Signs of Great Parenting: Babies and Toddlers

(Firstly, don’t panic. Often being a good-enough parent is good enough. The information is indicative of things going really well, if it doesn’t match your children – consider how you might make small changes rather than feeling guilty and doing nothing, or dismissing the information out of hand because it makes you feel uncomfortable.)

Did you know, you can tell if you’re on the right track with your parenting by the time babies are eight months old? It’s true.

An early indicator is empathy. When our Owl was eight months old, both older boys had conjunctivitis. When I was putting eye-drops into the eyes of the Hare, then four years old, he hated it and he screamed to show that he hated it. The Owl would stare at him and cry: he was obviously distressed at his brother’s reaction. He was developmentally incapable of sympathy, which is an intellectual understanding of another’s distress. He was experiencing the same emotional state as his brother, at the same time. That’s empathy.

The second early sign that all is well, is how quickly babies calm when we comfort them. Children who wake screaming, for example, are upsetting to listen to, but if they stop screaming as soon as you pick them up, pat yourself on the back. They know they can rely on you to offer comfort. You’re their safe haven. (No, they’re not having you on – and that discussion is going to need another whole website!)

Toddlers who have had the best parenting have the strongest sense of mimicry. The Butterfly (who has benefitted from our earlier mistakes and learning) demonstrated this beautifully while we were on holiday. Of the ten children present he was, at 16 months, the youngest by two years. Within days he was out of his high chair and eating at a small table with the others. He was eating confidently with a fork within a week and by the end of the holiday, was putting (or at least attempting to put) his finished plate on the bench. The more pre-schoolers want to do what others around them are doing, the better the job their parents have done – thus far. Yes, vacuuming 10 square metres can take 2 hours. Yes, sweeping a floor can take half an hour. Yes, they mess the piles of washing up as quickly as we stack them. But it’s temporary, if you can call 3 years or so temporary! And it means that all is well.

At around 15 months of age, well-parented toddlers are most distressed by enforced separation. That is, separation from their mother that is not led by the child. (Exploring on their own, or going with another adult when they have chosen to is child led separation.) They can scream the house down, and I have heard people call them naughty or treat this behaviour the same as one would a Power Tantrum. This is not about power and control. This is a biological reaction they have no control over: it’s about feeling safe. (Which is why I believe maternity leave should be a minimum of 18 months long.)

Toddlers do have Power Tantrums. It’s age appropriate behaviour, and  is as much about not understanding the whole situation as it is about not getting their own way. The key difference between a Power Tantrum and a Distress Tantrum at this age is the circumstance. If it’s not about separation from Mum or pain, it’s probably a Power Tanty. Simply by getting off one’s bottom and removing the toddler from the object or situation will sort these (yes, sorry, every time.) Saying no and then walking away works well in some situations. If you want to, hold them in a Boring Cuddle. Quick Way to Stop Children Fussing.

The other key indicator (I can think of at the moment) for toddlers and pre-schoolers is their level of bravery. The easiest test I have found is with waves. (Tricky if you live in the mid-West, I know.) A 15 or 16 month old, regardless of temperament, who will explore small waves for 15 minutes or longer – be knocked down by them, pick themselves up, splash in them, bounce in them, be covered in water etc and still want more – is brave. The thing I enjoy most about this exercise is that the parents don’t have to do anything or say much. We just have to be there. If they looked distressed or cry, give them a Boring Cuddle. Otherwise let them go for it, at their own pace. They will only go as deep as they feel comfortable. (OK, once they might go a little too deep, and Hare’s will probably almost drown: just pick them up.) They don’t need to be told they are brave – they already feel brave. They will probably want you to join in with the experience, so do – a little up close, a lot through eye-contact and excited noises from afar.

The other key indicator is the emotional state of toddlers when they rejoin Mum after separation, the more excited the better.

If these are the kinds of things your babies and toddler do, well done: so far, so good. If these aren’t the kinds of things your children do, it’s time to consider  listening to different advice. Seriously. It’s easy to make changes now, and much harder the later you leave it.

