Mrs. Eva Daniel: I have two boys, 4-years-old and 2-years-old, and I think for me, just one of the biggest challenges is just balancing both of their needs and trying to figure out what my rules are and consequences, and then it’s the tantrums and just everything else going on in my life.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Eva Daniel is one of our guests today on “Focus on the Family” and we’re talking about those typical frustrations and feelings of inadequacy that we all have as parents. Your host is Focus president, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and we’re gonna take some of the stress out of your parenting, especially if you have toddlers.
Jim Daly: Well, John, I can appreciate what Eva is describing there, and I think she speaks not only for herself as a mom of toddlers, for moms of toddlers everywhere, and it will be fun to talk more with her. She’s actually one of our producers here at Focus on the Family and does such a terrific job and we’re also gonna talk to one of our very own, Tim Sanford, who’s with the counseling department and speaks to many people every day about difficulties they have in parenting, in marriage and other family related matters. And both Tim and Eva, welcome to “Focus.”
Tim Sanford: Well, thank you; good to be here.
Jim: I guess it’s hard. You walked in today working. (Laughter) So, welcome to the studio I should say.
Tim: Thank you; thank you.
Tim: Good to be here.
Jim: It is great to have you. Tim, you’ve written this book, The Low-Pressure Guide to Parenting Your Preschooler.Eva, you probably lit up when you saw that, right?
Eva: Yeah, I’m living it right now.
Jim: You like low pressure.
Eva: I like low pressure, don’t necessarily experience it, but—
Eva: –I like the idea of low pressure.
Jim: I’m back in that with our foster kids, but you know, I didn’t think at my age, in my 50’s, I would have a 3- and 5-year-old at the house. And that is what some people–
John: Exhausting. (Laughter)
Jim: –do, but man, it is exhausting. I’d forgotten how much energy—
Jim: –it requires and I give Jean the gold medal of parenting right now, because she has got every end burning on that candle and she’s tired. There’s so much going on and she feels really inadequate. So, Eva, let’s start. I want you to just paint that picture for those that might not have been in that groove of parenting toddlers for a few years. Describe your day.
Eva: Well, it is very constant, all of the time, just everything going on. I have two boys, Noah, who’s 4 ½ and Peter, who’s 2 ½. And typical boy-mom, every day ends with, “Mommy, smell my feet,” (Laughter) because you know, that’s what every mom wants to end her day with. But very, very busy, lots of typical boy, lots of climbing, lots of energy, lots of breaking of my things, lots of shoveling food and spilling it on the ground that I clean up. And it just feels like there’s a lot going on all of the time, and they’re both very demanding with different things. And then at times, some nights they sleep great, and I’m a nice human. They slept great (Laughter) last night, so luckily for that. And then other days—
Jim: Mom got some sleep, too.
Eva: –mom got some sleep and then other nights, you know, they’ll wake up at 2 and 4 for whatever reason, nightmare, you know. I dropped my “lamby,” whatever. (Laughter) And so, then I’m up in the middle of the night and very tired a lot.
Jim: Tim, she’s describing the real world of parenting the toddler. You’ve written this book. That’s normative. What additional things would you add to that, the stress, the pressure, parents that are out of control?
Tim: Part of what I see a lot is good parents who are wanting to go a good job of it and as you look at, okay, I need to read these 55 books, visit (Laughter) those 75 websites. I gotta do this; I gotta do that, and it’s overwhelming, ’cause there’s so much information on what to do and how to do it, that the pressure gets added on, either vicariously, or we add on to ourselves of, I need to do everything and do it all correctly in the right way. And oh, by the way, here’s another book out on telling me what I’m not doing right and you do it. And that’s where a lot of the additional stress and pressure that we can take care of is coming from, I think.
Jim: Now you have two grown daughters. How old are your daughters now?
Tim: They’re both in their 30’s and married 10 years and 9 years.
Jim: Yeah, so you’ve gone through it, the whole cycle actually–
Tim: Been there, yeah.
Jim: –not just adolescence. And your daughters’ personalities were quite different, right, which is typical for kids. Eva, your kids are probably quite—
Eva: –polar opposites.
