Training Toddlers and Preschool Children
by Kerin Morgan
In the whole scheme of things, toddler years are very short. But these are the years when the most aggressive training should take place and the ones that should produce the most fruit.
Training in these years yields benefits in the school years. Even though it takes a lot of energy, we need to condition children to right habits when they’re young.
We need to train young children to say “no” to fleshly impulses and negative emotions. Children need to understand that there are more people in the home than just them. They need to learn that parents will gladly help them with their needs but not with their every want. And they need to know they must contribute to the family and not just take―because they are a precious part of a whole unit and also have something to offer others.
There are three specific areas to work on with your preschool child:
- Obedience—God esteems and requires obedience. Even though He is merciful, there are consequences when we disobey. Sickness and tiredness are not excuses. We can accomplish so much more when we are obedient.
- Respect—God tell us to honor parents. The lines of authority in children’s lives need to be clearly defined. Role-play respect with your children so they understand how it sounds when we talk to one another respectfully.
- Self-control—God wants us to learn to say “no” to bad behavior and inappropriate responses.
Train Your Child
You are a partner with God in training your preschool child, so use biblical terminology with these concepts. For example, don’t say “listen to me” because listening is not the same as obeying. Use the correct words: “obey me,” “show honor to me,” etc.
Also, separate the call from the command as Eli showed Samuel to do. Call, and after the children come, tell them what they need to do―don’t give them commands from another room. This ensures you have their full attention. As the children get older, have them repeat the command back.
Babies are born demanding! It takes consistent, daily training with purpose to yield a peaceful home. You will have short-term goals and long-term purposes, and training for those requires a great amount of time and repetition. It often happens in the little moments. With toddlers, issues for training are things like potty training and eliminating picky eating, whining, screaming, and clinging. Set priorities and only work on one goal at a time. Remember that during the toddler years, we’re dealing with external behavior. They won’t understand mercy without first understanding justice, and it isn’t until later that the internal desire to please will come.
But yielding a peaceful home also takes flexibility. Learn to live with a little bit of mess. Don’t set up standards of perfection for either yourselves or your children. Catch yourself and your reaction to your children’s missteps, and humble yourself before your kids when your response to them is sinful. Nothing is more valuable than building relationships with your kids. Anger can be a red flag that your standards are too high.
Structure Your Child’s Activities
Make a plan for each day because without structure, nothing is accomplished. Young children do better with routine and sleep, so your plan should include naptime (or―at a minimum―quiet, on-the-bed time), mealtimes, family time, structured play time, and activity time. Don’t leave home often to run errands. Children need to be home in an ordered environment.
Have your preschool children help with the house work. Do chores a little at a time between school time and your time with them. Toddlers delight in entering your world to help with chores. Even the youngest can do simple chores such as helping empty the dishwasher or placing the pillow back on the bed after you’ve made it. Maintain the necessary routines to accomplish these chores. Use a chore chart and make children accountable, reminding them that work is a gift―it was in the Garden of Eden before there was sin. Work is a way to use our energy, manage time, learn to follow authority, and learn to work with others. As your children get older, don’t pay allowance for chores that are their part of helping the family; instead, pay only for extra jobs.
Preschool children have a lot of energy to get out every day. After lunch is a good time for high-energy activity. Then settle down gradually with a book and a nap.
Teach Your Child Boundaries
During your school time with older children, the job of preschool children is to be cooperative. Divide their toys into categories―what they can do alone and what requires help. Alone-time toys and books are only given during this time. Divide your room into sections, and have each toddler and preschool child play alone with two to three toys in a specified section. Indicate the boundaries that they must not leave and that no other child may enter. This time alone helps children learn focus and self-control in increasing amounts of time. Eventually this skill leads to children being able to and loving to learn on their own―a skill they need in high school and college!
Make lists of other activity ideas that your toddler or preschool child will need help with (such as puzzles, books, and shape-sorting), and do those during your time with them or an older child’s time with them. You are asking for problems, frustration, and burnout if you pair young children with young children and expect them to play. They don’t know how to get along or share yet. When multiple toddlers and preschool children are together, a parent or older child needs to be with them to direct their play and help them learn to work things out.
Sometimes, no matter how well you’ve planned, the day doesn’t go well. When you have an unusually bad day, give it up and do activities together as a family.
Finally, it is very helpful to find a mentor who enjoyed the chaos of the toddler and preschool years. Call her when you need advice or help to temper a bad response to your children. With help, a routine, flexibility, and understanding, you can enjoy these years too.
Kerin is the mother of eleven children and the grandmother of three. She gets her “little-kid fix” by teaching babies, toddlers, and preschoolers to swim, and she loves to encourage moms of young children in the early phases of parenting. Kerin is also the co-owner of four Aqua-Tots swim schools. This article first appeared in The Virginia Home Educator, Fall 2010.