Give me your child-raising hacks and habits
August 12, 2013 5:22 PM   Subscribe

My baby is getting to the age where taking care of him is a bit more complicated than just making sure he's fed and slept. I'm looking for your parenting hacks and habits -- things you've learned that make raising kids (toddler age and older) just work a little better.

My 9-month-old son is starting to reach that stage where he is becoming a bit more complex and interesting. He is beginning to form expectations, learn more complicated things, and even is starting to understand what we say. We're super happy about this! But.. I'm also realising that now is probably a good time to think more seriously and pro-actively about how to do the more complicated parts of parenting than just keeping him alive, clean, and gurgling along.

What I mean by this is: I'm trying to figure out good parenting principles, tricks to live by, and habits to get into now that will serve us well later. I've read some books and those were mostly useless, full of either obvious things or things I disagreed with. We've managed to figure out a few for ourselves, so I'll give you some examples so you know what I mean. Things like:

1. Pick your battles. In terms of disciplining, our thought (at least while he is still very young) is that we should intervene/punish only if either (a) he is doing something unsafe; or (b) he is doing something mean. Other things - making a mess, yelling, etc., we will try to divert or embrace as makes sense at the time, but don't want to turn into a battle of wills; we don't want our every interaction to be centred around "no" and we don't want him to learn that he is always doing something wrong.

2. Make it easy for him to do the right thing. This means, basically, try not to set him up for failure if at all possible: don't take him to restaurants and expect him to sit quietly when he's very tired or sick; don't put things that he's not allowed to touch right in front of him; don't deprive him of a nap and then get mad when he throws a tantrum; don't ask him a question, demanding an honest answer, and then get mad when that answer is not what you wanted.

3. Give him as much choice and responsibility as he can handle. He already picks out what to wear in the morning (given two choices), feeds himself (from amongst the assortment of food we place on his tray), and chooses what books we read together. We plan to continue expanding what he can do, as much as he can handle it and enjoys. The thought is that the more control he feels over his environment, the happier he'll be… and the sooner he'll learn to be a functioning human being.

4. Explain ourselves, our expectations, and our thoughts clearly. When we want him to do something, we explain why. When he is sad or upset, we ask him why and try to give him words and space to do so, and accept whatever he tells us. (Obviously at 9 months this doesn't amount to anything, but again, we're trying to set habits now that will be good later). We want him to get used to communicating clearly, and also knowing that we care about what he thinks.

5. Once a week is reserved for family. We all do something together (outside, preferably, but at least not in front of a TV or a screen) once a week. We think it's important to remember to take the time to just enjoy life with each other.

6. Experiences are more important than things. Related to #5, I guess.. but we'd rather give him a rich and varied set of experiences (in terms of going places, seeing things, listening to things, tasting things) than more toys. Although it's not like he has no toys.

7. End each day with "tidy time." Part of his bedtime ritual is putting on a "tidying song" and all put all the toys etc from the day together. At this point he doesn't realise much of what is going on, and certainly doesn't help, but the idea is that he'll grow into it and just expect that this is how we end the day.

My question is, what other hacks or rules or principles like this have you found useful when raising your kids? I'm especially interested in habits (like "tidy time", or the one-thing-per-weekend rule) that would be good for us to try to start now.

Comments on my examples are also okay but that's not really the main point of this question.
posted by forza to Human Relations (40 answers total) 98 users marked this as a favorite
Anything you try will work twice, and then never again. At least, that's my experience.
posted by colin_l at 5:24 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

It won't last forever, but you are heading into a period where a few minutes of advance warning will often get you a lot more cooperation (i.e., he is playing with his toys and you have to go somewhere, tell him two minutes ahead of time that you will be leaving.) Toddlers in particular don't handle abrupt changes super well.