Jim andTim: Yeah.
Tim: Yes, I agree.
Jim: Daughters, too?
Tim: Two daughters, two years apart, best of friends, best of enemies (Laughter) and very different.
Jim: Okay, so we as parents, we try to get in and referee all of this, especially if we haven’t parented very long. I mean we’re talkin’ toddlers, so we might have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, kinda like where you’re at, Eva. What is a good way to deal with some of this energy and some of the, I think you call ’em in the book, the “shoulds?”
Tim: Well, to start with and it was when our girls were actually in high school that my wife and I compared notes, and we both had this ah-ha moment when our kids were toddlers, separate from each other, not knowing it.
But I remember for mine, it was when our older daughter was 20-something months old or one of those things, that she was sleeping and they’re always cute and pretty and angelic, you know, when they’re sleeping.
Tim: And I leaned over and I said, “Listen, kid, you’ve never been a kid before. I’ve never been a dad before. We’re both rookies and I hope we both survive.” (Laughter) And it didn’t do anything for her, ’cause she’s sleeping, but it took a lot of that pressure off of me as the dad. Back to you mention[ing] the “shoulds.” I should do this; I shouldn’t do that. I have to do it right. And one of the things that gets inadvertently put into our job description as a parent is, it’s my job to do everything right.
Tim: And that is a big no-no in a job description that does not belong there—
Tim: –’cause that’s where a lot of that pressure [is that] you’re growin’ up with ’em. I mean, you’ve never been a mom of two rambunctious boys before. Yeah, you’ll never be a mom when they into high school. You have two high school boys; you’re still a rookie. You’re growin’ up with ’em.
Jim: Do you feel that, Eva? Can you feel what Tim’s sayin’ there?
Eva: Oh, all the time, yeah. I think there’s just a lot of the pressure, like you were saying of, I feel like I should know how to do this, but I was the youngest of three girls. Here, I’m the mother of two boys, I have no idea what I’m doing.
Jim: I fact, you are training for a marathon, a half-marathon.
Eva: Half marathon.
Jim: You were describing before we went to air here your training routine and that is to have the two kids in a stroller that you’re running behind and pushing while you have the dog on a leash running—
Eva: I forgot to—
Jim: –next to you.
Eva: –mention my third child. Yes, I also have a puppy, because that’s a good life choice when (Laughter) you have little kids.
Jim: Just to envision you tumbling down the road, yeah, if I were driving by, I’d go, “Look at that poor woman.”
Eva: I know; you’d feel sorry. You’d give me a ride. Maybe that’s—
John: It’s a great illustration–
Eva: –what I need.
John: –of where you’re at, though.
Jim: It is. I mean, that sounds crazy. I would tie the dog up–
Eva: It was crazy.
Jim: –and the kids, too.
Eva: I don’t recommend it. (Laughter) I don’t recommend getting a puppy or training for a half-marathon while having toddlers.
Jim: But Tim, how does she manage that? How does a mom manage all the demands on her and still be joyful at night when dad walks through the door?
Tim: Well, and part of the thing is, I think is, we need an accurate job description to start with.
Jim: What does it look like?
Tim: I mean, each of us have our job description here at Focus on the Family. Our listeners have job descriptions, and the thing is, we don’t have a clear job description for a mom or a dad. It’s too muddled out there.
Tim: So, one of the things in The Low-Pressure Parenting Guide[FYI: The Low-Pressure Guide to Parenting Your Preschooler]is, here is a good accurate job description. And for dads, let me start with dads, dads, the No. 1 above all else goal—this is the critical one; everything else behind this is gravy, okay—is you need to validate your kids. That is your job description. That means, “You’re okay, kid. You’re an okay kid. USDA stamp of approval, you’re my kid. You belong here, over and over again, you validate that kid. That is the critical job description a dad has.
Jim: Tim, before you move on, ’cause some of us dads can be a bit bull-headed or we don’t hear you. Why is that so critical? What’s the end product in that child, if dad did not do those things?
