I have people ask me on occasion how I parent teens and a toddler at the same time. The truth is these age groups have more things in common than most people realize. The three-year-old is separating from the oneness with mommy, and the teen is individuating in preparation for leaving the home. During these unique yet similar seasons, there will be a lot of emotions and temper tantrums. Part of our responsibility as parents is to gracefully absorb a little bit of unkindness while simultaneously showing our kids, by example. how to handle their feelings. Remember, biologically, children’s brains aren’t fully developed until they are 25 years old.
Here are a few tot-to-teen tips that have worked for our family.
1. Timing is everything.
Yes, kids and teens need instruction. In fact, we are responsible for so much of what they learn and know. However, tantrum time isn’t teaching time. Everyone feels overwhelmed at times and we all know the “I told you so” attitude doesn’t help! Instead, comment on what you see and hear. For example, you might say to your child, “I can see you’re upset. I’m hearing you’re really mad about BLANK.” Then simply listen and ask questions. If it’s a sensitive subject, you might need to say, “I need to think about this and I’ll get back to you.” This is also great if you and your spouse need to get on the same page about an issue like curfew or something really important such as, “Is ice cream okay for breakfast?” (Haha)
2. Set boundaries and keep them.
Testing, testing. Yep, both tots and teens love to test our patience. Do we really mean what we say? And do we adhere to the same standard of living that we are asking of them? Be able to keep a rule yourself before you ask your kid to do the same because they WILL (and should) call you out! No phones at the dinner table? (Clear throat) You better leave yours in the other room as well. As much as kids like to push the boundaries, often they do it to know that you care and to help them feel safe. Create that narrative and environment for them by discussing the rules ahead of time so they know what to expect, and what the consequences will be if they are broken. It may not seem like it at the time, but I promise you they will respect you, and feel loved and protected by you. Security creates confidence.
3. Loosen up!
Be silly! Create fun! Wear costumes to dinner in your kitchen. Create a theme for the day: a color, word, or idea. This relieves a lot of stress. Don’t be afraid to make a mess! Both parties love it. It gives the teens an excuse to not take themselves so seriously, and the toddler? Well, play IS their preferred language. Have a pie fight, then jump in the ocean. Do a paint party where everyone paints one 2×4 and then hang on the wall as art. Something easy? Water beads. Just look them up! Fill a bucket and watch them go.
4. The Six Second Hug.
One of my favorite mom cures for toddler and teen tantrums is what I call “The Six Second Hug.” Hugs have been proven to lower heart rate, reduce stress, anxiety, and trigger oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) to help them calm down. I like to get down on my toddler’s level, ask for her eyes, and place my hand on her heart and ask her to take a deep breath with me (or 3 or 4). Usually at that point, she is calm enough for me to embrace her. I hold her in my arms until I can physically feel her body relax. Then, I’ll ask her to try and use her words to tell me what’s going on. Hugs work with big teen emotions as well. Many times, they don’t even know WHY they are feeling a certain way, overwhelmed, or out of control. Of course, hormones play a big part. The flow of oxytocin after a six second hug is proven to decrease cortisol (the stress hormone), help ease depression, and boost the immune system; while increasing social connections and sense of belonging. The Bible says, “Be still and know that I am God.” When emotions run high, remember to get still and show your kids God’s love, mercy, and compassion. A nice six second hug can work miracles in the closeness and intimacy you can cultivate with your children.
5. Bonding time.
Find fun things to do to bridge the gap. The outdoors is ideal—the beach, the pool, camping, picnics, hiking, and movies! Yes, the teens will come full circle and admit to liking animated movies again. But also, make sure you carve out one-on-one time when you can. Everyone likes to feel special and have your full attention. I try to alternate “date” days between my girls and then have family days as well. Plan “date” days a week ahead of time. Even the time of creating a plan leads to great conversations about likes and dislikes while also building excitement and giving them something to look forward to.
6. Word of the Day.
Teens and tots can do this together. The words don’t have to be hard. We just read the definition of any word and use it properly in a sentence. Then we challenge each other to use the word throughout the day. This is a great vocabulary builder plus it makes kids think creatively and have fun at the same time!
7. Read! Read! Read!
I can’t stress enough how important it is for parents to read to and with kids. It’s vital to their vocabulary, language and memorization skills, and knowledge. My three-year-old and I read five books every morning with coffee and breakfast. I ask my teens what book they would like to read, and I read it with them. We check in on how many chapters per week, and the conversations surrounding the books’ ideas and themes are incredible.
8. Pray together.
The spiritual connection is extremely important for a teen, especially before they are about to embark on a life outside their home. Hope will be important, gratitude will be stabilizing, and faith will be essential in their new worlds. The foundation for this all starts in the early years. We pray every night before bed and list five things for which we are grateful. Our morning prayer mantra is: “good thoughts, kind words, strong heart.”