Toddlers: Raising Godly Children in a Wicked World


Toddler exploring the taste of a melting ice cream cone by Jeffrey W. Hamilton

Giving Love and Security

             Around nine months to two years of age, children move into the toddler phase of development. It is a wonderful time. Everything is a new and fresh delight to the child. The world has never been experienced and everything has to be pushed, poked and tasted to see how it reacts. This curiosity often concerns parents because toddlers get into everything! The playing with forbidden things is not due to maliciousness, but a simple curiosity at what is behind the object or what happens when an object is manipulated.

             During the toddler phase, children begin to communicate and parents begin to breathe a sigh of relief. Now you have a clue as to what a child needs or wants, even if it is only a grunt accompanied by a pudgy hand pointing at the refrigerator. Pronunciation at this age is innovated, which leaves parents often guessing what "tvif" means. Visitors to the home are usually left without a clue. Little do they know that parents with multiple children will often call an older child in to translate for them. Another interesting problem is the toddler's vocabulary is so small that one word is used for everything. A toddler learns to call his father "Dah," but Mom is dismayed to find out that she is "Dah" along with every other adult in the world. Fortunately, this passes. However, a parent must be careful not to misinterpret an overused word. "No" may not mean defiance. He could be saying, "Not now" or "Not that color" or "Not that way" or "This tastes odd" or "I can't eat, I have to get to the bathroom" or any number of other things.

             An important lesson that parents can teach their toddlers is the concept of love. You can't set a toddler, who can't even pronounce the word "milk", down and give a discourse on love. Love is best taught by example. We can learn how to give and teach love by learning from our own heavenly Father. Our children learn about God by observing us. In a sense, we are a tangible representation of God to our children.

             Our Father's love is secure (Romans 8:35-39). There is nothing that can separate us from God's love. God has shown the firmness of His love when He sent His son into a world that had rejected Him to rescue the world from their own sins. As a result, we are secure in our knowledge of God's love for us. It also makes us secure in general, knowing the extent that God has gone to keep us safe. Our love to our children should be of the same sort. Few of us will ever be called upon to die for our children, but we can show the firm commitment of our love for them, even when they are being bad. Every child needs this security so they can face the world with confidence.

             Love does not translate into spoiling a child. Our heavenly Father gives us what we need, not the things we think we want (Matthew 7:9-11). Spoiling a child is not in the child's best interest. If we give a child everything he wants, he learns "I am, therefore I get." Such a child is not prepared for life in the real world. Parents need to focus on giving things that will benefit a child. Even if you can afford many "extras" for your child, you should refrain from giving them to your child. The little "extras" should only be given if you can articulate how having the "extra" will improve the child. Not getting everything you want is a very important lesson and a difficult one for many parents to teach.

             A mother's love for her child must be so strong that she is willing to give up her child to protect him. Fortunately, few mothers have to test their love to this extent, but look at the examples in the Scriptures. Moses' mother placed her son in a basket in a river to keep the Egyptians from killing him (Exodus 2:3). God rewarded her love by saving Moses and allowing his own mother to raise him through childhood. Samuel's mother wanted a child so much that when God granted her a child, she was willing to send him to the tabernacle after he was weaned to be raised by the priests (I Samuel 2:19). God rewarded her love by giving her other children, but can you imagine willingly devoting your firstborn to God and only seeing him once a year? Think about the mother who appeared before Solomon (I Kings 3:26). We often talk about Solomon's wisdom in determining who was the true mother, but think about the mother's love. She was willing to let the woman who stole her child raise him up rather than to see him killed. Truly a mother's love is a powerful and enduring love (Isaiah 49:15). While many women have no difficulties showing such love, we must not assume that it is instinctive. A mother's love is taught (Titus 2:4). It is often passed down from mother to daughter, but it can also be learned from other women who have tread life's pathway ahead of you.