Tim: The reason that validation is so important is, if it’s missing or not there enough, that puts the kid on a trajectory of, it’s me against the world. It’s almost a survival mind that, that creates that, “This is a safe world; I belong here. My world is looking out for me. My dad is looking out for me. I exist. I’m okay. The world is safe. (Sigh) Okay, not I can grow up and go on.”
Tim: If that’s missing or not there enough, it in a sense, creates a visual word picture is, the kid feels like he’s grown up in Vietnam.
Tim: It’s a jungle. It’s a fire fight. It’s do or die. It’s me all by myself, and then I gotta do whatever I have to do. It’s that big of a difference if the validation is not there.
Tim: And so, that’s why I say it’s critical.
Jim: How about, let’s go ahead and cover the moms while we’re there. That’s a dad’s impact. Would moms be similar?
Tim: The No. 1 critical job description point for a mom is that nurturing. And I’m not a mom, so I had to go to moms to figure out how to word that best. But most moms have that natural sense. It’s that pouring life into, it’s that—
Tim: –eye-to-eye smile—
Tim: –smile-to-smile, tear-to-tear. It’s that good kind of fussing–
Tim: –that moms can do. And if that is there, okay, then it is mission accomplished for mom. If it’s missing, or not there enough, okay, then that throws the child into that same kind of do or die. It’s me again the world.
Tim: Trauma kind of, but no, the thing about [it], there’s two ways for a child to get really deeply hurt. One is to have trauma happen to them.
Tim: Okay. This is a lack of good happening to them.
Tim: So, how do you point to a void? See, and a lot of kids go, “My parents didn’t abuse me. They didn’t hurt me. They were there,” so there’s no trauma existing. What’s there is that what was necessary and critical is missing.
Tim: And if these two pieces are missing or not enough, then that kid grows up in that, it’s me against the world mind-set.
Jim: Now you talk in your book, The Low-Pressure Guide to Parenting Your Preschooler, you talk about giving your preschooler a voice. (Laughing) Now Eva, I can imagine you’re going, what?
Eva: They have lots of voices.
Jim: Man,yeah (Laughter), they got voice. It’s not the problem. (Laughter)
John: They don’t need a voice.
Jim: But so, what do you mean by giving your preschooler a voice? Most parents are going, “Ah, that sounds exhausting.”
Tim: It can be exhausting, and it’s not that you really give ’em a voice. God already gave ’em a voice.
Jim: So, how do you—
Tim: So, let’s go back to the—
Jim: –let that play out?
Tim: –book of Genesis.
Tim: Free will, okay, and how do you let that play out is, No. 1, you can voice what you want and say.
No. 2, I will reiterate what I just heard you say. It doesn’t mean I’m gonna give in. I heard you say you want five gallons of ice cream. I heard that, Jimmy, okay? (Laughter)
Jim: Just like my mom. (Laughter)
Tim: Okay, now comes, “No, you can’t have that.” So, it’s letting them speak, reiterating back to them what you heard them say and then whenever you can, give them options. Give them choices.”
Jim: You can have one ounce or one pound, but not five pounds.
Tim: Exactly, okay. Or you can eat your spinach before the hot dog, or after the hot dog. Now, as a parent, “You’re gonna eat the spinach.”
Jim: Okay, so there’s a certain percentage of children my guess would be, that say, “Okay, I’ll eat it before the hot dog.” And some will say after. There still are those and I’m thinking, Eva, you might have one of ’em; I do, too, who says, “Great, I’m not gonna eat it before or after, Dada.” (Laughter)
Tim: And that’s where, that is not an option. (Laughter)
Eva: What do you do, though?
Tim: Okay. (Laughter) And with this then, part of this and I was talkin’ to a mom just not too long ago goin’, “It’s hard, ’cause after a while, by the end of the day, I’m running out of option ideas.”
Tim: You know, and not everything is gonna be an option every single time. When you can give options, okay, so if it’s the blue shirt or the green shirt, it doesn’t matter to me. Or if it’s the blue shirt, green shirt or red shirt, I don’t care. And so, when I can, as often as I can, give them those options, when they can.
