The first few years of parenthood is a huge adjustment, especially if you’re a working parent. All of a sudden, your baby is walking … and talking. Then they turn three, and demanding to know why you have to leave them to go to work.
While transition moments (e.g., the daily goodbye, helping them cope with a caregiver or spending afternoons at daycare) are critical, so is the rest of the limited time you spend together.
Whatever your work schedule, those mornings, evenings and weekends can feel very short, and you’ll want to make them enjoyable and high-impact in building your kid’s confidence and self-esteem.
The key technique to getting there is through teaching repetition and ritual.
Watch any episode of a TV show made for little kids or any children’s book that’s part of a series, and you’ll notice that it’s remarkably similar to the next one.
Characters always wear the same outfits, plots always unfold in the same way, and the theme song plays at exactly the same time. The producers and writers know that predictability helps anchor children — that it helps them look forward to watching the program or having the book read aloud and that they’ll enjoy it when they do.
For you, repetition is dull. But for children, especially toddlers, it’s wonderful and reassuring; the world is a brand new and complex place, and when they can see patterns in it or accurately spot what’s coming next, it gives them a sense of security, mastery and delight.
So borrow this technique — and create rituals of your own. The ones that work best feel natural, happen frequently and involve both you and your child. Above all, they are easy to do.
If your son knows you’ll pick him up and hug him in the same way when you come through the door each evening, he’ll look forward to it — and be thrilled when it happens. Sing that favorite song together each day on the way home from daycare. Begin each Saturday morning with breakfast at the same time. Tuck him into bed in a consistent way each night.
Even small household chores can create a sense of routine and consistency. That doesn’t mean we expect toddlers to do the laundry or wash the car. But they can handle small, simple tasks like putting away their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, tidying up the toys and games, bringing napkins to the table at dinnertime, or helping to wipe the kitchen counter after a spill.
Doing these things will create an additional sense of “I know what’s coming,” all while building their sense of capability and self-esteem. It also gets them ready to take on larger responsibilities — like homework or laundry — later on. Don’t fall into the “it’s faster if I just do it” trap or wait to assign chores when they’re bigger and more capable.
The more your kids understand early on that their help is valuable, too, the more confidence they’ll have (and the easier it will be to run your working-parent household).
With little effort, you can weave small but deliberate threads of routine like this throughout the time you have with your child — and make those hours more satisfying, comforting and beneficial for everyone.
Daisy Dowling is the author of “Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself and Raising Happy Kids.” She is also the founder of Workparent, a coaching and consulting firm that helps working parents lead more successful and satisfying lives.