Episode 36: Parenting 3 Year Olds with Love & Grace

Jan 02, 2024
parenting 3 year olds with love and grace elevate motherhood

Hey everyone! Welcome back to the Elevate Motherhood podcast. Today’s episode is about 3 year olds! And parenting 3 year olds. It doesn’t just apply to 3 year olds, though, this message is really for any parent going through a stage with your child that feels particularly challenging.

First, if you haven’t listened to my episode 6 speak life – I would love for you to listen to it! There is so much power in our words and I believe it’s so important to align our words with our prayers. There are tons of bible verses about the importance of our words. We are going to speak out what we want more of for our kids, what we are praying, we are trying to NOT speak out all the negative things. Just blabbing and complaining. We’re trying to build up our children with our words especially when they can hear us.


Okay so if you’re listening to this maybe you’ve been in a challenging stage with your child. Or you expect that at some point you may find yourself in a challenging stage.

First, I really do want you to consider it a stage. This is a stage. This is a season. Time goes by and seasons change and your kid wont be a toddler for long! I love to think of kids as a whole package. Sometimes our brains trick us to thinking we should just have all the easy and fun parts of parenting without the hard stuff. And if our kid does one thing that’s hard or crazy we are like mentally detrailed. But next time that happens I want you to hear me. Your kid is a whole package. You get the good and the hard. Hard is not the same as bad. Would you pick this whole package kid? The hard stuff and all the amazing stuff? Yes you would! You are graced for this.


I think one thing that also sends us into a negative mental state is picturing this 3 year old having a hard time as like an 18 year old doing the same thing and we think “I do not want my kid to be THAT KID!” or we think of like “what are other people going to think, I’m not strict enough on my kid!” and neither one of those things have to be true. This can just be a 3 year old having a hard time. LEARNING. This is not just who your child is from now on, especially if you are consistent, kind, rooted in prayer and constantly pointing toward the Lord. This is a stage. Your child is supposed to learn what they can and cannot do. It’s what kids do. Think for a minute – if you are frustrated by the pushback, is your actual ideal expectation that from birth your child does every single thing that you do or say the instant that you say it, never question any direction they are given? I don’t really think that’s realistic. And it’s not what you want. You want them to learn to trust your voice, to respect you in a loving way.


And the pushback actually gives us teaching opportunities. So don’t let every little pushback derail you into thinking this is just who your kid is now, don’t start identifying your kid with their negative behaviors. They are LEARNING. You are teaching. Each hard moment is a chance for you to guide and instruct your child, to model Christ for them, to point them to Christ. Doesn’t that already make you feel better? I love to tell myself, and I really do tell myself this all the time in the challenging moments, “how blessed I am to be this strong consistent person with my child through this stage. How lucky and blessed we both are to be here sorting this out together. I’m so glad I’m here with my child in this moment. I have the capacity for this. God has graced me for this.”


We are going to get practical here too don’t worry. But our mindset is so important. I love the phrase I already mentioned “hard is not the same as bad.” Just because a moment or a season is hard, doesn’t mean it’s bad. Hard isn’t the same thing as bad.

So what do you do in these hard moments? You remain calm. You stay consistent. You act how YOU know you should act. Your 3 year old does not get to determine how YOU act or how you feel or how stressed you get. You’re in charge of you. Your joy comes from the Lord. Your peace comes from the Lord. Your actions are driven by your life of discipline and your love for the Lord and your modeling of Christ and your prompting from the Holy Spirit.


One thing my husband and I decided pretty early on when our first child was like one year old, we are going to do what we say, say what we mean, and follow through. This is even in the Bible. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. So, we had to start watching our mouths super carefully. We tried to not give direct commands unless we were going to follow through. Even if it was harder. If we said, come back here right now, you better believe we were going to chase that kid so fast if he ran off. So, we didn’t just throw those words around. I think sometimes parents are a little careless with their commands and don’t follow through because they give too many commands and then the kid learns they don’t always have to listen and their parents aren’t always going to follow through. So we don’t give a direct command unless we are going to follow through. We also try not to just shout out potential consequences or threats or bribes all the time. If we say it, we are going to mean it, so we choose our words carefully. If we say something, we do it. If we say, let’s take these family photos and if we have good attitudes we get ice cream later, we are 100% going to get ice cream later. We want our kids to know we mean what we say and they can trust us. They will learn that is not always the case with the rest of the world, but for their parents, they can trust our words, and for God, they can trust His words. We want to show our kid time after time that they can learn to trust us and our words. We mean what we say.  


