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How to raise a happy, healthy teen: Start with toddlers

Parents of young kids are planting the seeds of self-respect, self-care, and resilience.

How to raise a happy, healthy teen: Start with toddlers

I’m a Middle School school counselor and mom of three. Experiencing the highs and lows of life with all of these young people means that my days are full of lots of love, laughs and tears. But it often surprises people to hear that I see the struggles that so many pre-teens face to be issues we can trace back early childhood. As a mom and counselor, I’ve learned that the example we set for young kids when it comes to self-care, team work, dealing with difficult emotions and building resilience profoundly impacts how older children are able to deal with challenges.


We all want to raise children into happy, healthy adults. Here are some ways you can start right now to lay the foundation for your little ones to grow into thriving teens and happily independent adults:

1. Know that self care starts with you!

Self-care is important because those who know how to care for themselves learn how to use those skills to maintain appropriate relationships with others in the future, like middle school, and adulthood. A toddler that learns compassion for him/herself will be able to have compassion for others in the future and will be more likely to have appropriate social skills. Also, children watch everything you do, so it’s important that you practice great self-care, too! Show them you make mistakes and forgive yourself and others. Show them you speak kindly of yourself. Don’t critique your body in the mirror, those gray hairs that have popped up, or the bags under your eyes from lack of sleep, in front of them.

Another great self-care skill to begin teaching your toddler is how to ask for help. Teaching this skill to my children changed our lives! Having children that asked for help instead of having tantrums or acting out is powerful. Being able to express a need at a young age is powerful. “You’re having a tough time with your shoe, mommy will help, help is good!” You’re having a tough time getting onto the couch, would you like Mommy to help?” Model this by asking your toddler for help too. “Mommy has too many books and needs help, can you carry one please? You’re such a great helper!” Keep it simple and remember that toddlers like their independence, too. Don’t engage in power struggles while teaching this skill. I know, easier said than done!

2. Model team work at home

Children that can identify as a member of a larger group begin to realize that connections to other people matter; they know that they impact others and others impact them. This skills branches off into so many other directions as children grow.

For this reason I began to refer to my family as the “A-Team” (A. for our last name and all our girls names begin with A, too), and for years now we have had age-appropriate “family meetings.” From the time they were very young until present if I felt they were not being kind to one another or things were getting out of hand, I would say “FAMILY MEETING!” In our home this means the girls come over to where I am, sit down with me, and we hold hands while I touch base about what I’m seeing. For example, “Mommy is noticing that our team is arguing over toys. How can we solve this using our words and keeping it quiet in here? Mommy’s ears almost just fell off with all that noise!” They giggle and check to see if my ears are still there. In a few minutes or less they share their ideas on how to solve the issue and I agree or give my suggestion and I say “I love our little A-Team! We’re problem solvers!” This is not a lecture. I use very few words and I try to always use humor. They remember it. If (okay, when) it gets out of hand again, I say something about my ears falling off and they laugh and bring it down again.

3. Practice guiding raw emotions into words:

Another common issue I see every day at the middle school level are adolescents that aren’t able to articulate what they’re feeling. This is so difficult to manage for them and can begin a pattern of deep frustration, aggression, and even depression. This is not ideal for the still-developing brain. As the parent of a toddler, your job is to learn your toddler’s language and be an excellent interpreter. Toddlers can make some pretty harsh or angry statements. Never take these statements personally or become overly emotional when this occurs. You are the interpreter. Help them use different words to express the feeling. Keep it simple and age-appropriate.

4. Never encourage a child to “IGNORE” anything:

Children that are told to ignore the many stimuli that may impact them often struggle with how to address very serious matters later in life.

Instead teach your children how to identify how they feel about the issue and what words to use to address it. I’d love to erase the word, ignore, from the vocabulary of all parents and adults! It’s so counterproductive that it’s almost damaging. I get very passionate about this topic because I see how this good-intended, but bad advice has negatively impacted adolescents each day in middle school. How exactly does one ignore someone calling them disgusting names? Or ignore the repeated request for inappropriate photos? How can a young person ignore someone being aggressive or touchy-feely with them? I will typically probe to see if the student has discussed the matter with their parent by asking, “What did your parent say when you spoke with them about this?” When I hear “My parents said I should ignore it/them,” I know it’s time for a new approach.

5. Teach children that it’s okay it feel discomfort…in fact, discomfort is one of the most important teachers in life.

Some of life’s most important lessons come from really difficult moments. Think back to when you were a child and faced difficult times. Mostly we remember how they made us feel. If we solved that problem we felt proud, maybe empowered, and even confident. We were problem solvers! If we tried and still needed help maybe we asked an adult and then solved the problem- feeling supported and encouraged by our “team”. We learned to persevere! But what if your “team” believed you couldn’t do it so they solved your problems before you asked and protected you from the discomfort of being disappointed or feeling frustrated, how would you ever LEARN? How would you ever realize you can do anything you put your mind to? Can you see the difference in the two approaches? Saying things like “You got this!”, “Keep trying”, and “Look at you working hard!”, you’re communicating that you believe in your child. Another impact of this approach is that your child will do this with others. That feeling of empowerment and compassion will be shared with others experiencing discomfort. Natural consequences can be uncomfortable. Try to let your children work through them with as little action from you as possible.

In This Article

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    But it can also feel a bit overwhelming to make sense of all the gear on the market. That's why we suggest mentally dividing your registry into two categories: items you need to prepare for your baby's arrival and items that sure would be nice to have.

    Here at Motherly, our editors have dozens of kids and years of parenting experience among us, so we know our way around the essentials. We also know how mama-friendly the registry-building experience is with Target, especially thanks to their recently upgraded registry and introduction of Year of Benefits. Just by creating your baby registry with Target, you'll snag a kit with $120 in discounts and samples. The savings keep coming: You'll also get two 15% off coupons to buy unpurchased items from your registry for up to a year after your baby's expected arrival. Change your mind about anything? The Year of Benefits allows for returns or exchanges for a full year. And as of August 2020, those who also sign up for Target Circle when creating a baby registry will also get the retailer's Year of Exclusive Deals, which includes ongoing discounts on baby essentials for a full year.

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    A crib to grow with your baby

    Delta Children Farmhouse 6-in-1 Convertible Crib

    First-time mamas are likely creating nursery spaces for the first time, and that can get expensive. Adding a quality crib to Target registry gives friends and family members the option to join forces to make a large purchase through group gifting.

    $269.99

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    Safety 1st OnBoard 35 LT Infant Car Seat

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    Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

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    4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

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    $99.99

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    Eddie Bauer Backpack - Gray/Tan

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    $64.99

    A hygienic spot for all those diaper changes

    Munchkin Secure Grip Waterproof Diaper Changing Pad 16X31"

    We can confidently predict there will be a lot of diaper changes in your future. Do yourself a favor by registering for two comfortable, wipeable changing pads: one to keep in the nursery and another to stash elsewhere in your house.

    $29.99

    A way to keep an eye on your baby at night

    Infant Optics Video Baby Monitor DXR-8

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    $165.99

    A comfortable carrier to free up your hands

    Petunia Pickle Bottom for Moby Wrap Baby Carrier, Strolling in Salvador

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    $39.99

    A full set of bottles + cleaning supplies

    Dr. Brown's Options+ Complete Baby Bottle Gift Set

    Whether you plan to work in an office or stay at home, breastfeed or formula feed, bottles are a valuable tool. To make your life as simple as possible, it's nice to have an easy-to-clean set that is designed to work through the first year.

    $39.99

    Target's baby registry is easy to create from the comfort of your own home. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with the Year of Benefits featuring exclusive deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

    This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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