Tim: Now when there’s not an option, when it is a must do, you can either obey, and here’s the benefits. If you choose to disobey, here’s the consequences, because you know good and well, a 2-year-old, if they don’t want to swallow, they’re not gonna swallow. (Laughter)
Jim: You can’t force ’em.
Tim: You can’t force ’em, and that’s the part where we don’t want to fight that. We have to work with it, ’cause that’s that free will that God gave them.
John: And you’re listening to some good insightful parenting wisdom from Tim Sanford and some real-life examples from Jim and from Eva Daniel on today’s “Focus on the Family.” You can find out more about Tim’s book, The Low-Pressure Guide to Parenting Your Preschooler and a CD or a download of this program and our mobile app, so you can listen on the go, at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Tim, temperament has to play in here and that’s, I think, what Eva and I are responding to. You’re gonna have that compliant child that says I’ll eat all the spinach you give me, Dad. I love spinach. (Laughter) And we have—
Eva: Give me more.
Jim: –we have one of those. But then we have that other one who is like, “Do whatever you want. I’m not eatin’ that spinach. It tastes yucky. How do you deal with that really strong-willed child. I know you mentioned consequences. What are some of the consequences that you can apply to those strong-willed children that you seem to be fighting with each and every day? Is that fair, Eva?
Eva: Yeah, that’s fair, because I appreciated what you just said there, Tim, about the choices and on the color of the shirt. But my 2-year-old, if I say he can, you know, wear the green shirt or the blue shirt or even pick out a shirt from your drawer. I don’t care. He goes, “Not gonna wear a shirt (Laughter), no shirt, no shirt.” And so, then I feel a little left, well, you actually do need to wear a shirt, because we’re going to the store, or to church, whatever. And so, then it becomes this big battle where it’s like, “I’m giving you a choice!”
Tim: Yeah. One idea is, is it the hill we’re fightin’ and dyin’ on?
Tim: And if he’s going outside and it’s summertime, does he have to really have a shirt? No. And you say, “But it’s winter time and it’s snow outside, well, does he have to have a shirt? Yeah, but no, ’cause he’ll be back in, in 30 seconds, if he goes without one. (Laughter) And part of this, particularly with those rambunctious kind of boys, sometimes girls, as well, they need to learn experientially. So, if he wants to go outside without a shirt on in the wintertime, let him.
Jim: Experience it.
Tim: Let him experience [it], ’cause he’s gonna be back in.
Jim: Okay, now Tim, you’re talkin’; you’re really (Laughter) messin’ with the parenting motif, especially of Christians, who want to do everything perfectly again.
Jim: And if we have a child out there, or we take a child to the store with[out] a shirt on (Laughing) and the parents are looking and glaring at us, like how could—
John: And somebody’s gonna make a—
John: –phone call.
Jim: How could you do that? Deal with the kind of the parenting issue of looking like the perfect parent. My kids are under control. They’re dressed perfectly–
Eva: They’re dressed.
Jim: –or [not] dressed (Laughter), in Eva’s case.
Tim: Well, let’s go back to the job description. There [are] two things that are not on a parent’s job description, okay. No. 1, it’s not your job to make sure your kids turn out right.
Jim: Okay, now that raises a few hairs–
Tim: So, let me go back to the book of Genesis, okay. The first house, Garden of Eden, perfect place, no dust, no nothin’ bad, a perfect house. In this perfect house is a perfect parent, God. Okay, you with me?
Tim: Perfect parent, perfect house, perfect two children, Adam and Eve. And in this perfect house with perfect parents and the perfect children, there’s a rule. Don’t eat of that tree, or else you’ll die. You can’t get better than that. That’s clear. So, on this chapter three day, where God is watching Adam and Eve walk toward the tree that’s clearly forbidden of, does He stop ’em?
Jim: Hm, no.
Tim: No, He didn’t care? Yeah, He cared. Yeah, He knew, and this is where that free will come[s] into play, okay. And so, now you’re going, but, but, but , but if it’s my job to make sure my kids turn out right, which is what a lot of Christians tend to think, then God screwed up, ’cause His kids didn’t turn out right. So, it’s God’s fault, right? See, you’re not gonna tell me, “no, it’s not God’s fault.”