And of course there are times things change and even when our kids are tiny, if plans changed we talked them through it with an explanation they deserved. Hey, we said we would get ice cream after dinner but the ice cream place is closed (we don’t lie to our kids, we only say this if it’s true,) or we give them the other true reason- we can’t go get ice cream because we have to go pick up grandma now. Or whatever the reason was. Of course things change, we give each other grace and that in itself is a learning opportunity for kids. But to the best of our ability if we say something, we’re going to do it. Positive or negative. I think a lot of well-intending parents lose some of their respect with their kids by simply not doing what they said they were going to do. You’ve heard me mention on the podcast that I like the phrase “that’s not available right now.” But that’s never used as a lie. I wouldn’t tell my kid they can get ice cream and then later say it’s unavailable. For example if we are trying to decide on a place for lunch, and they want cake pops at starbucks, I may say, that’s not an available option right now. That’s a different phrase for times kids want something that isn’t available to them right now. If there is a chance in circumstances, I’ll explain the truth to them.


And we also let some things go, you’ve heard the phrase pick the battles. So if we are like for sure following through no matter what, I’m not constantly just shouting out to my kids come back here, put that down, stop yelling. This is a tricky one because imagine you’re in a car and you have a 3 year old yelling something like super loud or super annoying. And you naturally want to say, STOP YELLING. Okay well, if they don’t, you can’t enforce this. You cant really give an immediate consequence, they aren’t going to remember what they are in trouble for later and it's not going to be a great situation trying to later be like, “you don’t get this toy because you were loud in the car.” … so currently your kid is being super loud or whatever, You’re stuck in the car. Instead of just yelling like a million times be quiet!! Which you can’t enforce, maybe try a totally different approach like “oh hey! Who can find a blue car! First one to find a blue car gets a quarter!” or something like that. It is just #1 more likely to work. And #2 not going to have you shouting out something you can’t enforce. So you’re not training them to ignore your command. You’re not giving a command they are going to ignore. I know this is a weird example but I am using it because this has happened to us multiple times! So especially when your kids are young toddlers, give direct kind commands when you can follow through. And pick your battles.

This is also a safety thing but if all day long I’m like hey get back here hey no running hey stop. But like I don’t even make them listen to me, then like we are in front of a street and I say HEY STOP! I need them to be like whoa I better listen. Not like I’ve completely tuned out that command.


I’ve talked about this on the podcast before and it’s not new information but I feel like it is such a parenting gold star tip! Being kind and firm on your boundary or rule but give them 2 options within that boundary. Like a boundary for us may be- you have to go to school whether you want to or not, it’s not negotiable. You are safe there, you have friends and teachers who love you. You can do the carline drop off or I can walk you in to your class- which do you want to do? So like I lovingly and calmly give her the boundary or expectation, but then I let her have some freedom within that. And even just picking battles. I talk about this with regard to home organization but for a lot of toddlers choosing what they want to wear is important to them. So set their closet up so that within your boundaries of what you have allowed in their closet or what they can reach or a certain rack- they can choose. There are some days my daughter picks her bow and I’m thinking I really wish she would wear the other bow. And I may ask her about it, but if she really wants to wear the white one when I think she should wear the pink one, do I really care? I’ve set out the bows that she has access to, I have purchased and allowed in her room all of these bows, and if she wants to pick a different one than I chose, I really just am okay with it! It’s her choice within a boundary I’ve set. It gives her confidence and independence within the control that I have of our things.


There’s also the point that we are here to be our kids’ leaders, not here to make sure they are always happy. Sometimes my kids are NOT happy about what my husband or I have said. And that’s okay. We are always kind to them about things. We even say, “we want good things for you! It’s our job to teach you. We love you. Nothing you could ever do could change how much we love you and how much God loves you.” Or, “guess what, it’s my job as your mommy to keep you safe. Sometimes it may not be the most fun thing but it’s what we have to do.” Or, “you know I always want the best for you! I don’t like for you to have a consequence but sometimes our actions have good or bad consequences and that’s part of life. It’s my job to help you figure it out. I’m always here for you. I love you. Nothing you do good or bad could change the way daddy and I and God love you.” And what a blessing that is, right? All of motherhood is such a blessing. We are so lucky to be the ones with our kids and be the ones with influence on their lives and that we can pray and intercede to God for wisdom and favor as we raise them.