A really useful acronym for me has been HALT: if they are acting up, it is usually because they are either Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. For me, it's mostly Hungry or Tired. Then you can address the underlying cause instead of just the symptom.
posted by ambrosia at 5:34 PM on August 12, 2013 [15 favorites]

When I was a child I never had to think twice about whether or not I would get a drive to (and be on time for) my swimming lessons, or if my lunch was going to be packed (tomato slices in a baggie separate from the bread so the sandwich didn't sog), and now I appreciate those sorts of basic caretaking things that gave me security. What I mean is, don't discount the basics -- keep KISS in mind along with HALT.
posted by kmennie at 5:46 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

As soon as he's walking out to the car, practice "hand on the car for safety" in the driveway. The idea is, if you're getting something else out of the car and are not holding his hand, his hand should be on the car for safety. This is huge if you have a second kid and need to get them out.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 5:50 PM on August 12, 2013 [15 favorites]

Schedules are still incredibly important as is bed time, even if they fight it.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 6:41 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Routine. My youngest is now 3 and every single night is a bit easier having had the same routine since he was 6 months. Bath, teeth brushing, jammies, reading time with mom or dad, bedtime and lights off. When he turned 2 he started wanting a little water before bed. We do this almost every single night and even if we get some friction he fundamentally knows how the night time routine goes.
posted by Piano Raptor at 6:46 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Teach him a couple words in sign language, such as "all done" and "more". This is hugely helpful as their understanding and desire to communicate outstrips their ability to verbalize.

Definitely pick your battles. If he's throwing a fit over wearing a sweater, let him go without it (but bring the sweater along just in case!).
posted by mogget at 6:50 PM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]

Seconding the warnings for any upcoming transition. My kids are 6 and 3 and they both get minute-by-minute countdowns starting about 5 minutes before the end of playtime, bathtime, etc. It helps tremendously.

Giving a choice: do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue one? This is way less overwhelming for little ones than asking them to pick from all their shirts. It also gives them some sense of control.

Especially when you are delivering consequences, talk *way* less than you think you should. When kids are upset, they literally aren't comprehending your long explanations of why you are punishing them, what they did wrong, how they should consider other's feelings, blah blah blah. When you're putting them in time-out or enforcing chores or whatever it may be, use way fewer words, spoken with way less emotion, than would probably feel natural otherwise, Less is more.

And I couldn't nth routines enough.
posted by justonegirl at 6:53 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

Tell them what TO do, not just what NOT to do.

For example: I have very low tolerance for whining. Instead of "No whining," I told both my kids, "I don't like it when you whine. Please tell me what you need. Say, 'Mommy, I need ___.'" And it worked; very little whining in our house.

Also: consistency is key. It's so tempting to give in just this one time. You want your kid to be happy, and it's easier for you... until they start demanding "just this one time" every time.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:42 PM on August 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

I'm no expert ... only a few months ahead of you with an 18-month-old, but:

- Seconding giving them warnings to prepare for transitions. This is key with ours.
- When you want them to do something (wear a bib) give them a choice of two things (2 bibs). That way he thinks he's choosing and is happy about that and you have a achieved your goal of getting him to wear a bib.
- Run them into the ground every day. We divide weekends (and any day we're home together) mentally into four activity periods - pre and post nap Saturday and again on Sunday. Each period has to involve real physical activity even if its just a walk/run.
- Coax them into doing things by modeling the behavior. I don't ask her to brush her teeth - I brush mine in front of her and she demands to be allowed to brush her teeth with the tooth brush.
- when possible redirect undesirable behavior to something else. She wants to pick up every deliciously tempting piece of garbage on our walks. Instead of saying no, we say "garbage! Step on it!" It's the lesser of two evils. Now if we say garbage she steps on it instead of picking it up. Just saying "no" was way too tempting for our rebellious, curious toddler.
posted by semacd at 7:47 PM on August 12, 2013 [11 favorites]

