Two year olds and order – a contradiction in terms?
This was my initial reaction when friends told me about the Family Education Program (FEP). Like many parents, we, for the most part, simply fell back on the way we were parented. After all, if I turned out ok, it must be all right? (I can see my husband rolling his eyes!)
Soon after our second child, A, was born, we had to deal with the issue of sibling rivalry. Our older child, K, was not only jealous, but also entering the “terrible twos” so it was a double whammy. Being an only child and a youngest child respectively, my husband and I could not draw on personal experience to identify with what K was going through. We found ourselves unsure how to address the problem. Suddenly, parenting did not seem to be so commonsensical after all.
After looking around to see what other parenting courses were available, and also attending the FEP information session, my husband and I decided to take the plunge and sign up for the FEP as it seemed to offer the best combination of theory and practical. Most of the other parenting courses/workshops I looked at tended to focus on generic tips and strategies but lacked a theoretical foundation.
What I liked about the FEP was the strong theoretical basis, especially on character formation at age-appropriate moments starting as early as 1-2 years old. We were to apply the theory to our children and come up with our own strategies for implementation. Or in FEP “language”, write an action plan for our kid!
The Action Plan
Our children were still very young when we started the course – K was 2.3 years and A was only 8 months. Nonetheless, we learnt that even at the tender age of 2 years, children could form good habits, such as being orderly. So we put together an action plan to help K acquire the habit of keeping his things orderly. For instance, to keep his toys back on the shelves after playing, putting back his shoes in the cupboard when we came home, placing dirty clothes in the laundry basket etc. The means by which we would achieve this goal included the following:
Setting aside a place for everything in the house.
Setting a good example for K to follow
Asking K where a certain toy goes.
To praise him when K puts back his toys and shoes
Stopping K from going on to the next game when he hasn’t put back his toys.
Starting him out by picking up the blocks/crayons/etc first and passing to him put back where it belongs, after that he is motivated to do it all by himself.
We discovered that writing the action plan was the easy part – implementing it was much more difficult! Especially since K was in the “terrible twos” and quite stubborn. Tears and tantrums ensued the first few occasions we implemented it – sometimes for more than an hour. It took quite a lot of perseverance and control on our part to remain firm but calm. And we also realized that for one of us parents (who shall remain unidentified), the most difficult part of the action plan was giving a good example!
Ironically, the action plan was not just about training K, but also training ourselves! It was hard to expect K to acquire good habits if we ourselves did not “walk the talk”! or if we let ourselves get all worked up when he refused to obey, and lost our cool.
As the months passed, we began to see results. Bit by bit, K learnt to keep his things orderly and to do so cheerfully. It was particularly gratifying on the rare occasions he practiced this habit in front of other parents (i.e. our friends and relatives with young kids) and earned their admiration (“Wow, your kid is very neat. I can never get mine to keep her toys…”)! Tantrum throwing became less frequent although K would occasionally refuse to obey just to get our attention or be rebellious.
By the time we completed the FEP a year later, it was becoming second nature to K to keep his things away when prompted to do so. An additional benefit was the good example he set for A, who was almost 2 years old by then. So our next task was to draw up an action plan for A to learn to be orderly. We are still working on the implementation for this one – A is a very different personality from her brother so we had to tweak some of the means to achieve the goal. But she is making progress and that is very encouraging.
While the action plan above is simple and straightforward, it proved effective and prepared us to implement more complex ones (e.g. on developing generosity, charity in our kids). We know that parenting is only going to get more difficult as the children grow up and encounter a world full of contradictions and values that are at odds with ours. Yet, equipped with the good framework and rich content provided by the FEP, we feel confident that we are able to rise to the challenge of raising our children well.