Most people think babies and young children are so cute and adorable, but if you are the parent of a young child like I am, you know all that cuteness can disappear in seconds only to be replaced by a screaming, crying, head banging, rolling-on-the-floor Tasmanian Devil. You also know that you don’t so much succeed at parenting a young child as you merely survive it. So to that end I offer these humble suggestions for surviving young children.
1. Sleep is Key to Surviving Young Children
Back when I was a brand new doctor freshly graduated from medical school and just starting a grueling 5 year residency training program, I received the same time tested advice senior doctors give all young doctors, namely “sleep whenever you can”. It was great advice because we would work 36 hour shifts every fourth day (with 12 hour shifts on the other days) where we at most got a few hours of sleep and often got none.
We quickly learned that if you could grab 15 minutes of sleep with your head on a desk or on the couch in the break room, it could make the difference between efficiently finishing your work or getting called at home by a nurse to correct an order because you misspelled the name of a drug or wrote the wrong dose.
The same thing is true about parenting. If your child goes down for a nap, you may be tempted to try to do laundry, tidy up or work on the sink full of dishes, but I would encourage you to nap instead to if you are at all behind on sleep.
Sleep is critical to our wellbeing on so many levels. Sleep is when we repair the daily wear and tear our bodies and our brains. We convert short-term memory to long-term memory when we sleep. We also build muscle and break down fat. That is why sleep is so important when we are trying to get in shape.
Sleep deprivation also causes numerous negative effects. We are much more irritable and emotionally sensitive, kind of like a young child, when we sleep deprived. We are also ravenously hungry and significantly over eat, while not having energy to burn it off. We are even unfocused and impulsive, kind of like having ADHD, which makes it hard to focus and finish tasks.
I’ve found that I’m much more efficient if I go to bed with my child, sleep for 8 hours and then get up before my child so I have 1-2 hours of uninterrupted time when I’m well rested and can be focused and efficient. This method worked so well that I wrote most of my book, Don’t Settle, that way.
2. Personal Time is Key to Surviving Young Children
My other suggestion is to recognize how important personal time is for your mental health and wellbeing. Parenting young children is more mentally exhausting than physically exhausting. You can only watch so much Barney and stand so much screaming before you go tilt and have evil thoughts about throwing your child through the window.
When I was a young child, my mother quit her job as kindergarten teacher to stay home with my younger sister and I until we were both in school. Even though my mother was an excellent kindergarten teacher, we still drove her crazy and routinely turned her into a blubbering mess that chased us around switches, which of course has nothing to do with why I am a psychiatrist.
Whether it is 15 minutes to go to the bathroom in peace or actually going to the gym for a work out, that little bit of personal time can do wonders for your mental health. So don’t be afraid or feel guilty about asking your spouse or your friends and family to watch your little ones so you can get some of personal time, even if its just to surf the internet.
Don’t let all the voices in your head tell you that “good moms” don’t burden anyone else or take time for themselves. The truth is that the secret to being a good mom is getting enough personal time (along with getting enough sleep). Even if you are a single parent and don’t have any friends or family nearby, you can still pair up with another mom and take turns watching each other’s children so you both can get some personal time.
If you can manage to address those two needs, sleep and personal time, you will put yourself in the best space possible to handle the rest of the massive challenge of parenting young children. Just remember that parenting isn’t always pretty. There will always be days that you collapse in bed totally exhausted where your only accomplishment was that you didn’t throw anyone out of the window.
3. Routines are the Last Key to Surviving Young Children
Once you have enough sleep and personal time, you will then be out of survival mode and can start working on getting ahead of the curve and start making your life easier. The next key is to work on establishing routines similar to when they were a baby. Young children are creatures of habit and routines, especially around bedtime and getting ready in the morning can make these transitions easier.
It also helps to make a game of the task such as “How fast can you put on your shoes…brush your teeth…” followed by lots of “OMG! That was amazing! You are so fast!” We even use a timer sometimes to see if they can break their record. I promise you that after a week of using this technique you’ll rarely scream at your child.
This list isn’t exhaustive, so please leave your best secrets to surviving young children in the comment section below.
Scott Carroll, MD
Author of the Award Winning Book
Don’t Settle: How to Marry the Man You Were Meant For