Also on the whining topic, we pretend we can't understand our daughter when she whines. "I'm sorry, I don't understand what you're saying, can you try your big girl voice?" It works really well, but you have to not cave, which is way harder than it sounds.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 7:51 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Don't assume the worst. We planned and planned for the day we were going to take my daughter's pacifiers away, and for all the backsliding and fights that we were sure would follow. The day (2nd birthday) came, we told her the Nuh-Nuh Fairy had to take her Nuh-Nuhs to give to little babies, she said, "OK" and never asked for one again. We could have saved ourselves a great deal of time and stress if we just gave it a try in the first place.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:53 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Never underestimate the power of a well-timed bribe. Save TV for when you're sick, lollipops for airplanes, etc.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:01 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good sleep hygiene coupled with consistency. It really is that simple.

Also, 5:00 is cocktail hour. Bottle or sippy cup of milk for junior, glass of wine, beer or scotch for you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:19 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

Deliberately and explicitly model good behaviour. This is more than just ettiquette, although that's a major part. Label emotions and reasons behind behaviour like "I'm sad because I miss my friend. I'm going to have some tea and write her a letter to make myself feel better and to let her know that I'm thinking of her, which will be nice for her too. Would you like to draw a picture for the letter too?"

Think about what character traits you value most - kindness, honesty, discipline etc - and come up with family traditions that reinforce them.

Learn your child. Each child is different, and they are so not blank slates. Figure out your child's interests and personality and moods, and adapt your parenting style to them instead of forcing them to adapt to you. Examine your own expectations - do you want her to be bookish smart because you are? Do you want her to be pretty and polite because of your own pride? Be brutal in crushing unfair expectations because they are a burden on your child and prevent you seeing the potential of who she really is.

Build in respect for themselves and their time, and yours. Don't interrupt them when they're busy except in an emergency, and make it clear that they need to be polite and wait, take turns and so on.

Encourage a lot of independent play. This doesn't work for some kids who need more interaction, but most kids can learn to play on their own for longer times than you'd expect. It's reasonable to expect a toddler to play by herself for 30-45 minutes if she's not hungry or cranky.

Apologise to your children for your mistakes. It's really important to acknowledge parents make mistakes too, to look for solutions and forgiveness together. That makes it much easier for them to apologise and trust you.

Tell family stories. Narration builds memories and vocabulary and gives a child ways to see the world. Reading stories, especially fundamental stories like fairy tales and myths, gives your child a tool to understand the world. Family stories (remember last month when we went to the zoo, and you danced like the penguins...) connect the child to you and her community.

Some kids don't sleep or read or walk on a schedule. Find a good doctor you trust and if they say your child is healthy, accept that your kid is weird. My five have been all over the place for different milestones, and with the youngest who from the start sleeps less than 10 hours a day and rarely naps - eh, that's how it is. If she had been my first, I would've freaked out and blamed my parenting.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:28 PM on August 12, 2013 [16 favorites]

My two are now 17 and 20. From your description, you're doing all the right things, and I agree entirely with just about everything from all the previous comments.

We never went anywhere without small containers of Cheerios and (eventually) crackers. A hungry kid is an unhappy kid.

We didn't plan anything for Friday evenings. I went back to work when both kids turned 4 months so they were in a day-home with other little kids. I figured if the end of the week was a decompression time for me, it would be for the kids, too, only they couldn't go to the fridge, pull out a cold brewski, and settle in front of the TV. So we were prepared for a bit of a meltdown and made sure that we didn't go to Costco or Grandma's on Friday evenings. Friday evenings were all very laid back and Friday suppers were always easy, well-loved meals such as grilled cheese. Friday night was not the time to introduce anything new.

When they were older, not only did they got lots and repeated warnings about activity changes, we talked about our expectations when we were doing something Out. For grocery stores it was about staying in the cart and using quiet voices. For Grandma and Grandpa's it was about sitting at the table, using our manners, and asking to be excused. We always talked about the expectations well before the event and sometimes I'd say, "Well, suppose we're at Grandma and Grandpa's eating dinner and you really don't like some of the food. Then what would you do?"

