Parenting in the Early Years: Ages 0-3
The birth of a child is one of life’s greatest joys. If you have ever had the privilege of talking with a new mother or father immediately after child birth, you have heard phrases like, “That was amazing – I’ve never felt like this before – I just saw a miracle – I can hardly believe what just happened”. And watching the new parents hold their offspring is like watching the power of the universe unfold before your very eyes. The soft tenderness of love is palpable.
But, within days of the birth, the couple begins to understand that nothing will ever be the same. They come to the shocking realization that this tiny, vulnerable human being has changed the entire face of the earth! He has become the center of all they do. Nothing seems to matter more than how they can keep him fed, dry and calm. Their entire day is planned around his schedule (whatever that might be).
When God sends children into the world, they are totally dependent on their parents. He sends them with a very deep desire to bond with their mothers and fathers. Through their senses they will learn about the world, relationships and what it means to be fully human. They will learn to talk by listening and responding to the people in their lives. If they want something, they will cry. If they are content they will coo and sleep. Babies count on the adults in their lives for everything.
And this desire to form attachment with their parents intensifies as they grow into their toddler years. Even though they are now mobile and capable of expressing what they want and don’t want, little children still want to gain the attention and affection of their parents. Their powers of observation are uncanny – they become amazing imitators of what they see and hear (both the good and the bad). And why do they do this? They want to connect with you and have you connect with them. Simply, they want to know your love.
Embracing parenthood in the early years can be a challenge. The information in this section will help you set a firm foundation for your child. So, welcome to family life and the amazing transition from being a couple to being parents!
The first task of your family is to become a community of persons. With the birth of your child you have gone from a couple to a family. Even though this is a small community (and hopefully one that will grow) it is a unique and important one.
There are three main objectives that parents can do when starting out to ensure that their community of persons thrives.
Babies have a way of becoming the center of everything. While this might seem necessary for the first few weeks or months, in the long run, the baby needs to take second seat to the health and well-being of the parent’s marriage.
The marriage that you share is the foundation of your family. The better the marriage, the better the family! The quality of your marriage is the deciding factor on the true well-being of your child. The research on this is very clear; children raised in a family by their biologically, married parents outperform other children in virtually every category of health and well-being. From economic security to emotional adjustment, marriage and the traditional family provide a level of protection and security that is unmatched by any other family configuration.
What does this mean? Recommit to your marriage bond by setting time aside to nurture your love. This can happen in a myriad of ways.
Bottom line: commit to putting as much time into the well-being of your marriage as you do your children.
Here is some good and bad news about raising children. Kids are like sponges. They absorb everything that comes their way. No matter what they are exposed to, they will sop it up. That is why God gives children parents to help them learn what to take in and what to reject. In fact, God has a special title that he gives all parents. He wants you to be called primary educators. Primary educators have three essential jobs.
What you do and how you do it will be the first and most important information your child will absorb. Therefore, choose to model well. Here are a few quick tips on how to be a loving role model.
Parenting can create tension in the family. From disagreements about whose job something is to misunderstandings about how to put a child to sleep – childrearing can build a wall between parents.
That’s why parents need to communicate positively during the child bearing and child rearing years. Parents need the ability to face as well as solve conflicts in their lives. Conflict resolution skills are paramount to a family’s ability to thrive. Specifically, parents have to know how to approach each disagreement in a timely and effective manner. Here are some communication basics to implement as soon as possible.
The next task of parents is to serve life – both the children who have been born and those that are to follow.* When you are parenting children between the ages of birth and three, the more immediate need will appear to be to those who are already here. You will serve life first by honoring your offspring and providing for their education. With this in mind, here are a few ideas on setting up a home that is open to life
Each person in your family has immense dignity. And it is the role of each family member to honor that God-given worth. Honoring is a three step process that involves:
Families of honor rarely yell or demean each other. They avoid pushing each other to the brink of anger or frustration. Rather, they find selfless ways to help each other out.
When children are young, honoring is first developed by the parents who honor each other. If a baby needs changing, the first one on the scene takes care of it. If the Mom has been up for several evenings in a row taking care of a sick child, the Dad steps in and gives her a rest. Honor continues to be developed through the use of manners in the home. “Please”, “thank you”, “you are welcome” can go a long way to develop honor. Finally, honor can be enhanced when everyone (especially Mom and Dad) is asked to practice patience. Learning to wait quietly is a cornerstone of an honoring family.
Many parents try to establish rigid rules of orderliness and scheduling within the family. The hope is that the strict standards will bring peak efficiency and calmness to the home. Unfortunately, smooth and easy living usually doesn’t happen when a family is run as tightly as a ship. Rather, nerves become frazzled and stress levels sky-rocket. Instead of making perfection your goal try focusing on organization. To do this we suggest;
Who do you want to spend the most time with your children? Will it be you, a care provider, or the relatives? This is one of the most important discussions you will have as parents because the quantity of time spent with a child does impact who the child will become. In the best case scenario, one of you will be able to stay home with your child. This is a challenge for many couples because it means that someone is going to have to forgo (are maybe even drop) a promising career and the financial support it offers. However, having a stay at home parent is also a blessing. The fruit of the sacrifice is seen in the child’s goodness, joy and zest for life. So consider the following.
