Are You Overthinking The Toddler and Preschool Years?

Sometimes toddlers and preschoolers do funny things, and parents ask, “Why is it that I can’t get Little Jimmy to drink anything but chocolate milk with his school lunch?”  “Why is it Little Abby only has worn cowboy boots for the past three months every day?”

And then there are mothers of older teenagers and sometimes their list of worries can be much more serious and upsetting:  sexting, driving home with a drunk driver, car accidents, drug and alcohol use, graduating high school, teenage pregnancy, getting into college, saving money from a job so there will be something to start out in life with, the possibility of rape;  the list goes on.  Even if we have total confidence in our wonderful teenagers and their abilities to make great choices, the list can still be there in the back of our minds.

It is an interesting juxtaposition.

Thinking about some of the bigger issues that older teenagers can face makes the issue of chocolate milk and cowboy boots seem what they are – small issues that will pass in time. It is not that these topics don’t deserve thought and consideration.  Not at all!  But sometimes it can be helpful to hear and see older children in action.  The older child and teenager is where your toddler and preschooler someday will be.

This is not to negate the really important job of raising a toddler and preschooler because these years are the foundation of the years to come.  You may really not be over-thinking it, but just building a long-range perspective can take years.

I remember being a new mother and I DID feel like a deer in the headlights with my toddlers and preschoolers.  Now I have an almost 14 year old and a five year old, with a ten year old in between,  and I am starting to understand where mothers of the older teenagers are coming from with some of their worries and a bigger picture than picky eating or sleeping (although those things are super important at the time and when you are in the middle of it!). I am forever humbled at every turn.

Going back to basics always helps.  SOCIETY makes parenting toddlers and preschoolers MUCH HARDER than it should be.  We have forgotten what tiny children are all about and what the media and often even what  mainstream groups that cater to toddlers, preschoolers and their parents show us as “normal” is actually a version of adulthood brought down and made over for these tiny ages – and  so much of it is commercially driven, at least in American society.

The rules of parenting the toddler and preschooler should simply revolve around rescuing your toddler from near-death several times an hour (exhausting!), rest and sleep, trying to get a toddler to eat and potty train (exhausted yet?), helping guide a toddler’s wants and needs,  and playing!  Where society makes it hard is that it is not child-friendly, and with all the “experts” out there, mothers have forgotten how to be the expert on their own child. Also, there are no longer  great support networks for new parents that provide the “real deal” as to what these tiny ages are about!

Remember, the way to get these things “done” with a toddler or preschooler is

  • Rhythm  – Rhythm and consistency, not over- talking and over- explaining, is the KEY to discipline!
  • Outdoor time
  • An unhurried, happy life
  • Rest and sleep
  • Not feeling as if a tiny child constantly needs bigger, better, to be pushed, more stimulation, more classes outside the home – RESIST the urge to bring the adult world to your child. Ask yourself, did I do this when I was a child of that age or did I do it in middle school and high school??
  • The idea that childhood should be PROTECTED
  • Free yourself from the idea that a small child needs to be entertained.  They need meaningful work and  over time they need to develop the ability to occupy themselves in the home environment with play

Developing a long-term understanding of the development of the human being can be a helpful guide in a society where developmental stages are not valued.  I am so grateful for all the parents out there that do try, that do worry, that do work to help guide their children.  Thank you for being such good parents!


10 thoughts on “Are You Overthinking The Toddler and Preschool Years?

  1. Pingback: » Are You Overthinking The Toddler and Preschool Years?

  2. Hi Carrie,
    I have been reading your blog for years (two, actually) but have never left a comment. I have a two year old now, two and nearly two months to be exact. The pressures and expectations placed by society are just crazy. The pressure for playgroup here in Australia is just huge, and I get almost accusations that my son won’t be ‘socialised’ because he’s not at playgroup. We did a term of swimming lessons, and I’ve pulled him out of a second term. It was crazy how serious it all was. We used to go to a little children’s rhyme time session at our library, but so often you could barely hear the songs being sung over the sound of mothers chatting and/or shouting at their kids to behave. So now, we just stay home, potter, play in the garden, bake, build train tracks, read books, climb, horse around, do our trips into town as needed, and just live. I wish there were more voices like yours out there, I so grateful to you for writing as yours is such a voice of wisdom amongst the hysteria of young-child-raising.
    Thank you!

    • Jacqui,
      I am so grateful you wrote in and while I am sad to hear Australia is facing the same pressures for “out of the house” with toddlers, I am grateful to know there are parents like you there!
      It is crazy – a two year old is teeny, teeny tiny!
      Thank you so much for writing in!

  3. Thanks for the post!
    What would be a good example of meaningful work for a 5 year old? specifically when I am working (I work p/t from home and need not all the time but half an hour here and there being in the phone/computer) and I find it hard for her to get busy.

    I tried my best not to work in front of her but still there are 3-4 times a day for half an hour that I have to be working. When I am not working we do meaningful work together like folding towels/clothes, dusting, sweeping.

    She is an only child with not friends around where we are. So she does a lot of playing on her own. I tried my best with Rhythm, outdoor, rest, etc

    is Just that part when I know I am not present for her that seems to be so hard.

    • Sophia,
      I don’t know as I have a wonderful answer for you. Five year olds are still in an imitative phase and so I can imagine it would be hard for her to work without you there. She may be able to learn to prepare a snack on her own for both of you if you do it with her multiple times first (getting out lines, special dishes, setting the table, pouring drinks, cutting with a little board and knife). She may be able to play with little things you set up before your work day with silks, wooden animals, tree blocks, that sort of thing. She may be able to be outside with sand or water while you work if you can be outside as well or available to supervise. she is right where she is supposed to be for her age, but I know that doesn’t make life easier when you are working. Are there any mother’s helpers available for some of these hours?
      I am sorry I don’t have better answers for you! Thank you for being here and sharing!
      Also, check out the back posts on meaningful work and creative play as there may be some ideas in there for you.

  4. Hi Carrie,
    One thing that stresses me out is knowing how and when is the best age to “teach” swimming. My son is now four, and he still won’t put his head under. I am feeling a lot of pressure from people around me that he should be swimming by this age, Although I also feel sure that I don’t want to force him to do anything he is not ready for. Is there typically a normal age that kids will be comfortable doing this themselves or is it something that has to be pushed? While I want him to come to it when he is ready, I think it would also be nice to know that he has the skills to keep himself safe around the pool :-). Thank you so much for all of your words!

    • Hi Jen,
      I think that is such a personal issue. When I go to visit family in St. Croix, I notice the children there are swimming and snorkeling at age 3, but they also live in a climate where they are in the ocean every day. I know some families who do a sort of “Infant Risk” program with their infants, but I don’t have any personal experience with that. I have three children and all have learned to swim on their own (by this I mean no float, no anything) at varying ages – our oldest was definitely older, maybe 5 almost 6, the middle child was only three and a half and she could swim all over and now the last child is moving super slow and is five and a half and can’t seem to swim more than a few feet but also has had, I think, less exposure in some ways than the other children. I do think so much of it is exposure, getting to swim every every every day and having little friends who can swim. If you decide he needs help, you will make the exact right choice and timing for that, and if you decide to let it ride and work really hard to swim daily, then that will be okay too. And as an aside, I guess now that many studies have shown swim lessons themselves don’t keep a child safe, hence the rise of the Infant Swim programs that essentially teach the child how to float and get onto their backs, but I also understand what you are saying when it is not fun to feel as if your child is going to just sink and not want to play or get wet too….. You are the most wonderful mother and expert on your child and I know you will make the very best decision.
      Blessings and love,

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