A Victorious Toddler


*This post is part of a series on Victorious Parenting. Click on the label to the right to read all posts in this series.*

Why “victorious parenting”? Because victorious parenting leads to victorious children. And yes, victorious parenting will even lead to victorious toddlers. (*Note: I did not say perfect toddlers…I said victorious toddlers.)

“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

There is much to say about this Scripture. But doesn’t it speak beautifully to victory?! When I heard someone teach this verse for the first time in college, in a way that cast vision for me and completely expanded my paradigm of what “normal Christian life” should look like, I was changed forever. Suddenly, there was so much more to anticipate in life–as a believer, I could expect ABUNDANT LIFE and VICTORY through Christ. Wow. Believe it or not, this was completely profound for me when I was in my late teens. And I have clung to this truth since, for every arena of my life.

So here’s the problem. As believers, as moms, we can believe for abundant life and victory everywhere:  in our work place, or on the mission field, or for the masses who need to be saved, or for the sick person who needs healing, or, or, or…but for those toddlers in their “terrible twos”?? Oh, no…this Truth couldn’t possibly break through that barrier. Those “terrible twos”…they’re just too much for the cross. Too much for our Savior to overcome.

My baby boy has just crossed over into his “twos”. And maybe I am extremely naïve (I guess we’ll find out in another year’s time…) but I think I’ve already gotten a taste of what these “terrible twos” advocates are speaking of: tantrums, defiance, total disobedience. But never once have I attributed Elliott’s behavior to a diagnosis other than “student.” Because he’s learning…isn’t that what students do? They learn. But the phrase, “Terrible Twos”? I guarantee that a Victorious Mother did not coin that term. A defeated, exasperated mother made that up. But why–oh why??–can we have faith that Jesus died on the cross so that we would have abundant life in every aspect of life except as a toddler? Why is this short, and SUPER, SUPER FUN season of our children’s lives characterized as “terrible”? And yes, I know that Elliott is barely two. Talk about faith :). But I believe that simply labeling his behavior as “terrible,” and giving up on any hope of of helping lead him into victory in this stage of his life, is the farthest thing from God’s heart imaginable.

Because yes, it’s true: toddlers can throw fits and don’t know how to attain abundance and victory on their own. But that’s not the end of the story! It’s our job to help them find that life that is theirs in Christ. Too often we find toddlers who are totally defiant and out-of-control, and toddlers who are scared into “perfect performance or obedience.” But it is our goal, as victorious moms, to train our toddlers to fall plumb in the obedience spectrum, which would make them victorious. Again, not perfect, but victorious. Thus, it is my goal, in everything I do as a mom, that I would help Elliott be victorious, not out of control  OR quenched. Because I think that quenched little boys (who fall on one end of the spectrum) are actually further prone to rebel (to the other end of the spectrum).

I am constantly attempting to press Elliott into victorious living. There are many, many, many things that we can do as moms to help our toddlers be victorious. In this post, I want to park on just one of those things, and that is, teaching them responsibility. Teaching children responsibility for their actions leads to children who are victorious, instead of troublemakers. Instead of terrible twoers.

Teaching a toddler to be victorious means teaching him responsibility, not removing opportunities to learn this when he displays seeming incompetence or disobedience. I am very, very, very passionate about this particular point.

I believe men are created to be mighty. Mighty, strong, warriors. And anyone who’s been around a toddler boy knows this. You don’t have to teach a boy how to wrestle or play with swords or kick a ball or climb up on the highest places he can reach. It’s just in him, it’s innate.

So how does a toddler boy go from a vivacious, eager, forceful little boy who lives to throw balls and hit things with sticks and drive a car over every square inch of the house to a passive, tired, grumpy, no-vision-or-excitement-for-life old man whose only life comes from living vicariously through sports starts and sitcom actors? How does that happen?

Well, for one thing, it’s possible that his parents didn’t raise him to have Kingdom vision. And, secondly? Mamas, I bet he was quenched. In fact, I can almost guarantee it–his passion, his force, his zeal, his very life…was quenched. And one of those voices was probably his mama.

