When people ask me how old my kids are it’s fun to see the looks on their faces when I keep listing children after they think I should be done. We currently have four kids. All are under ten and two are toddlers. We’ve learned a lot about parenting through the years and keep encountering new areas where we need to grow. Below I want to share a few things I think are important for parenting your kids during their younger years. This list is not close to be exhaustive, so please feel free to add to it in the comments. (Also, there were a few things I wanted to say that Steve McCoy said much better than I could.)
Enjoy This Time
I know this is a pretty cliched thing to say, but you really do need to have fun during the times when your children are small. They do funny things, say funny things, and learn new things all the time. Play games, read books, and snuggle; you’ll treasure these for a lifetime. Every stage has joys and difficulties, but if feels like the joys of your children’s younger years are especially sweet. Enjoy them.
Prioritize Your Marriage
If you are married with children you must make your marriage a priority. You live in covenant together and have been called to love and cherish each other. If you neglect each other for the children you will start to resent each other and you will not be able to work as if you are on the same team. Get the kids in bed so you can spend time together each day and find babysitters so you can get an occasional date night you. You will experience greater joy, you will work together better as a couple and your children will experience a more joyful home.
Read the Bible to Them
Start reading the Bible with your kids when they are young. You will need to make time for this because everything in your life will conspire against it. Don’t think you will magically find the time; you must intentionally carve it out. When they are little start out with the Big Picture Story Bible or the Jesus Storybook Bible. These will take them through all of the major events in Scripture while focusing on how they point to Jesus and what he did for us. You will also find that your children will be able to start memorizing Scripture earlier than you think.
Read Other Good Books Too
Reading is a great way to spend time with your children while developing their imagination and vocabulary. Our favorite time to read with the kids is right before bed. It establishes a routine that has them sitting still and calming down. You will find they love the routine and it becomes a good indicator to them that it’s time for bed. As they get older, start reading through longer series like The Chronicles of Narnia. I doubt I’ll ever forget the reaction of my oldest daughters when they realized Aslan was alive and Mr. Tumnus was no longer a statue.
Make Family Dinner a Priority
If you asked me to close my eyes and name one item from my childhood it would not be any of my toys or gaming systems; it would be my family’s dinner table. Around that table day in and day out we talked about life, laughed, and told stories. I treasure those memories and want to create them with our kids as well. Family dinner establishes a routine, provides great time together, and ensures you will all eat healthier. When get around the table we tell funny stories, talk about what’s going on their lives, and have great conversations about all kinds of topics. In addition, cleaning up from meals teaches your kids responsibility and the importance of pitching in to help. It also provides a good time to stop and have family devotion after.
The hardest thing parents do is to be consistent in loving discipline. By discipline I don’t just mean our children facing consequences for disobedience, but in patiently teaching them about life. Parents will be tempted to waffle back and forth between being too permissive or too strict. Sometimes we are slack and lazy in our parenting and other times we correct our children too quickly. Instead we must learn to teach and correct our children with wisdom, patience and love. This means laying down clear expectations for what they are to do, and when they are younger this means they must learn to obey the first time you tell them to do something. Also, don’t correct them harshly for making mistakes. Teach them through mistakes. Correct and discipline when they disobey.
Give Yourself Some Grace
People are great in peddling out guilt for your parenting choices and you will easily take this guilt upon yourself. Many people, including people who have never walked where you are walking will impose superficial standards by which you should evaluate yourself. Jesus frees you from unrealistic guilt and his burden is light. Love your children, teach them, play with them, and discipline them. If you need to let them watch TV so you can get a nap or get McDonalds for their dinner because you are too tired to cook everything will be okay. There’s grace for your big failures too because of Jesus’ death. Trust in his grace; you are going to need it more than you ever imagined.
Don’t Fall into the Competition Trap
If you love your children, teach them, and discipline them faithfully you are doing the most important things you can do for them. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you have to do everything for your kids the super parents are doing for theirs. You also need to brutally murder your notions that your three-year old is “falling behind” when he not doing everything other kids his age can do. Your kids don’t have to pick a specialty when they are six. You will suffocate them if you think like this.
Losing Your Temper is Sinful and Counterproductive
Parenting can be tiring and frustrating. Yes your kids are cute, but they wake up in the middle of the night. They disobey, make messes, and throw fits. You will be tempted to lose your cool. Instead, write “the anger of man will not achieve the righteousness of God” over all of your parenting. Losing your temper is a sin against the Lord and will transfer your child’s attention from their wrong behavior to your anger. It accomplishes nothing but scaring them and an unacceptable way of handling their stress and frustration. If you do lose your temper, repent to the Lord then repent your children and ask for their forgiveness. Don’t blame them for your sin. This will model the Gospel for them and serve as a great check the next time you think you might be about to lose it.