Signs of Great Parenting: Pre-School to Age Six

(Should you find this article useful, Koha is accepted, $1 is fine. The button is under my blog-roll. :))


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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10 Responses to Signs of Great Parenting: Babies and Toddlers

  1. You should start workshops!

    • kloppenmum says:

      I had, but then the government, in their wisdom, cut pre-school funding… Never mind, I’d rather be at home with the Butterfly at the moment. Maybe in a year or two I’ll get them going myself!

  2. stacey says:

    I enjoy reading your straight forward parenting wisdom. Your ability to communicate clearly without pretense and also with humility is refreshing in blogland. I would like to hear more about your thoughts on sleeping with your children. I have been sleeping with my 16 month old son since he was born, and I am becoming doubtful that I made the right decision. He wakes every 2-3 hours crying, and I nurse him back to sleep. I can’t help wonder if I have done him a disservice when I hear of friends’ babies that are happily sleeping through the night in their own crib. Every evening I go through this same agony of feeling I have caused harm to my child by not teaching him to sleep through the night. Any wisdom you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Stacey

    • kloppenmum says:

      Thanks for the lovely comments, and oh Stacey… I have met about 20 bed-sharing graduates and they are so cool – it seems to me the longer they bed-share they cooler they are. There is an X-Factor about them, which is unexplainable… Our highly sensitive Owl breast-fed and didn’t sleep through until he was three and a half… but can now, and I never had to train him. Our not so sensitive Butterfly (16 months) is mostly day weaned, but still feeds somewhat regularly through the night. It’s the BIOLOGICAL norm! The sleep alone brigade are pushing one view, from one base society, and one set of brain-patterning (of which there are at least six I can think of, off hand). Having babies and children sleep through the night has much more to do with the Industrial Revolution and fitting parents into their jobs…therefore children around parental needs, than what is biologically correct. (Just like 4 hourly feeding fitted around factory breaks.) I can make a suggestion, if you would like to try to get your baby to sleep through the night…just stop if you don’t like how it’s working out: have a pacifier handy, I keep one under the pillow. If the baby wakes shove that in his mouth, if he’s just wanting to suck then he’ll go back to sleep…if not, feed him. (He won’t be feeding at age nine, promise!) The babies who are supposedly sleeping through the night often have to be re-trained from time to time, and their stress hormone levels rise every hour they’re physically apart from their mothers. After six hours the levels are horrendous…Bed-sharing babies and children are so much more self-assured than sleep alone children, because they truly understand that you don’t stop being there for them at 7.00pm. It is a much, much harder road to take in the short term, because you have to be there and can’t go galivanting, but long term the dividends are huge. If bed-sharing fits for you…do it. And pop back with any other questions, I’m only too happy to help. PS We still have a five year old in the bed and the nine year old pops back regularly…by satisfying their dependency needs at night, during the daytime they are more independent than other children the same age.

  3. stacey says:

    Thank you for your speedy and thoughtful comment. I would love to know where your information on stress levels of sleeping babies was attained. Maybe reading these studies would be helpful for me, because what seems stressful to a baby is it’s inability to sleep soundly. I can’t wrap my brain around the image of stress hormones rising in a sleeping baby. Please elaborate if you would. Thank you so much for your willingness to calm the fears and concerns of a new mother.

  4. Jo Jory says:

    Great post. As a mum of seven, I can’t agree more.

  5. Hello. I’ve just read both your Signs Of Great Parenting posts. Thank you. That makes me feel OK (today) that we’re on a good path. This is off topic, but I tried your eye contact trick at a party recently. I knew my two year old would not like the idea of me talking to others (and grown ups too!) but I sent her a lot of energy though my eyes. We stay connected when she was playing with other children, and I felt her relax about me having brief chats with others. I’ve also tried it when I’m hugging her older brother – usually she always wants a hug too, but I connect with her over his shoulder and it works a treat. Great advice.

    • kloppenmum says:

      Fantastic! I always love to get feedback, but positive feedback is just awesome.
      The signs of great parenting have been really reassuring for us, too.
      It’s so difficult to know whose advice to follow and I have this annoying tendency of asking ‘why’ all the time! I also constantly check out kids an age and stage ahead of ours, which gives me some sort of idea about what’s coming next.

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