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Dear Counselor Chomp: The Nine Commandments

September 21, 2011

Dear Counselor Chomp: 

Parenthood has been a joy but now toddlerdom has begun and WOW! I wasn’t really ready for it!! My poor husband now has two control freaks in the house. Any tips?

Normally in control in NYC

Dear Normally,

By dint of the fact that I have not yet been done in by my own toddler, I will now pitch myself as an veritable Moses.

First, let’s lay out the goals of parenting during the toddler years, aside from the obvious desire to produce a perfect, indulged but not too indulged, enriched and happy child. We are taking those goals for granted. For our purposes, these are our goals:


Not Going Insane

Not Seeing Your Toddler as an Adversary

Below, you have the Nine Commandments of Managing a Toddler, which will help you achieve these three goals.

With your goals in mind, you can determine what to let slide, and how to adjust your own perspective when necessary to enjoy life when you’re getting lots of challenges.

Let me start by saying: you are going to let a whole lot slide. According to my brilliant pediatrician, who has six children of her own and yet seems very calm, choose very few battles, but those that you choose, you must win.

And that is the first commandment of parenting a toddler.

The second is that toddlers are nearly indistinguishable from Chinese finger traps, and the more you pull, the more they pull, and unless you change tactics, you will be stuck forever. Instead, stop applying pressure and take a completely different approach.

What, you might ask, is a different approach? Well, rather than negotiating the issue at hand, change the discussion. Always remember and never forget to distract, distract, distract. That might be with a different activity, or a different toy, or a verbal game, or even a different approach to the same situation. A different approach might be getting the to do something themselves, which they take pride in. See the following commandment:

Kids are struggling for independence; when possible let them to “do it ‘self.” You can even use this against desire against them to get them to start projects they wouldn’t necessarily want to start!

When time is passing and you’re trying to work out your new approach, consider this next commandment:

Try looking at time in a different way. In certain aspects of my personal and professional life, I am rewarded for multi-tasking, thinking ahead, efficiency. Toddlers aren’t interested in that. And when I am going crazy checking the time, wondering why we can’t just walk down the street at a brisk pace, and have to, I don’t know, watch my child stop and smell the flowers, I try to remind myself what an exceptional pleasure it is to be with a kid who says funny things and takes his time and forces me to breathe fresh air. Let’s not rush this moment; I’ll be stuck behind a desk soon enough. Also, when we get home, chances are excellent that we will be struggling to find stuff to do. Why not just stay out a bit longer?

Oh, consistency is your friend. Like dogs, people like consistency. Knowing what to expect makes us happy and secure. So when you make a routine or a rule, enforce it regularly, even when it’s not convenient for you or for your kid. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t breaks in routine.

Breaks in routine are also your friend. I like to think about life as being made up of regular days, and holidays. We worry about the nap schedule most of the time. On what I think of as a holiday, ie, an unnormal day when you are traveling or visiting someone or are doing a very special outing or you know that there is simply no chance that the child will nap, I try not to worry about the break in routine. It’s like ice cream on a diet, or a skyscraper bending in the wind. We need to be a little flexible in order to be successful.

Convenience is next to godliness. Or: keep it simple, superstar! It might not be your favorite scenario to have your kid eat Pirate Booty that isn’t, er, artisanally crafted by local pirates, but it sure is convenient. I’ve also noted that it is harder for a child to scream when its mouth is full of a foamy cheese snack.

Choice is another friend who starts with C. It’s best to avoid creating a monster who will only eat out of one particular bowl, even if it is in the dishwasher, even if you are on vacation and the dishwasher and bowl are in another state. Praising flexibility and not caving in to the whims of a hungry demon therefore make sense.

However, kids love to choose. Who can blame them? So where possible, let them choose their shoes, their snack, their shirt, whether they want peas or broccoli in the casserole, or what do do during the afternoon: this will give them a sense of agency. But remind them that sometimes you choose, too: it’s nice to sometimes listen to M. Ward in the car, instead of just the Sesame Street Singalong CD.

In the next installment, I am going to show how to apply the commandments to different situations.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Alana permalink
    September 21, 2011 1:27 pm

    Wise words! Thank you, Counselor Chomp! (Hilarious moniker!)

  2. Jen permalink
    September 21, 2011 2:29 pm

    I love the part about pirate booty.

  3. Karen permalink
    September 21, 2011 3:08 pm

    Loved it. However, that did not stop me from being grumpy when our getting-to-school momentum was stopped JUST as we were headed out the door by a poopy *pull-up* so pernicious that it necessitated a full change of clothes for everyone involved…. still found a smidge on my person of what I hoped was not poop during my client mtg today.

    I do not love being sweaty and smelling faintly of poop when I am half an hour late heading out the door and it’s not even 7 am… of the days Mia has gone to school with me this month I think I have been on time for work twice? And I am already an hour later than everyone else (flex time!) so it’s not like that’s not noticeable…

    Strangely, my usually lovely husband chose to lose it this morning too, and deliver a lecture about all the ways I was making my own life harder this morning. Grrr.

    We did not smell any flowers this morning. But— under ordinary corcumstances, I agree wholeheartedly! And I try to agree other times too…..

  4. Michelle permalink
    September 21, 2011 5:22 pm

    Really, really excellent advice for dealing with toddlers, older children, and partners. And for managing adults in a work setting, dealing with parents and other relatives, and training the dog. Seriously, this advice is golden.

  5. Trisha Margeson permalink
    September 21, 2011 6:18 pm

    Really beautifully said Counselor Chomp,   Our one rule that over ruled everything but safety was pick your battles.  Thomas Gordon and  Haim G. Ginott  made our lives much easier. I highly recommend .  Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children by Thomas Gordon and  Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication by H. Wallace Goddard and Haim G. Ginott.

  6. Murray permalink
    September 22, 2011 10:02 am

    Listening to M.Ward is always a good idea.

  7. Lilo permalink
    September 22, 2011 6:18 pm

    This is a wonderful advice. Recently, I took Gabe to the beach with friends (one mine, one his). He wanted to roll up his pants and take his shoes off and wade in the water like his friend. I got it in my mind that, no, this was not going to happen because he was going to get wet and I wasn’t sure he had a change of clothes. He protested. I held firm. Things moved inland to a pile of sand. He wanted his shoes off to climb on it like his friend. I said no. He protested. I held firm because I had said no – didn’t want to relent to his whining because I thought that would encourage more whining in the future. Then, I was like, why are you being such a rigid poop, Mom? Geez….I took off his shoes, he was overjoyed, climbed all over that sand pile. I was happy to see him so happy. I just had gotten this thing in my head and had to step back a little in order to let go. My friend’s mother-in-law shared this little jewel that I try to remember: Say yes when you can say yes. Because you are going to be saying a lot of no.

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