Best advice for parenting children under 5

The first five years of your child's life are said to be the most formative. This can be an exhausting parenting period with many ups and downs. With so many different theories out there, try to focus in on what is most important.

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  • Parenting small children can be draining, both emotionally and physically. Research shows that the first 5 years of a child’s life are thought to be the most formative. This is a monumental task and should be taken very seriously — just don’t take yourself too seriously.

  • 1. Be flexible and you won’t get bent out of shape

  • You are probably going to lose sleep, fail at a school science project, get thrown up on, and forget to pick up your child from piano lessons.

  • 2. Don’t fret about milestones

  • Some children walk at 9 months, others at 14 months. Teeth come in when they are ready. Children talk when they feel like it. (This being said, follow your gut if you feel that there are developmental delays that might actually be warning signs.)

  • 3. Potty training will happen

  • You are probably going to try too early. That’s okay. I know I did. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Don’t fret: Every child will eventually potty train. Like my grandma said, “No child goes to kindergarten in a diaper.” Trust in your own child’s process.

  • 4. Get the bedtime thing right

  • Studies have shown that this is a must. If you are having problems helping your child get into a healthy sleep routine, talk with your pediatrician.

  • 5. Things get lost

  • You must, sadly, think of things like socks, hair accessories, and sometimes shoes, as disposable items that you will have to buy over and over. Most of these things will get lost before they ever wear out. Painful, I know. Just accept it.

  • 6. Read, read, read

  • If you do one thing for your child educationally, read to them. Really, this can be one of the most important things you will ever do for your child.

  • 7. Know their limits

  • Ever seen an all-out tantrum at Disney World? Even at the “happiest place on earth” kids get tired, hungry, and grumpy. Learn what your child’s triggers are and try to combat them with awareness and prevention.

  • 8. Try not to yell

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  • Research shows that yelling can cause problems, both in childhood and adulthood. Stop mid-sentence, close your eyes, and regroup before you let off steam.

  • 9. Limit screen time

  • Even though your 2-year-old might know how to program the DVR faster than you can even find the remote, be aware of the effects of screen time in young children.

  • 10. Take time to teach values

  • Taking candy, biting a friend, and mistreating siblings are all things that deserve a conversation in a teachable moment.

  • 11. Don’t overschedule or overcommit yourself

  • Examine your own agenda and commitments, then have an honest discussion with yourself (oh, parents talk to themselves) to determine if you are simply trying to do too much, all of the time.

  • 12.

  • Teach them to pray

  • Let them see you pray. Pray with them. Pray for them. You will not be at every crossroad of their lives; prayer is the best defense you can give them.

  • 13.

  • Let them choose

  • Find as many ways as you can to give them the opportunity to make choices. What color of socks, which coloring book, what snack to eat. Give them experience early on with decision-making and the effects of their choices.

  • 14

  • Avoid the

  • “compare and despair”
  • syndrome

  • My neighbor’s son was enrolled in his first French class at three years old. My kid still wasn’t even potty-trained. Celebrate the way that others choose to parent and trust in your own process of parenting.

  • 15. Expect exhaustion, tears, and giddy joy

  • Oh, your child might also have these reactions, as well. Seriously, this is the hardest work you will ever do, at least until they become teenagers.

  • You only raise a child once. This doesn’t mean you should expect perfection from yourself or your child. Learn together, grow together, and, most importantly, love together.

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Heidi Dunkley is the mother of six children and can be found driving to swim/football/basketball practice in the afternoons, doing laundry in the mornings, and ninja-like freelance writing late into the night. 

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