You may know that as a parent, ages 0-6 are the most important years for you. Like a computer programmer, you are writing your child’s future operating system. Their brain is essentially in hypnosis and everything they learn about life or themselves during this period becomes their default, subconscious pattern for much of the rest of their days; programming that is fairly hard to re-write once this stage is over.
Knowing this used to cause a great deal of anxiety for me, so desperate was I to not screw it up! I questioned every single decision I made – from what daycare to use to how I spoke to my daughter. My own programming was hard at work, causing me to not trust myself and to let other’s opinions influence me.
Thankfully, through personal development, my coaches and training, and a great deal of meditation (which is one way the subconscious can be reprogrammed), I have been able to overcome that constant anxiety that was driving my life.
So, for your child, there are five developmental tasks you must lay the foundation for during this 0-6 stage, and continue to embed until they are 8 or 9:
- Self-Care (hygiene, brushing, bathing, potty)
If you don’t sell them on these activities now, you will be pulling your hair out begging them to comply down the road!
How do we do this? How do we establish boundaries according to our values? Here are five key elements:
1. Embody It
Any behavior you want your child to have, you must model yourself. I know, I know, this is hard! But those little eyes and ears are taking in everything you do and say and that is ultimately how they learn. Keep only healthy food in the house and eat what you want when you are hungry and stop when you are full, allowing them to do the same. Tidy up and put your things where they belong, take care of yourself, and continue learning – whatever your values are make sure you are demonstrating them.
2. Shred the Timetable
Your child will master a skill when YOUR CHILD is ready to – not any sooner or later. If you find out a younger child is already using the potty or another is writing their name, resist the temptation to compare or be afraid that your child is falling behind. Drop your agenda and just accept who your child is right now.
3. Sell Them on It
Make it fun, and make it sacred! Show them how much you enjoy taking a bath, brushing your teeth, waking up in the morning, or getting dressed. Talk up all of the fun benefits of school, how being kind makes you and others feel, how a good night of sleep refreshes you. When you eat, eat beautiful food mindfully – light a candle, use the fancy dishes!
4. Watch Your Language
It is very easy to accidentally shame a child, by saying something like, “We don’t do that,” or, “Why would you do that?” Instead, state what they did and let them know what the problem with that is. Tell them what they can do instead of what they can’t do; “You pushed your things from the table onto the floor to make room. The problem is, they could get ruined or trip someone. You can put them on the shelf where they belong or hand them to me.”
Some key phrases I’ve found helpful for kids resisting a task are:
“As soon as you…, we can…“, or “Let me know when you are ready!“
And you always want to praise desired behavior, but do it by acknowledging progress.
Tell them everything they just went through and say something like, “Wow, you did it! Are you so proud of yourself??” rather than “Good job!“
5. Build a Step Ladder
Remember that absolutely everything is new to your child. Imagine yourself alone in a foreign country – that’s what it’s like for our children. They will resist you and they won’t trust you when you first ask them to do something they’ve never done.
Before introducing a task, sit down and build a step ladder on paper. Write the task at the top and what the very first step of exposure to it would be at the bottom. Then fill in the steps between there and the end so they are being gradually introduced to and then practicing steps of the task.
You want to focus on ways you can empower them every step along the way, which will build their confidence and enthusiasm.
For example, your child may first sleep on you, then in bed with you (following safe co-sleeping guidelines), then on a mattress next to you, then in their room but with a rope between you so they feel connected, then with something of yours with them, then with a note from you, then they are taken shopping to re-decorate their room/pick out their own bedding, until finally they can sleep alone without any issue. This idea of kids sleeping alone so early is unique to our culture so try not to resist where your child is at in the process, or you are likely to have many sleepless nights and exhausted days.
It can take six months to a year to prepare a child for a new task or transition, so start early. Don’t expect them to pick up brushing their teeth after you’ve shown them how twice. Consistency is key. Remember also that the non-negotiable is that the task is done; the way in which it’s done could fluctuate from day to day, just as you may choose one day to have a forty minute bath and the next a two minute shower. One day they will only eat carbs and another only protein – it all balances out in the end!