I read Barbara Coloroso's "Kids Are Worth It" and it informed everything else. I refused--and still refuse--to punish my kids. There were logical and reasonable consequences to rule infractions (you make a mess, you have to clean it up within the capability of age; that might mean something as simple as getting a cloth when they were very little; you ride your bike without your helmet, you're not riding your bike until you can prove to me that you have a way to always remember). Part of this is that rules were simple: do not hurt yourself, others, or property, or place yourself in a position where those things are likely, again, always age-adjusted.

I taught them how to negotiate. They both wanted a movie to watch but couldn't agree on one, so I helped them find common ground. One wanted a funny movie, the other wanted good guys and bad guys: would 101 Dalmations work? You'd be surprised, but once I helped them with this a few times, probably less than six times, they were doing it on their own at ages 6 and 3.

And I don't know if this helped, but my kids say it was unusual among their peers, and that was we insisted on family suppers, at the table, with everyone being sociable. We say grace, not because we're religious but because we want to create the sense of a "circle". No electronics allowed. Dinner in front of the TV was an extra-special treat, planned around an event, maybe a new Harry Potter DVD release that we'd need to start watching around dinner in order for bedtime not to run late. When they were older, it was something like the Oscars.

Sorry for the length of this. I couldn't be prouder of my sons and they've been practically no trouble. Mind you, I think they came from the Maker like that; my husband and I just try not to screw them up.
posted by angiep at 8:37 PM on August 12, 2013 [30 favorites]

Also, 5:00 is cocktail hour. Bottle or sippy cup of milk for junior, glass of wine, beer or scotch for you.

Careful with this one. My mother just confronted me and said she's worried I might have a drinking problem because my two-year-old can get a beer out of the fridge and open it for me (and I posted a video of such on Facebook).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:49 PM on August 12, 2013 [9 favorites]

Praise for effort: "you worked really hard, well done" not for 'cleverness' - that is, not "well done, you're really smart". Research shows this makes for better long-term happiness and success in life.
posted by anadem at 8:49 PM on August 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

If you're getting ready to go somewhere talk to them about where you're going, what's going to happen when you get there and what the rules are.

Then as you're getting ready to park, start to go over the rules again and what is expected of them. As they get older you should ask them what rules and expecations might be important for where you're going and of course prompt when needed.

We have had much success with this method.
posted by Sweetmag at 9:03 PM on August 12, 2013

If you've ever had battles over whether or not a coat is necessary, start putting coats on outside instead of inside. That way your son can gauge for himself whether a coat is actually necessary. (I'd say 70% of the time, this leads to a child putting a coat on; the other 30% you realize it's not that cold either.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:59 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm not that far ahead of you with a 13 month old, but a couple of things I am focussed on at the moment:

1. Clear explanations - I'm struggling a bit with tearful drop-offs on my way to work. I have been explaining that I'm going to work and that I will see him again at the end of the day - while the temptation is to duck out to try and avoid the crying, I think taking the time to explain every day does seem to be helping.

2. Always sitting down while eating - this is not working very well at the moment, but I'm hoping that this will eventually result in less mess, and also be a helpful habit for sitting quietly and having a snack when we're out and about.

3. Dealing calmly and consistently with things like biting - by saying no, telling him not to do the thing and why (as simply as possible), and then redirecting his attention so that the action + my reaction doesn't become a game (which tends to happen with biting, at least - the "no" and pulling him away is apparently very amusing).

Most of the time I feel like I'm not doing a very good job at any of the above, of course :) (And I really like your idea of "tidy time", what a great routine).
posted by fever-trees at 10:18 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Things you don't want too much of, such as TV and treats, restrict them to the weekend. With boys you have to be careful about video games - they love them, but in my opinion video games are attention span destroyers. Instead read him a ton of books.
posted by Dansaman at 11:54 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

We always had the "parking lot rule" which was anytime we were in a parking lot they had to either have one hand on the shopping cart or hold my hand. I would remind them before we got out of the car or as we were leaving the store.

