Whole Parenting Family

Parenting 101: Don’t Borrow Trouble (Or Ask Leading Questions)

Any parent will tell you what any moderately with-it person knows: don’t borrow trouble. And when you’re living and parenting a child around, or slightly over, the age of 2, we know it doubly. Little people are prone to suggestions, quick to assert their rights of issuing a “no,” and generally should be given two options, both of which are agreeable to the parent. Like, do you want to bring your baseball bat or your elephant with you to cheer for you while you try to go potty on the toilet? Instead of “do you want to try to go potty on the toilet?”

1) Pick your battles.

Certain battles are worth it with a 2+ year old: trying one bite of food, not saying “no!” {no, thank you and yes, mama are acceptable responses}, always trying to go potty, even if you don’t go, staying in your room during quiet time, and saying excuse me. (That actually sounds like a lot of battles, now that I list them all.)

Certain battles are not worth it: what music we listen to (music loves in our house here), what games we play, what he wears, which books he reads, which food he eats (remember his limited healthy options here), and sleeping with a pacifier {Ridding Yourself of the Pacifier}.

For example, mealtime. Meals for us consist of lots of options for food. But if SuperBoy doesn’t want any of it, we shift to bargaining mode: “Well, your carrots and humus need three bites, and then you can have toast.” Or “That’s okay, I’ll eat your chicken {“No! NO! I want my chicken!!”}.” Food isn’t a battlefield because if he’s not hungry, I’m not going to force feed him. I do make sure to have three big meals and a few snacks between. I do sit next to him and hype up what we’re eating and how we all LOOOOOOVE it so much. I do help him with bites and don’t expect him to shovel it all in by himself. And I do say he has to take one bite, and if he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t have to finish it. But he has to try new food.

But playtime. I’m game for just about anything and have no agenda. Going all through the house looking for dragons to slay? Sure. Baseball, again? Sure. Drawing/painting/baking/watering plants/washing dishes/dance parties/reading baseball cards/block building/car races, whatever his little heart desires. We’re not into structured play. So I just go with the flow, as does SweetPea.

Toilet time: he’s basically potty trained and has been for a few months. We go every hour or so, even if he doesn’t feel like he needs to, he still has to go and try. Sometimes this involves stern talking to, kicking and screaming (him, not me, just me inside). Sometimes it involves lots and lots of diversion {“Is that Babe Ruth? Oh, I thought I saw him. Do you think he went potty on the toilet?”}. It involved saying goodbye to his diapers. Thanks, Do Good Diapers!

2) Exercise selective hearing, but if you acknowledge unwanted speech patterns, don’t let it go until it’s gone.

If he’s being whiny, I ignore it for the most part. I say something to the effect of “Oh, SweetPea, we don’t understand it when your brother talks like that. Let’s do something over here.” The lack of attention is such a damper to the whole drama of whining.

When it spills into rude, excessive shouting of my name, someone else’s name, or the word “NO!” then I have to lock and load. I try not to just say “that’s wrong, not okay, not what we say, don’t say that, omygosh you’re killing me” etc. It’s important to offer what we do say, an affirmative act, a positive way of expressing his emotion or frustration. It’s teaching productive communication, arming him with the tools to also be an attorney someday. Kidding. But I want to give him something to replace his unwanted speech pattern with.

And until he apologizes, self-corrects, or adds an “excuse me” onto that, I’m not engaging with him. Ignoring him and informing him that I’m doing so until he comes around is the most effective behavioral shaping tool for SuperBoy’s personality.

3) Be wary of teaching new concepts or vocab that you don’t want to encourage or explain.

Don’t say “Oh, sweetheart, please don’t poop on the carpet.” Say, “We only go poopy on the toilet.” As soon as your little parrot hears the first phrase, all he’ll do is repeat it, laughing. And thus reinforce it. And thus leave you with nightmares that he’s going to poo on the carpet. Or say “Are you tired and done doing this activity?” because the response will inevitably be, “Oh yes! (now I know how to get out of things when I am squirrelly)”

Similarly, going in depth on an adult themed topic like death or birth, probably not so necessary at this tender age. When Nina died, we explained to SuperBoy that she was old and not well and so she’s in Heaven now. He certainly knows about death as we pray for the dead at the end of grace before meals, and at bedtime, but I’m sensitive to not introducing too many unknowns and what could be frightening topics for a very young mind and imagination.

Sometimes when we pray for people, especially during election season, he would confuse that with them being in Heaven, with the other people we pray for, who happen to be dead. A good reminder that little brains can store a ton, but sort through less than a ton. Probably more like 800 lbs rather than 1500.

Little brains are incredible sponges, so I try not to borrow trouble by allowing the sponge to be filled with anything toxic, or by overfilling it myself!


  1. Kerri on November 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    You’re amazing and inspiring, Mama Nell. And Sweet Pea? With those eyes? To die for!

    • Natural Mama Nell on November 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      She is sooooo precious! I hate to think that she’ll be a naughty (and normal) little girl some day!

  2. Jenni on November 10, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Great info and spot on!! I actually just finished reading “Parenting with Love & Logic” and a lot of your points here are congruent with the premise of Love and Logic parenting. It’s all about offering choices and letting the child learn by experience, exploring and communication not by shouting commands all day about what to do and not do. Thanks for sharing how you cope with the fun age of 2 😉

    • Natural Mama Nell on November 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      Sounds like a great resource! Thanks for sharing with us.

  3. Weekend Reading » Simply Thorough Mama on November 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    […] Need some tips on talking to your toddler? Don’t borrow trouble (or ask leading questions) […]