Jim: Yeah, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
Tim: And it is and yet, that’s the reality of it. It’s not your job. That’s your desire. That’s your heart, you bet, ’cause you’re a good parent. It’s not your job to make sure your kids turn out right.
John: Now that’s great insight, Tim, but for someone in Eva’s shoes, who’s feeling the daggers come out from judgmental parents, how could you possib[ly]? It’s November. It’s Colorado. How could you possibly let your kid go outside without a shirt? I mean, there are all sorts of implications for the adult. I hear what you’re saying. Give the kid a choice. Let him learn by getting’ cold, but how does a mom or a dad of a toddler say, “Yeah, I’ll handle all those withering judgmental looks I get.”
Tim: Which brings to the second point, that is not on your job description, and that’s to do everything correctly and right.That’s your desire, and that’s where the pressure comes from many times is, other parents, or other church members, or other family members, or our own parents, or our spouse–
John: Or our siblings.
Tim: –or our spouse, and (Laughter) and that’s where those—
Jim: That creates—
Jim: –some friction.
Tim: –and “shouldn’t’s” come in and start to build, and that’s where the pressure comes, the pressure that doesn’t need to be there. And parenting is hard enough as it is. You got two boys. They’re rambunctious, yeah, but that’s where the pressure comes that’s really damaging and hurtful to the parent. And that’s where, okay, back to my job description, God, this is what You gave me to do.
My job as a dad is to validate my kids. My job as a mom is to nurture them best I can. That is job No. 1. That is the job and I’m doin’ well with that. Deep breath, okay, the other people are sayin’ stuff. Ouch. But my job is doin’ a good job, and that’s mission accomplished.
Jim: How should a parent, a particularly a mom, I don’t mean to stereotype here, but often moms are the safety freaks. And they want to make sure their kids are kept out of any kind of harm. And usually that can lead to a little argument, or disagreement at least with dad, because dad’s goin’, “Come on; do they can’t climb a tree?” “Well, they could fall out and get a concussion.” How do you work through that together as parents, and then, do you kind of agree, “Okay, you can climb three-foot trees, but not four-foot trees.” What do you do?
Tim: There’s a difference between hurt and harm, okay. Hurt is, it hurts because it hurts. If you climb Pikes Peak, you’re gonna hurt.
Jim: Yeah (Laughing), especially at our age.
Tim: Yeah. (Laughter)
Eva: Days afterwards. (Laughter)
Tim: There’s no damage. There’s no destruction, but it’s gonna hurt. Harm or the second kind of pain is when there’s damage, destruction goin’ on.
You break your ankle and continue to climb, it’s gonna do damage. So, in our parenting, and particularly with kinesthetic learners, whether it’s boys or girls—
Jim: And define that.
Tim: –kinesthetic is my main learning style is I need to interact with [it]; I need to touch it, feel it, taste it—
Tim: –figure it out, tinker with it myself, you know, as opposed to just observing or hearing it. I need to experience it myself. They need to learn from the hurt, not the harm.
Jim: And they will learn from hurt.
Tim: And they will learn from hurt, and that’s gonna be their best way of learning, is to experience it themselves. And so, as parents, as moms, realize there’s a difference between hurt and harm. Hurt is okay. If you’re an athlete, you’re gonna hurt. You’re training for a half marathon, you hurt. Are you afraid of that?
Tim: No, and you understand that and you understand the difference between the two. And so, for parents, hurt is okay. Harm, uh-uh. That’s where the bear in me comes out as a dad. That’s where my claws come out. No, that’s not okay.
Jim: So, that’s a good line for parents to—
Jim: –talk through.
Tim: –that difference—
Tim: –and yeah, I will need to crash on my bike and learn that I need to look both ways first. And so, that’s okay. You’re not being a bad parent if your kids get hurt.
Jim: Okay, that’s good. Eva, you have a question about consequences, and I could so relate to that, where you have two kids that are close in age. You had the two daughters that are now grown. I got my two teen boys. You’ve got your two toddler boys. John, you’ve got the whole gamut.
John: We’ve got some close together, yes.