I would say the most important thing for us was consistency in setting boundaries and limits. Otherwise it's like the lottery for kids--"maybe if I whine loudly THIS time I'll get my way."
posted by Revie1 at 1:35 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I particularly like some of the useful tricks, like the hand on the car door for safety or telling kids you can't understand them when they whine. (hee) If anybody has other suggestions I am still checking in frequently, but regardless, these are great.
posted by forza at 5:16 AM on August 13, 2013

The number one rule is once you've said no, do not change your mind. There's nothing worse for a toddler.
Also, read, read, read. Encourage reading. Start reading now. (When the wee man was 6 weeks old, "Moo, Baa, LaLaLa" was enough.

For you as a parent, be prepared to break your own rules as you go along. Sometimes what you think will work, in actual practice, will not.

Best of luck!
posted by littleflowers at 7:07 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Those are good rules, I always think of numbers one and two as the same thing. When my kids do something they shouldn't they get removed from the situation. Say they're throwing a fit in a store. We just leave the store until they calm down, (oh and teaching my kids to take deep breaths when they start to get frustrated worked surprisingly well). If they're hitting each other, they both go to different places to calm down, and then apologize to each other, and they don't get to play whatever they were doing anymore. That way, you're helping them to behave, and the consequences of the action are actually predictable and connected to the action itself. We're big on apologies too. Not just for them,my wife and I actively try and apologize to each other and to them.

Along with giving the kids choices on small things, I try and only give choices that I'm o.k. with them actually taking. Like, if I say "if don't get dressed we're not going to the party." I better be willing to not go to that party.

In the long run though, the biggest way kids learn how to behave towards others is by watching how you interact with other people, including them. So, be polite and kind to and around your kids, and your kids will generally be polite and kind to you.
posted by Gygesringtone at 9:45 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best advice my mom has given me: "Don't start anything you don't want to continue."
posted by suchatreat at 10:19 AM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

"If a trick you have stops working, it's because your kid grew out of it. Time to find a new trick."
Spend no time worrying about how it always worked before and now it doesn't. This is normal!
posted by Omnomnom at 11:59 AM on August 13, 2013

Another one is to let them know you hear/understand them. This is effective at a remarkably early age -- sometime around 1 our daughter started screaming and fighting during diaper changes, and my saying "Speck doesn't want to lie here; Speck is mad and would rather play; Speck doesn't want to lie down for wiping" was the first thing to break through it -- she just stared at me. It works all through their (and our) lives: "Wow, that sounds like it was hard." "It sounds like that made you really sad, or think that the teacher didn't like you." "Thinking that your friends won't be there for you makes you sad and lonesome." Sometimes you'll go on from there, but sometimes just feeling understood is all that was needed (and sometimes, as a result, *they'll* go on from there). Amazing.
posted by acm at 12:03 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

With my kids, my advice that saved dinner was the 3 bites rule. The kid had to take 3 bites of everything on his plate, after that I could care less. When I grew up dinner was fraught with anxiety because we had to eat everything on our plate whether or not we liked it. I just asked my kids to have the 3 bites of everything o their plate and, guess what, they are much more relaxed and will try everything now that we have teens and older. I never limited dessert either if you only had 3 bites. I like dessert and so does everyone in my family. I figure a gummy vitamin took care of the rest. Why fight with a toddler over dinner, they always win due to their immense screaming power.
posted by lasamana at 12:28 PM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

One more thing we have started doing with our five year old: if I am talking to someone else, or on the phone, and he wants to say something to me, rather than just coming up and interrupting, I've taught him to come up to me and take my hand, and my squeezing his hand will tell him that I know he has something to say, and I'll turn to him when I can give him my attention. This has liberated us from the "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!" while jumping up and down trying to interrupt.

