Living with a whirlwind toddler and a passionate preschooler can be very entertaining at times. But with the laughs come the challenges, and often parents of especially active children find themselves totally exhausted by the end of the day (much like all parents really). Sometimes I write about topics based on professional or life experience, and sometimes I write on things I’m merely trying to figure out myself. Today is the latter, as we continuously explore the best ways to raise our awesome, but lively, two children.
Our 19-month old little bundle of joy has such a curious mind I would give anything to just take a peek inside. The vast majority of our time with her is spent chasing her around the place ensuring she doesn’t burn it down. And our 4,5 year old firecracker just gave up on a 16 hour, intermittent, tantrum because I wouldn’t by her the ‘Frozen’ bracelet yesterday after shopping for new clothes (I know, I’m suuuch an asshole!). But crazy antics aside, their spirited-ness also brings a great sense of humor, amazingly curious and growing minds and an abundance of cuddles. For the sake of keeping our somewhat sane minds, and to balance it all out, I’ve listed the top 7 reminders that seem to help us through it all.
- Firstly, there’s a difference between ‘active’ and ‘hyper-active’
Before throwing in words like “ADD” and “hyperactive”, it’s important to remember that being physically active is normal for children at this age. I’m not saying ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’ is not a real thing, but as a psychologist, I have noted how some countries tend to over diagnose it and consequently treat children with much unnecessary medication. Although being active and lively is a sign of the disorder, there are many more symptoms that need to be taken into account before jumping the gun. (Note: If you are genuinely concerned about the impacts of your toddler’s overactive behavior then it’s important to see a medical professional, even if it’s just for your own peace of mind.) But if they are also able to control their impulses and emotions, pay attention, and respond appropriately in school and at home, they are probably just an energetic little individual ready to give you a run for your money.
- Remember to pick your battles and curb your expectations
Don’t set yourself or your child up for failure. One source of frustration for us in the past was when exciting outings were planned, but the day was sidetracked by an unwillingness to join the fun, a grumpy mood or a good ol’ fashioned tantrum. Since then, we have learned to plan the basics and just wing it from there. We try to have alternative options ready, and limit our own expectations of the day, allowing for the kids to experience it on their own terms. Of course within safe limitations, but it’s important to know when to hold your ground and know when to let go. We know that doing arts and crafts with our girls is a lot more fun after running around for a bit first. We’ve learnt they focus better on what we have to say with the TV off and our phones put aside and outings seems to run smoother when we just show up and let the day take us where it can.
On that note, we’ve picked our battles and try to let go of the reigns a little, but we do stick to our guns on the things that matter. No rewards are given as a result of a tantrum, hitting is not tolerated and once they are in bed the negotiations are finished. This doesn’t mean it runs smoothly all the time, far from it, but it’s helping us set up clearer expectations for everyone.
- It’s ok to lose your shit sometimes
As much as I hate to admit it, those two little treasures often push me to my limits and I don’t always cope as well as I’d like. After I raise my voice (or plain simply yell), mutter something unkind under my breath or catch myself counting down the minutes to bedtime, I often feel like an utter sack of poop. I know I’m not the only parent in the world who is caught off guard by loosing their grip, but none of us like to brag about that now do we. Rather, in that moment, our irrational selves tell us we’re doing a crappy job and failing as a parent as we hide in the closet, because we don’t want to manipulate our children with our tears.
But once the pity party has finished, it’s valuable to remind ourselves that that moment of utter chaos is not a reflection of who we are as a parent. These moments do not define how we parent, rather, our children do. My youngest wrapped herself around my leg the other day while I was cooking and didn’t let go for a solid 3 minutes (which says a lot, seeing her mind usually distracts her every two) and my oldest ran back to the school gates because she wanted to give me a second kiss goodbye for the day. If they can let go of the big arguments we had earlier, and still show us they’re happy and loved, we couldn’t haven’t messed them up that badly right? We can only learn from the outbursts and recognize our triggers to try and manage our temper better next time.
- The research is right: Tire those kiddies out with active play
Every book, blog, forum or article on the topic of raising active kids shares the common advice of encouraging active play. Whether you find indoor activities or take them outside, finding an outlet for their extra energy is the best option for them (and you) to enjoy it and channel it. At least once a day, with little crazy boots (and her somewhat calmer, yet still equally crazy, older sister) is spent actively channeling their energy. This tends to vary from week to week. Daddy playing horse and carrying them around the room has now been replaced by a ‘dance party’. [I’d like to say we tried to stick with children songs, but they soon tired from ‘heads, shoulders, knees, and toes’ and have since moved on to dancing with Justin Timberlake and shuffling with Redfoo. It’s the new generation… I’m scared, people]. I’m curious to see what’s next.
Living in a Parisian suburb, a large garden is unfortunately not always an option. We have however been very lucky in finding a gated community with little to no traffic and plenty of playgrounds nearby. So be it your own backyard or a nearby park/forest, your children will relish from time spent outside playing and usually outside works better for us as well. Their squeals of delight are picked up by the wind, giving our ears a much needed break: and if your house is anything like ours, they will value the space to run around like a headless chicken without knocking over some furniture or their sibling.
- Have some time for you (to remain semi-sane)
Like many parents, some weeks can be more trying than others, especially if we’ve been busy at work ourselves, the weather has limited our outside time or any other factors that contribute to our fatigue. I find that, given even a few hours to myself, my batteries recharge and patience levels increase again. It’s important to recognize when our buckets are full and communicate this to our partner, family or anyone else in our support network. Don’t feel guilty to take a quiet bath, go to the gym, have a night out or do whatever it is that relaxes you. You’ll feel better for it after and believe me your kids will appreciate it too.
- Encourage Independent Play
An active child also needs to learn that there are times they will need to sit still or times where certain activities are just not possible (e.g.: it’s hard to go skiing at 9pm in summer). As much as we want them to roam free and explore their worlds, doing whatever we want, whenever we want, is just not how the world currently works. It’s not a question of bumming them out about all the sucky limitations adulthood has in store for them, but rather encouraging them to use their imagination, express themselves, solve problems and cope with new situations. Independent play can be great for their development and gives us, as their very tired parent, a small break in our active days. Our eldest has no problems wandering off into her room to draw or play, but the little one needs a little push here and there. Instead of just pointing at toys saying “here, play with that”, we generally sit down with her to get started and before you know it that Lego house is taking on a great shape while we’ve snuck into the kitchen to get dinner started.
- Routines are ‘da bomb’
While it’s nice, at times, to just go with the flow, a structured routine for some everyday areas can make family life smoother and more effective. We’ve always been a sticker to our routines in our household when it comes to eating, sleeping and basic chores. Of course our routines reflect our children’s needs as well as our own family values and lifestyle. We’re not the military here (despite the fact I feel I sometimes need to bark orders to get things done) and sometimes adjustments in the routines are needed when life happens (e.g.: heavy traffic, a family visit, etc.). Our girls tend to take comfort in knowing what to expect with the daily hustle and bustle and learn how to be flexible when change does happen. They build their confidence in helping out with basic little chores like putting away their shoes and cleaning up their toys and they’re good sleepers (for the most part). Children don’t have a lot of control in their lives (I’m laughing so hard writing this because it feels like the exact opposite sometimes), but routines can gives them a sense of organization, stability and comfort. They take ownership of their roles in the family unit and a good routine can help keep a family sane.
All the above has helped us on numerous occasions but none of them are sure-fire—works-every-time solutions either. I’ve lost my shit on more than one occasion (okay, a lot more than one occasion) but that doesn’t mean we’ll stop trying to encourage these little space rockets from growing into the best possible versions of themselves … extra energy included !