My youngest child just turned 4… and man, do I feel like I’ve graduated to ‘mid-level mom’ lately. The labor of diaper changing and manual feedings are long gone, I’m back into a more substantial work schedule, I even found a dead bird on my porch… (Which, you know what that means, dontcha?) I feel good. I feel like my life is (mostly) in order.

My kids are still young — ages 5 and 4 — but things feel so much easier now (minus the sister-bickers about ownership of stuffed animals and who gets to color on what paper when). Yes, it gets hectic like any household with small children, but I’m finding that little things I did while my girls were in their toddler years are now adding up, making my life easier.

What were my magic tricks? Well, I merely followed directions from a bunch of different sources and friends (and my own mom) and taught my toddlers the following:

2) Infrequent electronics. That’s right, I’ve rarely allowed my girls to play with electronics or watch movies while we’re in the car, in restaurants or waiting in lines — even for the frequent 3-hour road trips we take to visit my parents. (I’ve never used movies or electronics in the car…) “Look out the window and tell me what you see!” I’d suggest. “So they did. Sometimes they’d sleep, sometimes they’d complain, sometimes they get frustrated and antsy and throw a wild toddler tantrum like no other… but not throwing an electronic game at them at every instance has truly made them more patient and has provided them with the ability to cope, to observe, to talk to each other, to wait. Sure, we play games on the tablet, but not while waiting in a line somewhere. It’s not easy to do (trust me!) but my life is easier now for it.

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2) Take plates up to the sink after meals. I started implementing this rule around age 3. I taught this trick by means of making it a game with over-the-top exclamations of “What an amazing helper you are!” — you know, to boost the budding ego. With my consistent insistence, my girls started getting accustomed to the habit before they were old enough to realize it was a ‘chore.’ Now, they do it without me even asking (most of the time, anyways). And my life now is easier because I started the habit so early.

3) Clean up your mess. This includes toys, games, clothes thrown on the floor, shoes strewn about. When they were toddlers, I’d help them (again, turning it into a game of ‘how fast can we do it’ or ‘let’s do this to surprise Daddy when he comes home’) but now, at 5 and 4, cleaning up their messes is up to them. They know it too: No clean up, no more fun. And you bet you might lose your favorite doll for a full 24 hours if you don’t make an effort to pick her up off the floor and put her extra changes of clothes and elaborate tea party display away. I won’t lie, I must ask (or rather, tell and sometimes yell) several times before anyone moves a muscle, but my efforts are proving to be worth it.

Too tough? Too rough? Hey, without my house rules I’d be a dead mom walking. It’s all about surviving and thriving… and teaching these adorable kids of ours while they’re too young to realize what we’re actually doing. Teach your toddlers, they can handle it. Trust me, it’ll make your life easier a few years from now. (It has for me…)

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