Jim: The point of that is, especially when you’re in families with two kids, ’cause the competition is so rife and it’s there and it’s just there. So, when you have one child who does something that is not appropriate, and you’re gonna land the consequences to where we’re not gonna go see the latest good kid movie or whatever, and it impacts the other child who’s not doing something, does not deserve a harsh consequence, how do you negotiate that; do you have another example like that?
Eva: Well, totally. I struggle a lot with consequences for actions, because as I’ve expressed, my youngest is my strong-willed child, and my oldest is compliant most of the time. And so, I think, well, a good consequence would be for my youngest, if you’re not getting in your car seat, and you’re throwing a fit because you want to do everything yourself, we’re not gonna go to the playground. But then that doesn’t feel fair to the 4-year-old, who’s got in his seat with a great attitude and is—
Eva: –excited to go. So, what is the good consequence? Once they’re older, I remember the sibling, the peer pressure of your siblings makes you kind of behave, because maybe when they are teens, well, no one gets to go to the movie and then you’re, you know, sister rips into you about it. And so, I see when it’s older, you kind of have the peer pressure of consequences. But when they’re 2 and 4, you know, the 4-year-old—
Jim: Shouldn’t always suffer.
Eva: –shouldn’t always suffer, so how do you find that—
Tim: There’s one—
Tim: –of those “shouldn’t’s.” (Laughter)
Jim: Well, done.
Tim: Well, part of that has to do with what’s the reason for rules in the first place? Okay, ’cause when you have consequences, consequence means there’s a rule that’s been broken. Rules are not for behavior. They’re for safety.
Tim: The teaching, instruction, do-overs and natural consequences are for behavior. So, one of the things that I do with parents a lot of times is say, “Okay, you can only have five rules for the whole house.” They go, “Wow.”
Jim: I like that.
Tim: Just five. And each point’s gonna have 65 sub-points. (Laughter) I actually had a mom come in one time with six pages types, single-spaced, five rules, but each one had about 20-somethin’ sub-points–
Tim: –under it, rules. And I’m goin’, so I looked at page number 4 and went, okay, so what’s point number 72?
Jim: Well, and the reality is that’s suffocating to a child, ’cause they don’t know what to do.
Tim: And therefore, they’re not gonna keep track of six pages.
Jim: (Laughing) Right.
Tim: And you can’t keep track of six pages, either. So, think about it first of all, the rules are for safety, physical, emotional, spiritual; that’s for safety.
The rest now, yeah, we still need to get to the park. We still need to obey. That’s where the teaching, the training and with kids, a lot of times, the do-over, is what’s real helpful.
John: So, she gives her son a chance to do over and he still says no, would one solution be, “All right, when we get to the park, then you’re just gonna sit.
Jim: Have a time-out.
John: You’re gonna sit next to me on the bench for an extra 10 or 15 minutes?
Tim: And that’s a creative alternative of, okay, ’cause here’s your choice. You either obey, which is what you need to do, and we know that as parents. If you disobey, when we finally do get there, yeah, you miss out. So, to start with, it takes more work, ’cause you gotta be thinking, instead of “no, just stop; don’t do that.”
Tim: It’s still at the same time, giving them their voice, but there’s also a consequence of yeah, when you do somethin’ that’s not so okay, here’s a consequence. But that’s different than, here’s a rule of the house, and when you break the rule, there’s a consequence that comes down.
Jim: And you know, Tim, so often temperament is gonna play into this. If you’re a task-oriented person, and the task-oriented parent, you’ve gotta recognize the way God has wired you and dial down those tendencies to have 64 rules and 137 sub-rules, right? ‘Cause that’s typical of that—
Jim: –personality type.
Tim: Well, and it’s also behind, are you trying to control their behavior?
Tim: See a 2-year-old will tell you real well, you can’t control them.
Jim: That’s amazing, if you think about that. Just stop for a minute, mom and dad. Think of that, what Tim is saying. Your 2-year-old, you cannot control. You can only shape.
Tim: And you can modify their behaviors. You can encourage, you can direct, and that’s exactly what God did in the Garden of Eden. He did not control.
Tim: He shaped