One of my dear friends works in early childhood education and when my child was still a baby, she gave me some fantastic advice. To her—and possibly to all of you—this was along the lines of “obviously...” But, to me, it was mind-blowing.
Here goes: She said that when giving advice to small children, you need to tell them what you want them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do.
This is why in our daycare there is a constant refrain of “use your walking feet” instead of “no running!” My friend explained that if a child hears “no running,” the only part their brain will grab is the “running” part—and that’s what they’re going to do. Until they have better recall ad life experience, you’ll need to supply the thing that they’re supposed to do instead of hitting their brother with a hockey stick. (Completely hypothetical, of course.)
I’ve used this advice ALL the time with my boys. Honestly, one time my little one was on the playground as an itty-bitty toddler and kept putting rocks in his mouth and I heard myself saying “we put rocks into the garbage” instead of “don’t eat that rock!” And—wouldn’t you know it?—he didn’t spend the next 10 minutes picking up all of the pebbles on the playground and putting them in the garbage.
As my boys have gotten older and more daring, however, my instructions have become a little more elaborate. Which led me to create a “List of Rules for Spirited Children.”
And I mean spirited. I have friends who are like “oh yeah, my kids are so rambunctious, too.” And then I see them at the playground and they’ll be running around the playground like a normal human child while MY child is literally climbing on the outside of the playground structure like a flipping wildebeest. So, I’m talking about my kind of “spirited” child.
If you are also in the distinguished club where you’ve received two phone calls in one day from daycare about two completely separate and unrelated injuries your child has sustained through their own daredevilness, then this list for you.
So, without further ado, my “List of Rules for Spirited Children.”
1. “We only throw soft things”
See? This is written in the “here’s what you should be doing” phraseology. I said this in the early stages to my son so he wouldn’t break things in our house. If he tried to throw something hard, I’d replace it with a stuffed animal or soft ball. But I neglected to account for the fact that stuffed animals have eyes that can seriously sting and he can now whip a ball with a lot of speed. So it necessitated rule number No. 2...
2. “You can only throw at someone who is ready to catch”
Although again, it doesn’t matter if you’re ready for a speeding stuffed bunny rabbit to get chucked at your head. Bunbun can still leave a mark. 🐰
3. “I will only chase you if your room is clean”
I have stepped on too many lego blocks to not make this a rule. Bonus? Their room gets cleaned.
4. “If you are going to climb on the windowsill, wait until mommy can backstop you”
True story, my toddler knows what “backstopping” is and requests regularly that I come over and do it for him while he climbs on our windowsill. I’ve gotten too tired to continue to hold him and the bottom of our glass is frosted, so he can only see out the top. It’s really a problem of my own making.
5. “If it’s not fun for everyone, it’s not a game”
This one has been a new development on account of the baby, who has gotten squished by our couch cushions and literally sat on by his brother so many times: We need regular check-ins to make sure everyone is having fun. Payback is gonnna be a rough, though, because his “little” brother weighs only about 10 pounds less than him despite the 2.5 year age gap. Revenge will come soon...
6. “You need to look for mommy every time you change rooms or turn a corner”
Without this, I am convinced my toddler would run for approximately a mile before it even enters his head that I might not be following. I suppose I will take this as a compliment that he has a strong attachment to me and feels confident enough to run away.
7. “If you ever get lost, look for another Mommy”
Because of the aforementioned No. 6 on the list, I’ve been pretty positive that it’s a foregone conclusion Chewie will at some point get lost in a public place. Therefore, in addition to teaching him his full name and his address, I’ve also taught him that if he ever gets lost, he should look for a police officer, or—since those are rare—to look for another mommy. Because, chances are in terms of strangers he could ask for help, another mom who’s got kids with her is going be the safest stranger to talk to.
Although, unless she too has a truly spirited child, I’ll probably get a glare from her as she returns him to me.