             Many new parents wonder when they should start teaching their children. Teaching starts the day a child is born, but it begins to get serious now that a child is a toddler. Proverbs 22:6 tells us that if we train a child while he is young, righteous actions will become a habit when they are older. We need to instill good habits in our youngsters. To get good habits, we have to set good examples. You can't expect a child to understand the subtleties of "do what I say, not what I do." What kind of habits am I talking about? Children need to have bedtime habits: brushing their teeth, reading a Bible story, and saying a prayer. Continued application of these habits will benefit them physically and spiritually through the rest of their lives. We can also instill good attitudes by teaching good morning habits. Now I know some of us are total grouches in the morning, at least until we have had our coffee, but is that a good habit to instill in a child? I know a mother who waits until she hears her child stirring and then walks into the room with a bright sunny smile and a cheerful "Good Morning!" even when she doesn't feel like it. Oh, so subtly, she is teaching her child to start each day with a fresh, happy attitude and to be thankful to God for another day to do His will. Don't you wish we all had that habit? We can also teach toddlers good eating habits. They learn that meals come at certain times and that snacks, though they taste wonderful, are limited. Even though these are eating habits, they teach spiritual lessons as well -- you can't have everything right when you want it or every time you want it. You can also encourage good eating by treating good foods, such as fruit and vegetables, as special snacks. When a child wants a snack, offer a choice between an apple, orange, or carrot sticks and try not to look shocked when a child picks a carrot stick once in a while.

             Parents need to teach their toddlers that there are limits to what they can do. Oddly enough, having limits gives a child security. Even grownups need limits. The most difficult decisions are those that present too many choices, but limit those choices to two or three things and most people have little difficulty in picking one. Children need to know where the limits are to feel comfortable and secure. Enforcing the limits with a toddler is not hard. Light spankings and scoldings are often very effective in letting a child know that something is off limits. However, don't be deceived in thinking that these things will always stop a child. Curiosity is strong in a toddler and they will want to find out what happens if they disobey Mom or Dad. Frequently, parents find themselves repeating the discipline over and over and over again. It is not unusual to wonder if there isn't something wrong in the mental processes of the child. How many times does it take for it to sink into a child's mind that you are not going to let them touch the hot pot on the stove? Remember our first lesson. Here is an opportunity to practice all that patience you learned earlier. It is extremely important that children learn as soon as possible that listening to parents is important for their own well-being (Proverbs 1:33). Once in a while a parent should let a child find out the hard way that disobeying them is not a good idea. The events should be carefully picked as not being harmful to the child and they should be well-warned what will happen if they don't listen, but if they persist, let them learn that what Mom or Dad said is true. For example, if you just mopped the kitchen floor and you tell the tot not to run through the kitchen because they might fall, sometimes it helps that when he makes a dash through the middle of the floor (where he won't bang his head on a sharp corner) to hold your peace while he tries out the padding on his bottom side. Then you can move in, comfort the child, and say, "See, Mommy told you, you might fall. You need to listen to Mommy." These natural consequences to wrongful actions are often powerful lessons. Despite our best precaution, toddlers will hurt themselves. Comfort the child, but don't pass up the opportunity to point out that it happened because they didn't listen.

             Disciplining toddlers takes a lot of repetition, which means parents will have to be consistent. Consistency is what gives Christians security. They know that God always remains the same (Hebrews 13:8; Psalms 62:1-2). A child needs to know that something isn't off-limit just because you are having a bad day or you are too rushed to watch over the child. If something is wrong, it must remain wrong. This is going to make a good bit of work for busy parents because they are going to have to be watchful that the rules are being followed.

             Training in the Scriptures can begin with a toddler. You don't need sit-down lectures to learn biblical lessons (Deuteronomy 6:7). We teach our children first and foremost by living a righteous life with them. By showing our trust in God and His wisdom, we teach our children security for their whole life (Proverbs 3:19-26). Keep the lessons simple for toddlers. Teach "God is love" by showing the toddler Mom and Dad's love for him. Show him that "God is good" through the kindness that Mom and Dad shows him. Encourage him to share his things. Most, though not all, toddlers tend to share their things. Just last night, a toddler offered me a piece of chewed bread stick. Even if you don't like what is offered, encourage the gesture with profuse thanks. Toddlers also tend to be natural helpers. Often they return things they find laying around the house, even the decorative items from the coffee table. Although it is sometimes annoying to have all this "help," the good trait of helping needs to be encouraged. Always keep the child's viewpoint in mind. "Helping Mommy" or exploring the back reaches of the kitchen cabinet may be an irritant to you, but we must be careful we don't teach the wrong lesson because we are annoyed.