Resist the enticement to think that disposable income is more important to a child than your time with him.
If the decision has to be made to use some form of child care, it is vital that you set up the most secure and proper environment for your children. There may be a temptation to choose what is most efficient and easiest for you. However, basing the child care decision on what is best for you may not be best for the children. Consider all the facets of the decision before you finalize anything.
In the first years of parenting there are many child development issues to take into account. First, children under the age of 2 are not out to get you or to make you angry. When you think they are misbehaving they are really testing their boundaries to see how far you will let them go. However, after the age of 2 the child will begin to demonstrate his willfulness and intentionally become naughty. Thus, there are different discipline techniques to use in this age category.
Distraction: children 2 and under should be distracted when they get into trouble. Simply diverting their interest towards something else solves most problems. If this doesn’t work, firmly say “no” and remove them from the activity.
Time Out: Children over the age of 2 should be disciplined with a ‘time out’. Set up a space that is known as the ‘time out’ space (corner, chair, or rug). When the child needs to be disciplined, calmly put the child in the time out space. The child should stay in time out for the number of minutes that matches their age (2 year old has a 2 minute time out, etc.). Dr. Ray Guarendi reminds parents that the minute-per-year rule is just a guideline. How much time your child spends in time-out might depend on the nature of the infraction and the level of resistance. You may choose not to start the time-out until your child is quiet, or at least has stopped throwing a fit. However, the guideline is meant to keep you from disciplining based on your level of frustration. When the child is finished with time out, she should apologize and say she is sorry.
Remove a privilege: the last technique for children 18 months or older is to remove some privilege when the child misbehaves. This could be anything from taking away a toy to missing a special event. If this method is used, make the magnitude privilege match the degree of the misbehavior.
No matter which discipline technique you use there are key steps to remember:
* Serving life includes openness to creating more children with God. This means that parents who serve life respect both sexual intimacy and their unique gift of fertility. They understand that God chose them as His vehicle for bringing forth new human life and gave them sexual intimacy by which they can procreate. Parents who serve life understand that sexual intimacy is something to be reverenced. It is a good of marriage and it is to be exclusive, faithful and open to life.For more information on the Catholic Church teachings on love and life and natural methods of family planning click here.
The third task of parents is to develop society. This task revolves around the virtue of hospitality which is the friendly reception and treatment of guests. As parents, it is your duty to teach your children that everyone in the world is a guest, worthy of friendship and charity.
In the early parenting years, the seeds of hospitality and service to others are sown. Hospitality, which is an act of reception, is introduced at birth. The tenderness of the first human interactions for the infant set the stage for an understanding of hospitality. A child who is received charitably learns to accept others in a similar fashion.
Here are a few ideas for instilling hospitality to your infant and toddler.
Besides demonstrating hospitality in your home, parents of infants and toddlers are encouraged to form a network with other families. The concept of strength in numbers is very true in the early years of family. When several families team up to support each other, they are developing a mini society that will help form the larger culture. Try some of the following:
Babies and very young children interact with the world physically and emotionally. While children cannot understand the faith at this young age, they can develop habits that will grow into understanding later. The important task for parents of children at this age is to create the atmosphere within which the habits of faith can be formed, and to begin forming those habits as their children grow. Forming the faith environment of your family begins as a married couple before you even have children.
Participating in the life and mission of the Church begins even before you have children. Babies and toddlers will benefit from an atmosphere of faith that makes God the center of family activity and relationships. Because the family is the first place children are introduced to Jesus, it is often referred to in Church documents as the "Domestic Church." Your children will begin their walk with God by observing your walk. They will take their first steps with your guidance. Here are some recommendations for making your family the Domestic Church - before you have children and while your children are very young:
Babies and toddlers benefit greatly from frequent exposure to Mass. While they don't understand or even pay attention to everything that happens in the Mass, they can have fun participating in parts of it and they will become comfortable in church if they go often. Here are some ways to get them involved
Keep in mind, especially with active toddlers, the goal of the Mass for them is engagement, not necessarily silence or adult behavior. Most people are very forgiving for usual child antics. Unnecessary and futile attempts at complete control will only frustrate you, your child, and your fellow parishioners. Here are some pointers:
Atmosphere is so important in creating devotion in children and adults alike. Imagine the impact on children of a home that reflects the centrality of God paired with habits of Mass and prayer observed in their parents. There is a great variety of art and decor that can reflect God:
These of course are just some suggestions. There are many ways to instill the faith in young children. You know what fits your family's style of devotion and as the primary educators of your children you will touch their faith lives in a unique way. The key is to realize the importance of starting immediately. Surround your child with God's love and with examples of the faith. Don't forget that the most important tool at your disposal is your own powerful example. Children begin watching their parents at a very young age!
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