A toddler boy starts out filled with zeal, passion, and force, and he hears, “Stop it! No! Don’t climb on that! You spilled what?! *exasperated sigh* Sit down and be quiet! Quit being so wild!!” And, I can only imagine that if he hears that his entire life, he will eventually start doing what he’s told.

I cannot say strongly enough how urgent and important the conviction is in my spirit to never, ever, ever quench my son. Teach him and train him and give him boundaries? Oh, yes (but that’s for another blog post). Quench him? Never. It is my heart that I never, ever, ever would through my actions or through my words.

A few weeks ago, we got Elliott his very first treat from Starbucks. We were having a family day, and decided to go to Starbucks so we could all have “a special treat.” We told Elliott of the plan and headed to Playas. We ordered him a kid’s hot cocoa, and couldn’t wait for him to try this 130 degree liquid chocolate yumminess. He had been anticipating this treat for close to an hour and you could see the sparkle in his big blue eyes as I handed him the cup. He took hold of it with both his hands and shoved the straw into his mouth where he eagerly began to suck the rich goodness right through that green straw. Brian and I watched with such excitement and joy–is there anything more fulfilling than giving your toddler such a special treat?? He finished his several gulps and set the drink back down. “Do you like it, Big Guy???” I asked, so eager to watch his eyes light up as he said, “Yeah!” But…that didn’t happen. He just simply nodded, placed his drink on the table and got up to play. We were so bummed. We kept trying to get him to take more sips but he just really didn’t want to. We were so disappointed, so excited to give him something that would give him just a little bit of extra joy. But, his bit of extra joy came in the form of the green straw, that was apparently the cat’s meow in his eyes. It was way more fun to play with the straw and his hot cocoa than to drink it. So, he decided he wanted to put the straw through the tiny lid hole in the hot cocoa lid, even though there was already a straw in it. 23 month old + a cup filled with hot cocoa + a game of taking the straw in and out over and over= (as any mom could guess) a MESS. We explained to him that that wasn’t the best idea but he insisted on trying it. We asked him to stop twice, but he chose not to listen. Sure enough, he went to force the straw into that tiny hole (that already had a straw in it) in the lid and he knocked the cup over and it spilled all over the table and the floor.

I was tempted—for a brief moment—to be exasperated with Elliott. “See?! What did I tell you?” My mind raced with, “Ugh! Doesn’t he know yet that we set rules in place for everyone’s best interest??” But, thankfully, I caught myself quickly and instead, these words came out, gently, softly, and with a heart to see my son walking in victory: “Oh, buddy, that’s why we were asking you not to put the straw into your drink. Let’s go get a napkin and clean it up.” “Yeah,” Elliott replied soberly—but eagerly.

“Victory” in this discipline moment was not to prove to him how right I was and how wrong he was. “Victory” in this moment was not to take him from the disobedient end of the spectrum and belittle him to the defeated end. “Victory” in this moment was not to succumb to embarrassment as other people in Starbucks stared, and thus embarrassing my son to make sure they knew I was handling the situation like an “in-control” parent would. You see, it is never my intention to quench my son. It is never my intention to squash him, or make him feel like he’s the size of an ant. It is never my intention to “show him who’s boss” and to “show him who knows best.” No—it’s my intention to press him into victorious living. To teach him to be a wild boy within healthy constraints. To teach him how to take responsibility when he accidentally (or purposefully) defies those constraints. Because, how many times have I disobeyed the Lord? Ignored His promptings and encouragements? Flat out said, “No,” because I was convinced my way was better or, more selfishly, just really wanted to do it my way… How many times? Who can even count… But God has never quenched me, never squashed me, never—ever, ever—made me feel stupid for disobeying or for making a mistake. No, He’s helped press me into victory.

When our toddlers make a mess, and we are so exasperated at our child’s foolishness that we tell him to go sit down and “stay out of the way” while we clean up after him, mad, annoyed, and cursing under our breath, what are we communicating to the child? “You are worthless. You are irresponsible and worthless. So you sit there and think about that while I clean up after your worthless mistake.” We are teaching our kids that not only are they irresponsible, but that they are too worthless to even take responsibility for the mess they have created. This is not the heart of my God.