I'm amazed at how well it's worked, actually.
posted by ambrosia at 12:30 PM on August 13, 2013 [15 favorites]

Spend sometime, everyday, outside. Give them choices of two things that you like. I would pick out two outfits for my daughter and would ask her to choose the one she wanted today. Just that little bit helped her feel more in control. When going on big trips, don't tell them anything until you're in the car, ready to go. These were my favs taught to me by mommies I worked with.
posted by PJMoore at 12:48 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I read somewhere that it takes nine separate bites of / interactions with a new food for you to decide if you like it or not. This may be woo, but we treat it as gospel in the house. You can't look at something and decide you don't like it -- you have to taste it nine different times. Not at the same meal or on the same day -- just, "Okay. You've tried mashed potatoes 4 times and you still don't like them, maybe you never will. But we'll try again and maybe you'll like them after the 5th bite..." Nine is a high enough number that he can't police us whether he's tried it enough times or not (though we do try to keep track), and what do you know, after a few different interactions, sometimes he really does learn to like stuff.

Also, it's a thing not an advice, but apple slicers are the greatest thing ever to happen to parenting toddlers.
posted by Mchelly at 12:58 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Simple positive reinforcement: washable hand stamps or stickers as rewards for new habits, like brushing teeth or using the toilet.
posted by Grinder at 3:29 AM on August 14, 2013

Your baby is going to resist when you diaper or dress him. This is inevitable. Laugh at the assertion of independence, and say, "Resistance is futile. You will be dressed."

In a year or two, get in the habit of asking, before starting the car, "Does everyone have their seatbelt on?" This will reinforce the notion that being in the car means that he has to be buckled up. It is a good check for you, because things get nuts and you might actually forget.

When toilet training begins, you may wish to use this trick. Depending on the child, stating that it is "My turn to go to the bathroom," may get him to rush in front of you to get his turn first.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 10:51 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Two practical suggestions (one of which I'm seconding):

* Sign-language... so, so helpful. Babies and toddlers get frustrated because they can't communicate what they want. But if you teach them basic signs (potty, water, eat, please, more, wet (diaper)), it makes life way easier. And 9 months is the perfect time to start because that's when our kids both really started picking it up. Check locally for a Baby Signs class, maybe at your public library.

* Start potty training now. Really. We started very young with both our kids - our daughter at 5 months (she was down to one wet diaper a day by 1 1/2 and out of diapers completely by 2) and our son at 2 months. He's 15 months now and is still going through some diapers, but we've changed maybe one poopy diaper in the last month. He's got a good track record going. Don't go in expecting the world, but if you start training them early that the potty is where that stuff happens, you avoid that huge struggle when they're 2 or 3 trying to undo that many years of thinking their diaper is where to go.
posted by laze at 7:49 PM on August 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Laze, do you have a link to resources for early potty training?
posted by Night_owl at 10:51 AM on August 18, 2013

Letting them choose things gives them a sense of agency & empowerment -- but rig the game by setting the choices so that either one serves your ends. Bwa-ha-HA!
posted by wenestvedt at 1:11 PM on August 19, 2013

We're firm on manners with our girl - so when she asks for something and doesn't say please I pretend I couldn't quite make out what she was saying (not ignoring her, of course, just asking 'what was that?' 'sorry?'). Works every time.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:21 PM on August 19, 2013

Here is a link for early potty training that I have used, and here is another one.

I use early potty training with my baby (age 6 months) and have done so since she was 3 months old. I love it and would recommend it to anyone as a baby hack. It's easy, doesn't take up much time at all (I put her on the potty maybe 4 or 5 times a day for less than 5 minutes each time) and she only poops in the diaper about once a week now, which makes my life much simpler because I use cloth diapers.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:28 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

« Older Pain after knee surgery   |   Workfilter: How to be professional in the face of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.