You cannot afford to miss this if you are in the trenches of parenting young kids right now!

Sitting on the other side of my parenting journey, with a 24, 22 and 18-year-old, I pinch myself. Weren’t those days of constant diaper changes, breastfeeding hurdles (many!), toddler tantrums, nonstop spreading of sickness, scary monsters in closets and sibling rivalries just yesterday?

Well, yes and no.

My work keeps me connected to my earlier self

One aspect of the work I‘ve done for a long time is running a local outreach to international wives, couples and families in my city. This group is known as the International Wives Connection (IWC). My interactions with these women and their families often take me back a good twenty years since so many of these friends are right there in the trenches now. 

At a recent IWC event. Photo courtesy of Eleni Antonopoulou.

And, although I don’t carry the responsibilities I once did, as I spend time with them I’m reminded of the sheer hardness of the job. Motherhood.

There are so many life lessons for living your life in a meaningful way embedded along the journey as we raise our kids. No doubt, you learn more about yourself than you signed up for.

But in this brief article, I want to share two key insights my husband and I experienced with our three. My guess is it’ll apply to your situation — if you’re in the throes of parenting young kids — as well.

1 | Learn how to distinguish whether your child is sporting a bad character trait or is simply going through a stage.

This takes work! In fact, I’d say it’s an art. I found this point one of the most befuddling challenges when we were raising our kids.

My oldest, Justin, often seemed too reticent for my liking at toddler playtimes. 

When we were at Parent’s Place, this wonderful program for moms of babies to 3-year-olds in our area, Justin would often cling to me for dear life! 

Miss Gayle would pull out the parachute, an activity reserved only for special occasions, and she’d flap it out for the other mommies and daddies to stretch. Here’s where I’m thinking, “This is so colorful! This is so fun, so full of adventure!”

Photo credit: depositphotos

But there cowers Justin, far away, looking on, not participating while so many of the other children were running under the parachute, giggles spilling out. He rarely would take part and if so, only tentatively.

Then he’d go home and tell his daddy all about it, in detail even I had missed. And yes. In those renditions, he was always actively involved in what was going on.

My son, Justin, was an astute observer (like my husband). This was not bad character. It was just completely different from mine. So we learned to nurture it. And Justin carries this trait through till this day as an engineer. (But actually, he’s now pretty good at jumping in on stuff…after he observes!)

The reason why this distinction can be so troubling to parents is because it’s hard to know if, when and how much (if at all) we should intervene.

I remember there was one boy in my younger son Luke’s kindergarten class. When the kids would draw and paint, most of them would paint animals, food, flowers, clouds, their family and home, and other happy, fluffy stuff.

What you expect from little kids. Photo credit: depositphotos

Rowan would draw and paint guns. And bombs. And war scenes. He was five.

Yep, I was pretty worried, but of course, that was not my kid. I know the teachers and counselors kept an eye on him. Turns out, Rowan graduated high school last year, a gifted and honored student. He grew out of it and became a very well-rounded young man, one of my son’s friends.

You just never know. Paying close attention matters. Which gets us to the next point.

2 | Figure out how your child regularly responds to adversity, and learn how to intentionally steer them in a healthy direction.

Each one of my children responded differently when something didn’t go the way they wanted.

Justin, my oldest, became defensive. He would shift blame.

Erika, my only daughter and the middle child, would run away. She’d try to escape the problem.

Luke, my youngest, would negotiate.

In each of these cases, we’d take them to task on their behavior. For example, when something didn’t go Erika’s way, she’d break out screaming, running upstairs to her room. We would either catch her en route, or be right on her heels.

Photo credit: Stencil

Then we’d bring her downstairs (to the original location) and ask her, “Erika, how could you respond differently?” We did this as early as 2 ½ to 3 years old, when she had the words to answer. We wouldn’t let her get by until she gave us some good answers and we “tried it again.” 

Oh, how many times we went through this routine!

But what this did was make Erika aware of her natural inclinations and, eventually, her need to switch to a more intentional, mature response. 

Even as a young adult, she still struggles with this at times. But I can see how much this early training has helped her. Without it, you can easily imagine how she might default to “escaping” in a variety of areas in her adult life when the going gets tough.

Luke was the consummate negotiator. I cannot forget how many times we’d ask, “What don’t you understand about ‘NO?’” or repeat, “No, means NO!” 

Fortunately, I don’t see any vestiges of the negative elements of his negotiate-till-you-get-what-you-want behavior anymore.

But I do think he knows how to work a deal. His chosen area of study is film, and he’s talented. In fact, this kid managed to work a day doing a photo shoot recently and made $1000! (And he’s 18! Whoa!)

Each of our kids needed a different approach, not only because they are different people, but also because of this issue of dealing with adversity, of not getting what you want. When you are aware of exactly how your child deals with such situations, you can be intentional in how you direct and lovingly discipline them. And, eventually, they will learn how to self-regulate. Which is really the goal, after all.

So, mom or dad of little kids, take some time today — or put it on your calendar for sometime in the coming week — to think about this very issue (and discuss, if there are two parents involved). Just do it!

You will not regret taking this step. The long-term benefits are worth it.

© 2019, Caroline DePalatis. All rights reserved.

Caroline DePalatis has worked in the field of international education and service for 25+ years. A graduate of Stanford University & the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she’s still doing much of what she was trained in: bringing people of the world together. A committed Christ-follower, Caroline longs to shine the Master Designer’s awesome creativity expressed through the cultures, languages, peoples and places of our world.
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Caroline DePalatis has worked in the field of international education and service for 25+ years. A graduate of Stanford University & the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, she’s still doing much of what she was trained in: bringing people of the world together. A committed Christ-follower, Caroline longs to shine the Master Designer’s awesome creativity expressed through the cultures, languages, peoples and places of our world.

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