So instead of squashing my son, I handed him a napkin. And he immediately took responsibility for his disobedience and cleaned up the mess he had made. And happily went on playing with his straw within the boundaries we had set for him.

Victory.

6 Comments

  • Aunt Adele
    April 5, 2013 - 09:10am

    This is a great story! Keep us posted as time passes, the challenges are just beginning! But as long as you remain victorious, so will Elliott!
    xxxooo

  • Sandra
    April 5, 2013 - 15:14pm

    Beautiful words Susanne and so right on. These principles go far beyond the “twos”… Keep up the great work!

  • Paula Jennings
    April 5, 2013 - 19:30pm

    Oh Susanne…..this warms my heart. What an amazing mother you are!! This will help me be a better Grandmother. Thank you!!!!

    xoxo
    Paula (Melisa’s Mom)

  • Suz
    April 5, 2013 - 21:43pm

    Amen!!! What incredible, useful, helpful, powerful wisdom!! Thank you!!!

  • Mia Mauss
    April 12, 2013 - 07:40am

    Suze,
    I love your posts and heart for parenting outside the mold. This post was no exception. I believe that we should treat the heart condition and not the symptom, and that starts when kids are knee-high. And I also agree with your point that we shouldn’t just expect our kids to be out of control just because they’re young. It’s true that self-control and emotional regulation are learned. But some parents seem astonished that their kids didn’t come out of the womb knowing how to self-soothe, and when faced with bad behavior, heap on the condemnation. The thing is, teaching requires patience with the learner. When we teach our kids an object lesson, we also have the opportunity to teach them about the character of God. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you’re in the moment—when you’ve wiped up three spills already and a fourth is in the making.

    But here’s my question. What does victorious living look like? Does it look the same for all boys and all girls? You said that you believe men are wired to be warriors. While I might agree, I wonder if warriors come in all different shades of war paint. If a boy doesn’t throw balls and drive cars all over the house, as does the model boy from your example, is it a sign that his parents are somehow squashing his inner warrior? And if that boy grows up to like spectator sports and movies, does that indicate that he has become the old man you describe?

    On the whole, I love this post. I especially love that you are encouraging parents to tend to the heart of their children, modeling grace and building them up. But I would caution that victorious living might look ever-so-slightly for each child—and for each parent. People will know we’re victorious when they see well-adjusted, thriving individuals who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. Even if the details of that look different from child to child, warrior to warrior.

    • Susanne
      April 30, 2013 - 19:59pm

      Yep, of course it does. I absolutely agree. I don’t think I said, and I certainly wouldn’t want to imply, that victorious living must look a specific way… That’s my point behind, “not perfect, but victorious.” Victorious means abundant and filled with life, and the fruit of this looks radically different in each child and parent combination.

      My point in this post was not to characterize victory as throwing balls. The point is that I could have quenched my boy’s passion, but instead I tried to give healthy boundaries to that passion. In HIS case, that was victory. Obviously every little boy’s passions are going to look very different, but I DO believe that men are fundamentally created to be wild. Bold. Forceful. This looks very, very, very different in all men, but I think it’s pretty easy to discern boys/men who are quenched and boys/men who are set free to be themselves. No, I absolutely don’t think that throwing balls or driving cars is the model of wild, but we do have an entire generation of men who drudge through work and time with their family and their entire lives, but only have a heartbeat when they watch a sports game or a comedian (for example). I absolutely DO think that men were created to BE ALIVE in their OWN LIVES—exert their God-given force into leading their wives, shepherding their children, making a difference in the world. And I think that too many of the men in this world live passionlessly for these things…and I’m suggesting that there’s a clear connection to the man that they were created to be being quenched at a young age. Can you imagine what would happen if our boys’ force were guided, taught, and trained? Where our families would be and what could be accomplished in this world?

      “Victorious living” looks incredibly different for each child and parent. It would, in and of itself, be quenching to put a specific framework on what that looks like.

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