             As with each topic that we explore, the teaching of love and security doesn't stop when a children grows beyond being a toddler. The ideas remain the same, the principles remain consistent, just the application varies as our children grow.


Blurred Barriers

I've never studied all the rules

              'Bout curbs and discipline,

But I can't buy the idea

              You're training children when

You let them tear the schoolhouse down

              And still leave them alone.

The finest colt is worthless 'til

              You put the bridle on!


Revoking laws won't make a crook

              Become an honest man.

Removing railings from a curve

              Won't make it safer and

If cows are prone to jump the fence

              Removing it may stop

Fence-jumping problems but it won't

              Do much to save your crop.


Author Unknown

Your Questions

How do you handle difficulties in getting a toddler to brush her teeth?

I asked several women in the church and the following is a composite of their responses. Most small children go through a stage where they don't want to brush their teeth. Most of the time is just another form of testing the limits (see the next chapter). To make brushing more appealing to a small child, take them to the store and allow them to pick out a special toothbrush just for them. Some children really like the electric brushes. Let them also pick out their own children's toothpaste. This turns the table on them from something they are being forced to do to something they choose to do. Since children of this age often want to imitate adults, brush your teeth along with them. Use stickers on a wall chart to reward getting their teeth brushed. On the imitation point, find a children's book about brushing teeth to add to the ones you read to them.

One mother told me, "I remember playing like I was looking for dinosaurs or whatever in their mouths when my kids were real small. You know, 'open wide, I think I see something...' They really got into that."

Another mother replied, "Oh, yes -- we did something like that, too. Only we looked for animals escaped from the zoo, complete with sound effects. I would tell them to open wide. 'I thought I saw a monkey I needed to brush out!' And then make all sorts of monkey noises until I'd brushed it out. Another thing we did is practice opera singing. When I wanted them to open their mouths wide, I'd tell them to open up and sing with me, and then I did the scales with 'Ahhh-ahh-ahh-ahhh-ahhh-ahhh.' When I wanted to brush the fronts of their teeth, they held their teeth together, smiled real big, and we sang the scales using 'eeee.'"

Sometimes when there is strong resistance, breaking the cycle helps. Get other bedtime rituals done and then come back to brushing their teeth. Often insisting will break the barrier. "You won't be doing anything else until your teeth are brushed." However, be prepared for a long siege at first and make sure there are no toys in the bathroom. For really tough situations, have Dad be in charge. Often times a child is less inclined to fight Dad than Mom. By the way, you can brush at least the outer surfaces of the teeth even when a child refuses to open their mouth. Some brushing is better than nothing at all and the child cannot claim he "won."

Another mother, who is a dental hygienist, had this suggestion. "We suggest in our dental office that the toddler stand on a stool and you stand behind them. Have them tilt their heads back against your chest/stomach. That way you can see better. Brush the teeth in little circles hitting the gums also. This will keep the gums healthier. Make sure you have the right size brush, not too big to easily fit on the side of their molars and they should be able open their mouths easily while brushing the sides of their teeth. Using disclosing solution so after they brush, helps you and the child to see places they have missed so they can go back and clean those areas. Kids generally do not have the dexterity to do a really good job until after the age of 7. I know that sounds old to be helping them, but it pays off in the end."

Be aware that specials needs children, such as those with Down Syndrome or autism, are sometimes extra sensitive to sensory perceptions. Using a cotton or sponge swab may be a way to start getting them used to the feel of having their teeth cleaned. Also avoid using strong tasting toothpastes.