Most parents, but especially first-time parents, are eager to do their best to help their children learn, grow and be happy. Sometimes this responsibility is overwhelming.
As a young mother, I was lucky enough to receive a piece of advice that has made parenting much easier. There are 3 things you can't force your children to do: eat, sleep and use the bathroom. Since you can't physically make them do these things, it's not worth it to battle continually over these 3 things. The concept is simple, but can be hard to implement. Let me elaborate on each area to help you see how you can parent more effectively.
Oh, how parents wish they could magically force their children to fall asleep. When I've forgotten this rule, it's been miserable for me. I'm sure most parents can commiserate. We've all spent a few nights up and down with toddlers who need extra hugs and preschoolers who mysteriously have to use the bathroom 50 times.
Since you can't force a child to sleep, what can you do? You can provide an environment conducive to sleeping, with a comfortable bed, proper temperature and dim lighting. You can prepare your child for bed with appropriate rituals, including stories, songs and kisses. You can make time in your schedule to allow your child to sleep when he or she is tired.
If you have a restless child, consider what might be causing the problem. Is your child tired at bedtime? If not, adjust the time you put him or her to bed, be more active during the day or eliminate naps. Address other problems like nightmares and toilet needs and adjust as necessary. Teaching your children to fall asleep on their own from the time they are young will help with sleeping issues.
As my friends and I discuss our children and tales from the parenting front, we often swap stories about kids stuck at the dinner table, engaged in a battle of wills over the last 8 peas on the plate. I've learned to pick my battles, and frozen peas is not one of them. Generally, kids eat when they are hungry. If you offer healthy food at regular intervals, they will eat. Children with stomach problems like acid reflux or food allergies will need special consideration, of course.
If children don't eat a lot of food when it's offered, they might not be hungry. For example, I have a nephew that eats very little, but is perfectly healthy. Toddlers, especially, are often not hungry for full meals, but love to graze and snack. Figure out what works for your children and family, but don't spend time battling over bites. If food is not available at all hours of the day, children will learn to eat when it is offered. Note that when children are growing, they are often extremely hungry. I offer my children extra healthful snacks during these times.
Don't take it personally if your child rejects the meal you just spend hours preparing. Encourage them to use their manners and try new things. I find offering new foods several times makes them more familiar, and my children know if they don't like something after trying a few bites, they are always welcome to a plain slice of whole wheat bread. Dinner table drama rarely occurs.
3. Using the bathroom
This category can be the most frustrating for parents, especially if bathroom messes are a daily occurrence. Some children are stubborn and use toilet training as a means for exerting control. Other children are too distracted by life to make it to the bathroom on time or have fears about using the toilet. Still others are not physically ready to control their bodies in this manner. Adding stress to potty-training by being overly anxious usually makes matters worse.
When my daughter was potty-training, we went on a day trip. She didn't like public bathrooms and held her bladder for over 8 hours. I was concerned for her health and spent several minutes in the bathroom pleading with her to go. Finally, I realized I could not force her to release her bladder and I put a diaper on her, instead.
Solving this problem can be easy, if you are willing to be easy-going. Consider my favorite potty-training method when your child is learning, which encourages a laid back, patient approach. Then, expect your child to have occasional accidents for the next several years, until muscles are fully developed. Take your child to the bathroom at regular intervals with the understanding that the child must try to go, and seek a doctor's help if needed for more serious cases. A friend of mine once joked that she kept her kids in diapers until they were begging to get out of them, which was usually the first day of kindergarten.
This parenting approach might seem a bit lazy at first glance, but really, it's empowering. Letting go of the need to control every aspect of your child's life will allow him or her to flourish. I know this method works when my children ask to take a rest when they are tired, try new foods without too much fuss, and use the bathroom independently, knowing that if they have an accident, I will try to be understanding and helpful. Not forcing these issues makes family life much more enjoyable. Try it! Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.