enjoyable.
Consistently support them. Help children learn to wait; give them ways to see when the waiting is done (songs, visual timers etc). Lower arrousal and give them something else to focus on. Encourage asking for help but then give them as little help as needed. Staying focused: what could we do to make this more fun.
If your child is just intense or a “little much,” look for balancing virtues such as kindness, respectfulness, helpfulness, empathy etc. Look for ways to practice and encourage those virtues in your child.
8. Transforming housework into enrichment activities: allows children to help in manful ways and creates more time for self renewal since housework is done.
Cultivate a sense of spaciousness.
Gather all supplies so children can be in motion the whole time.
Lead with actions rather than words. Do the tasks invitingly with S.M.I.L.E. (Singing, Movement, Imagination, Love, and Exaggeration). Keep the tasks small and let your children drift in and out of the activity.
9. Provide space for children to enter a space of flow by being busy but available— hands are busy but minds are free
To increase children’s ability for independent play, limit screen-time (which makes children a consumer of entertainment rather than a creator of it), encourage playing outside. Be nearby. Kids will check in to see if you’re still available.
Balance adult led activities with energetically apart, drawing from the living arts: nurturing, practical, social, and artistic.
10. Create a life that’s fulfilling for both you AND your child.
Reevaluate your “must do” items in the day (must we get dressed before breakfast, or would a different rhythm work better for your family? Be radical!)
Think about how you could make your passions child-friendly so that you and your child can enjoy the activity together. (Personally, I love horseback riding. I stopped lessons when I got pregnant with my now preschooler. Collins has me now planning to visit local stables and share my love of horses with my children in a safe, age-appropriate way.)
I read this book in a weekend, which is rare for me and my schedule, but I couldn’t put it down! I saw immediate results when I used some of her suggestions in my daily activities and I know this will be influencing my parenting and approach to home educating with all three of my children.