As soon as your child is self-aware enough to understand he has choices, the fights usually begin. One day he refuses to wear pants, another he asks for Pop-Tarts repeatedly until you think your ears will start to bleed. Hence, the commonly dispensed mom advice, “pick your battles”.
Choosing to put your foot down sometimes, and let it go others, helps keep moms sane. But knowing which battles to pick can be a struggle in itself.
Keep in mind, I am not actually advocating fighting with your child. There are lots of creative ways to use positive reinforcement and setting a good example to show your kids the best way to behave. Check out my 5 Tips for Dealing With a “Difficult” Toddler for more.
Also, I know kids are sometimes stubborn about even the most obvious safety and sanitary issues, but I felt those go without saying. For example, you clearly cannot let him stick his hand on the hot stove, no matter how determined he is to do it.
That being said, here are three issues I recommend you stand firm on, and three you can let your child win sometimes.
I still remember a day soon after I’d introduced purees to my son that I knew I had a picky eater. We had two puree cups: apple and green beans. Each time we held a spoonful of the green beans up to my six-month-old’s mouth, he started crying. When we switched back to the apples, he would stop crying. Now, at 2.5, food remains a constant struggle.
Still, I persist in serving him what we are having, including a grain, meat, and vegetable. He may not eat all of it, but I insist he at least tries. I don’t let up on introducing healthy foods, and these are some important reasons why:
- Children who do not develop good eating habits early on are more likely to have health issues in adulthood. These include obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
- Studies have shown that children who eat healthier have higher IQs and higher cognitive function.
- There is even some evidence to suggest that a poor diet can affect children’s mood and behavior.
One of the most difficult parts of parenthood is trying to get your kids to sleep. If you’re one of the lucky moms with a wonder-baby who has slept through the night from infancy, this may not be an issue. For the rest of us, sleepless nights are just a thing you get used to at some point with kids.
Your child’s sleep habits will vary at each developmental stage, so you still need to be somewhat flexible, but you can start a consistent bedtime routine early (around 3-4 months old). Even if you have an abbreviated version that you do on rushed nights, try to do the same routine, at the same time, every night. This goes for naps too.
Sleep habits are important for many of the same reasons it’s important to have a healthy diet:
- Young children are rapidly growing, physically and mentally. Not getting enough sleep inhibits this growth.
- Sleep affects moods. Less sleep = more tantrums. Enough said.
- Poor sleep habits also have negative effects in the long term. Less sleep is connected to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Our kids are growing up in times with seemingly unlimited video content designed for their consumption. Between TV, Netflix, YouTube, and dozens of other apps and games, there are many ways for your child’s screen time to add up. This media has some value (I’ve gotten through my fair share of grocery store trips and doctor’s appointments by distracting a fussy toddler with Little Baby Bums), but there are definitely some drawbacks if your child is watching a screen too often:
- Too much time sitting in front of a TV or staring at a tablet means less time doing other important activities. Exercise (and therefore a reduced risk for obesity), reading, and social interaction are all more valuable activities for a developing young mind.
- Screen time is especially harmful to kids under age 5, who show less progress towards developmental milestones when exposed to too much of it.
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Let It Go
Let’s say you went to dress your kid this morning and you had the perfect outfit picked out. That Harry Potter dress is so freaking adorable and you’ve been excited to see your kid in it from the moment you bought it.
But today she wants to wear her pajamas with cowboy boots instead. And guess what?
You should let her.
I know, there will be times you have to put your foot down even about this (“Um, no you cannot wear your flip flops in the snow”), but you don’t have to win every argument about fashion choices.
By all means, if your child will wear what you want to dress them in with minimal coaxing, then do it. Believe me, I love shopping for and dressing my kids in cute stuff. But if it becomes a huge power struggle resulting in lots of yelling and tantrums, then letting them choose an outfit won’t produce any lasting harm. You may get a couple of sideways glances in the park, but who cares?
Kids are messy. Sometimes I feel like I spend all day in the wake of my kids’ chaos, wiping up milk splatters, picking the remote up off the floor for the gazillionth time, putting all the dog food back in the bag. You can’t just let them run wild, because goodness knows what a disaster that would bring. If you are constantly trying to prevent them from every small mess, however, you’ll probably drive everyone (including yourself) insane.
I am not saying you shouldn’t teach your child to be clean. Of course, you want him to learn good habits so that he will become a functioning adult.
But expecting a two-year-old to eat without dropping some food on the floor just isn’t realistic. The mess is part of learning. It’s also part of what we signed up for when we had kids. So, getting upset about it won’t help.
They will eventually become people who can look after themselves, but in the meantime, teach them what you can and lend them a little grace to just be kids.
Kids sometimes have some pretty weird ideas about what is entertaining. Sometimes those things are loud. Or annoying. Or just…weird.
My son was once completely jubilant because he had dumped all his blocks out on the floor and was kicking them around in all different directions. The sensible adult in me wanted to tell him to cut it out and play with his blocks the way they are supposed to be played with. His hysterical laughter held me back, though.
He wasn’t hurting himself or anyone else, and sure, it would be annoying to clean up all the blocks later, but he was having the time of his life.
So I let it go.
Choosing not to fight battles about fun also goes for the fun they don’t want to have. You might think an activity will be loads of fun for your kiddo, and it can be disappointing if they don’t share your enthusiasm, but ultimately you won’t gain anything by pushing it.
Parenthood is full of struggles, and no one handles them perfectly. You may have days when you give in to a tantrum because you just can’t listen to the whining and screaming anymore. You may have days where you end up yelling at your kid over something stupid. You may also have days when you splurge and let them eat a popsicle before dinner because seeing them sit outside on a hot day with blue juice dripping down their smiling mouths is just too precious. That’s okay. That’s motherhood.