10 rules every toddler should break
We all know structure and discipline are good for our tots (not to mention us mums) but every now and then, rules are made to be broken...
Set bedtimes, nutritious meals, a tidy home and polite children. There's no shortage of rules and regulations we know we ought to stick to in order to raise the perfect child. But how boring would a perfect child be? And how boring would us mums become in the process? Sometimes, it's okay to lower your standards, throw out the rule-book and let anarchy rule.
Don't make a mess
There's just no escaping the fact: toddlers equal mess. Whether it's emptying out your cupboards or smearing the mirror with your best lipstick, the work of a busy toddler can be a house-proud mum's worst nightmare. What you see as a beautiful cream sofa is, through a toddler's eyes, a vast canvas just waiting to be covered in an abstract design of biro squiggles, toast crumbs and squished strawberries.
Wait until the kids have left home for the ultimate house makeover and direct your energies towards damage control instead - cover decent sofas with cheap throws, move valuable ornaments out of reach of grubby little butterfingers, and if you can, limit creative play to one room, or even better, the backyard. But don't limit it too much - sand, mud, paint and water may be messy but they're also educational, creative and fun.
You can't wear that
A beautifully turned-out child is a rare and wonderful sight to behold. But those of us with toddlers whose fashion sense doesn't conform to ours can find ourselves confronted with slightly 'interesting' outfits as soon as our little one is old enough to choose his own clothes.
Of course, you're not going to let your tot out of the house clad in just a cozzie and thongs in the dead of winter, but giving him a bit of freedom to make small decisions himself gives him a valuable sense of independence - and you a good giggle.
Don't talk to strangers
While statistically, the chance of your child being kidnapped or stalked by a stranger is no higher now than it ever was, today's parents are much more attuned to the dangers, to the point that for some, every passer-by is a potential paedophile.
Of course, in time you'll need to teach your tot not to take sweets or other gifts from strangers and not to accept lifts or go off anywhere with people he doesn't know, but if our children never interacted at all with people they hadn't met before it would be a very sad and insular world.
One of the joys of having babies and toddlers is the way the world opens up to you and your child - just a simple walk in the park can involve smiles and chats with other people. While your child is a toddler and under your constant supervision, make the most of this innocent period where every stranger is still a friend he hasn't met yet.
Don't jump on the furniture
Why not? A squishy sofa or your big bed makes a perfect trampoline and climbing frame, especially on rainy days when the park's a mud puddle. And a bit of acrobatics in the bedroom can be a great way to work off some excess energy before a good night's sleep.
Don't eat junk food
Unless you've been too exhausted to open a paper or switch on the telly recently, you'll know there's been a lot of discussion about children's diets and rising obesity rates. Ideally, your tot will be tucking into three homemade meals a day, loaded with fresh fruit and vegies. In the real world, that's a tall order for most busy mums and the vast majority of us allow our kids the odd chip or biscuit. If the mainstay of your toddler's diet is fresh healthy food, however, and he's getting plenty of activity and exercise, the occasional slice of pizza or square of chocolate isn't going to do too much harm.
Don't skip school or daycare
'One of the happiest memories of my childhood was the day my mum suddenly decided it was far too lovely to be sitting inside,' remembers Sarah Townsend, 30, mum to Alex, 10 months. "Instead of taking me to kindy, she turned the car around and headed for the local pool, where we spent a perfect morning swimming and eating ice-cream. That's the kind of mum I want to be."
Special days together that you and your child will remember can be just as valuable as another day learning his colours and numbers.
Don't stay up past your bedtime
A firm and consistent bedtime routine is a lifesaver for most mums, preventing over-tired tots and guaranteeing a bit of 'me/us time' in the evenings. But occasionally, especially at weekends and on holiday, the odd half an hour here or there isn't going to hurt. If the choice is between taking your tot out to dinner with you and keeping him up past his bedtime or not going at all, why not do as the Europeans do and take your bug-eyed toddler along. He'll probably be so excited he'll behave perfectly, and if you tire him out, you may even get an extra half an hour in bed the next morning...
Do as I say, not as I do
While it might be nice to carry on with some of our less savoury habits while instructing our tots they're not allowed to do the same, this just won't wash. Ever heard the saying "actions speak louder than words"? Children learn by example, and you're the one setting it, so save any burping or drinking out of the milk carton until you can do it in private.
Don't play with your food
It's not surprising this is a rule most mums are keen to enforce. Spending ages creating a nutritious, attractive meal, complete with carrot bunny ears, only to have it prodded and chucked on the floor, is enough to bring out the Victorian mother in anyone. To a two-year-old, though, food is not just for eating, it's for fun and exploration. Plunging his fingers into a bowl of pasta teaches him about texture, shape, colour, temperature - and taste. And feeding himself develops his hand-eye co-ordination and sense of independence.
If you make mealtimes a battleground, you're setting yourself up for all kinds of problems, so relax, put down your mess mat, build up a repertoire of super-quick but healthy meals and make food fun.
Children should be seen and not heard
We all know toddlers just love to be the centre of attention, with all eyes and ears permanently on them. As that's not always possible, your tot needs to learn that he can't interrupt you in the middle of a conversation or talk back disrespectfully.
But encouraging your child to communicate with you is vital. As well as developing his language skills, he needs to feel that home is a safe haven where he can express his opinions openly. And if we stuck to this rule, just think of all those priceless gems we'd miss out on...