I imagine myself staying on a road I want my kids to be on with me. I’m following God, I’m making choices that honor Him. Constantly, joyfully. I want them to WANT to be on that path with me. Following my lead, following God’s lead. So I’m staying on that path. I’m guiding them, leading them back to that path. Over and over and over and over if that happens to be the case. I think of all the challenging moments as a chance to point my kids back to Christ, back to the path we want them to be on. Not in a sarcastic or temperamental or erratic way, in a calm and patient and loving way.


I also think consistency is so important when our kids are tiny and not stronger than us. I’m not done raising my kids so I never want to sound like an expert but when my son was tiny if I said get back here I chased him down. If I was in a parking lot I held onto his hand and did not give him a chance to run off (there was one time he did and then a friend reminded me that his behaviour was showing he wasn’t ready for that responsibility, so I held onto him through that entire season of his life). If I said no we can’t have a snack at the checkout line, I didn’t give in or turn it into an argument, the no was a no. He’s 5 now and he believes me when I speak. But I’m thankful for that because he’s so tall and strong now and I do think he probably could actually run faster than me already. So I’m glad I was consistent when I was so much bigger than him and could physically follow through.


And we all know this, but sometimes what we know as parents to be best for our kids isn’t what they think is best in the moment. They want another piece of candy. We know that if they eat candy all day, their bodies will be sick and their attitudes will crash. They can be upset that we aren’t giving them another piece of candy. We aren’t bad parents when our kids are upset. We can be kind and firm and consistent and know we are doing what’s best for them even if they are upset about it. We see the big picture. That’s why we are in charge of them. One trick along these lines is to try to avoid saying “no!” in a way that is setting the kid up to have a bad reaction. So if my daughter says I want another piece of candy and she has already had the 2 pieces we have said she can have, I would say, well, honey, you’ve already had 2 for today! But you can have this one tomorrow, let’s put it on top so you see it when it’s time for candy tomorrow! And then let her set it there and kind of change the subject. See how that isn’t just like saying, “no!” and opening up the door to set her up to freak out, I’m saying no and redirecting to something that sets her up to make a positive choice. Then I’d probably even redirect quickly after that too moving onto a new conversation as quickly as I could. I like to think of conditioning our kids to make the good choice, not setting them up to keep making bad choices. I have an episode called alley-oop parenting about this so check it out if you haven’t yet!


Okay so what about a full body full blown tantrum. I really think these other methods consistently a million times prevents full blown tantrums. I love to think “kids don’t want to have a tantrum, that doesn’t feel good to them, they aren’t choosing this, they are completely disregulated and don’t know what else to do.” That’s setting me as the mom up for a better reaction than, “they are doing this on purpose to embarrass me or cause a problem.” No kid wants to be crying and yelling and on the floor. They just don’t. So how do we act here… 


I literally sit with them hug them when they’ll let me, stay kind and firm. I usually don’t say very much. I don’t lecture in the heat of the moment. I don’t say you’re being ridiculous I’m going to leave you alone right now, I don’t threaten to leave, threaten to hurt him, threaten to go home if you don’t stop right now, nothing like that, I say I love you, I know you’re upset. Have you ever been upset about something with your husband and you’re like he’s not understanding what I’m upset about. And if he was like “stop right now. Just stop and then I’ll talk to you. I’m leaving if you don’t stop right now.” Like what in the world would that feel like. What if your husband was like just calmly hugging you saying, “hey, you’re okay, I’m here for you. Let’s calm down and see what we can do about this .”

That’s what I say to my kids with words or body language, We are going to get through this. You are loved. We can calm our bodies down. We can breathe. And then I just wait. The storm passes eventually. My calm energy and prayers diffuse the situation for him. When they’re ready, I try to gently redirect. Point them to the next right thing to do. Set them up to make the next right choice. I don’t lecture or shame him especially in the moment.


I hope this never comes across like I think I’m a parenting expert I am literally so humbled every single night praying to God, am I too hard on my kids? Am I too easy on them? I literally think both things all the time. So I’m just trying to be encouraging to you guys as a mom who’s right there with you or maybe one stage ahead of you in kids ages and not AT ALL come from a place of expertise or judgement.


And each kid in this world beautifully made in the image of God is different! What “Works” and feels right for my 2 kids might be totally different than yours because I’m not parenting your kid! My 2 kids are even super different from each other. So the correct parenting in prayer and acted out with wisdom and kindness can be different even for each kid. There’s not one correct answer.


So please know I am never giving examples to show you exactly what you should do with your own kids. I’m not a parenting expert and I’m not giving advice and if your kid has a meltdown in front of me I would NOT be judging you because I’m not their mom. I don’t know the whole story. I don’t know what has been tried and not tried, I don’t know what triggers that kid.


Shouldn’t we all think with that grace next time we see a parent with a kid in a meltdown. You know what I do, I immediately am praying for that parent. Dear Lord please be with them so presently right now. Give that mom wisdom and kindness and patience. Help that kid calm down and know your peace and love.

I’m not judging. I don’t know the whole story. We can all give each other that grace and that prayer and see how the world changes!


You pray to God and ask for wisdom and pray for your heart and your kids hearts and you’ll know what to do.


Okay back to another trick I was thinking about in preparing for this episode for 3 year olds or for even older kids to is to tell them, “hmm try that again.” When they say something with a bad attitude or If they snap back something that is disrespectful or unkind, I say, “ooh! you are a kind girl, try that again.” Or “you know how to say that in a respectful way, try that again.” Just a quick course-correction, expecting her to say it correctly the next time. And they really always do. And then we quickly move on. We don’t harp on the bad behavior, we don’t say, you’re always disrespectful! You are unkind! We say hey! You’re kind. Try that again in a kind way. Etc. We are speaking out the positive and setting them up to easily make the right choice. So try that if you haven’t yet! “Oop! Try that again! Okay great! I love when you ask for what you want in a kind way! Speaking out what we do want! Who they ARE deep down. Who we are praying for them to be.


And one last trick I’ve mentioned before is to say, “it’s okay! You’re still learning!” this is so much better than, you always do the wrong thing! You know better!!! Guess what, some things take more than 1 time of learning it to get it right. Isn’t that true for YOU in a lot of ways, and your kid? I’m mentioning this because my son is 5 now and he spits this back to me in the most perfect ways now and it just warms my heart. We were cooking the other day and he sits on the counter but I’ve told him multiple times don’t let your feet touch any part of the food and he still was like accidentally resting his foot where the food was and I was like, hey, you know better, get your foot off the food please. And he said, I’m sorry!!! I’m a kid! I’m still learning!!” and I just smiled and thought, he’s right.  And another time he said it recently I was telling him how babies love riding in cars and sometimes when he was a baby if the car would stop he’d immediately cry! And I would be like ahhh! And he said, “It’s okay!! Babies are still learning!!!” like with so much grace for that crying baby in the story. How sweet, right?


Okay for real one last thing. Yes we want our kids to learn to trust and obey our voice quickly, but just because you have to teach the same thing multiple times doesn’t mean your kid is bad. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong, It doesn’t mean you don’t know the secret trick to get your kid to be “good.” Things just take reinforcing. It’s okay to have to give the same kind loving example multiple times. God gives us so many opportunities to teach our kids, thankfully! That’s what we want! That’s why raising kids truly takes time. And giving kids TIME with us is what they need. Time is the real gift. It’s okay that it takes a lot of work, and examples, and repeition. It’s supposed to. This is the biggest job we’ll ever have. What a blessing it is to get so many chances to teach and guide them!


I have several parenting episodes and I would love for you to click around on the podcast episode list and find a few if this episode spoke to your heart! I have such a big place in my heart to encourage moms in their high calling. I want to help the kids of the world have moms who love being moms and live up to their high calling each day. Who parent with God’s grace and strength and the fruit of the Spirit inside you. You can’t do it all on your own power, but God’s power is more than enough. He will be our strength. We lean on him and pray to him and he helps us. We point our kids to him every chance we get, not through a lecture, but through our kind and consistent words and actions. When they see the joy and peace on the path we are on, they’ll want to be on it with us! I know it.

I hope these examples help and remember I’m just a mom trying to figure it out just like you!

Thanks for being here, friends! Until next time, let's Elevate Motherhood!

-- Courtney 

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