Sanity Savers for the Early Years


Sanity Savers for the Early Years

Most of us go into motherhood with little or no experience. The arrival of children is met with great joy. However it also comes with a steep learning curve. Even if you were part of a large family yourself, learning the ropes of motherhood can be exhausting, draining and challenging. With more isolation from other moms, the task of raising rambunctious toddlers can be very daunting. Every mom whether she’ll admit it or not, pulls her hair out trying to juggle kids, meals, housework and more. Tantrums are draining, work continually piles up and whining gets on nerves. Every mom struggles to maintain sanity in order to fulfill daily responsibilities and actually enjoy family life. Keep in mind that the learning curve is steepest with the first child. With subsequent children, we still have challenges, but we actually begin to enjoy more the follies of daily life.

Realize too that you are a great mom. You can always do better. You will make lots of mistakes, but your kids are so happy that you are there for them. You give them the availability, affection, personal attention and security that no other caregiver can provide. Don’t be hard on yourself. You’ve got a new job in the home, a great one. Give yourself ample time to learn the ropes. Life is your teacher. Slowly build your skills and watch your talents bloom. Don’t underestimate yourself. You play an irreplaceable role in the education of your children—one that is rooted solely in love, not a pay check. Here are some tips to help you find a sense of well-being amidst the chaos.

  • Put a big floor fan in the hallway near your bedrooms. This creates a white noise effect when the family is sleeping to maximize family sleep when babes or kids are up through the night.
  • Put a small radio in the room of the napping child. Have a radio station on that is hosting a talk show or vibrant music. Again it is a white noise effect you are looking for. This allows your family to make all the noise they want while that child is napping.
  • Small children and infants have extremely short attention spans, so change their position, activity or location frequently. For instance an infant can be in a car seat on the kitchen counter, on the floor, on a table, facing in different directions, with different household items to play with (wooden spoon, large spoon etc.). He can lie in a bouncy chair, lie on the floor on their back, be on their stomach on a blanket. You can carry them, you can put them in a highchair once their neck and back are strong enough. Keep changing the scenario. Get as much as you can do done without having to carry them. Talk, sing, play peekaboo, give them pictures to look at, objects to hold etc. Beware of marketing schemes to have you buy all sorts of gadgets and gizmos. Also avoid getting into the habit of just putting them in front of a smartphone or IPad screen to keep them occupied. Women for hundreds of years have managed without all the paraphernalia available nowadays. Strive to do the same. It aids their brain development, teaches them to self-soothe and also to enjoy simple pleasures.
  • Post a list of sanity savers in your kitchen cupboard. Take a moment to generate a list of 10-20 activities you can have your kids do when you need them happy, busy and out of your hair. Having it handy and pre-made, saves your nerves big time and gives you quick fixes to daily crazy moments. For example, a bubble bath – always a calming influence (while you read a book or clean bathroom), play dough, puzzles, books to read together, blanket fort under kitchen table, blow bubbles, color, paint, markers, play hide and seek (while you tidy house), play with blocks or special toys, I spy games, listen to a CD of kids’ music, MegaBlocks, etc. When children are misbehaving, go to the list, pick an activity and divert their energy.
  • If babies are on baby bottles, use a small cooler in your room with ice pack for the night. Have a juice jug to fill with hot water from the bathtub into which you drop your bottle to warm up quickly while you go for the baby.
  • Have a change pad, diapers, wipes and spare clothes handy on each level of your house to save time and energy. Keep it in a cupboard, in a closet or in a handy basket on a shelf.
  • See your day as an opportunity to fulfill your job of raising your child and getting the housework done. It is not to entertain your child 24/7 to the neglect of other responsibilities. Don’t leave your housework for nap times, evenings or weekends. Rather parcel it out over the course of the day to give them the example of work done out of service, love and dedication. You are their first example. They should not grow up thinking that life is all play and all about themselves.
  • For example, clean a room with your child. Let them choose between a dust cloth or vacuum cleaner. You choose the opposite. Show them basically what they should do and then let them do it as long as they desire. In the meantime, you do the cleaning, tidying, etc. that you can. Switch and keep going with this until you are done. Kids need this experience and example to learn the virtue of work. My daughter loved to play hide and seek with me every morning when she was little. I’d use the time to do quick tidying of rooms as I buzzed through. Be creative. Have fun. Interact and get the job done.
  • When making meals and kids want to help, let them. Pull up a chair to the counter, away from the stove. Allow them to pour ingredients into mixing bowls, peel vegetables, stir things and watch. Yes they will make a mess, so what. Yes, this requires more time and a lot of your patience. It’s not the end of the world. Allow more time, maintain your cool as much as you can. As time goes on you will lose your temper less and really enjoy the process. I used to be so frustrated sharing my work with the kids, thinking I could do this twice as fast if they would just leave me alone. I used to scream, take my own tantrums, even sing loudly through the process to hide my frustration. Zip your lip, clean up the mess at the end and believe you are really educating your child. Eventually you will see it pay off. Your mutual time together builds their self-esteem, desire to contribute, good work habits , skills and less need to be entertained by toys. Stick with it. Gradually you too will reap the benefits.
  • When you are cleaning up after meals, fill the sink with warm, sudsy water. If your kids want to help, let them. You want them to discover work as an activity of daily life. Lay an old towel on the ground to catch spills. Let them play in the water with non-breakables while you wipe the table, sweep the floor, wipe the counters down. Then fill a tub with clear water nearby so that your child can rinse the dishes before stacking to air dry.
  • Try to follow a daily routine with set times for meals and snacks. Don’t get upset if they are not hungry. They will eat when they are. It is normal for toddlers to eat like pigeons when they are not physically growing. Eventually they will eat more. If they are in a high chair, and eating with their hands, start with the healthiest, least liked food first. Give small pieces in small amounts. Then move to other food groups doing the same. As soon as your child starts throwing food off the tray, that’s it. Meal over. You need to watch for the cues that they had enough, and also train them not to be catered to. Don’t get into power struggles over food. You are not a restaurant. Offer what is reasonable and appropriate and know they’ll eat better at the next meal if they aren’t interested now.
  • When your kids are really whiny, go outside. Look for the pattern of restlessness and routinely schedule outings each day at those times, whether to go in the backyard, walk around the block, run errands, head to the park. Everyone needs fresh air, a change of space and exercise to stay sane. If you have active kids, they need even more, so get in the habit of running them ragged so they sleep well at night. Kids do need a place to run and yell.
  • Keep a small spare mattress under their bed. When they’ve had a nightmare or are not feeling well and need you, just pull it out and sleep beside them. This allows you not to have to bring them into your room or your bed, and also maximizes your chance to fall back to sleep as soon as possible, while giving them your comforting presence.
  • Cut up a cardboard box into slats and tape them to the inside of kids’ dresser drawers so as to divide them into little compartments. This way you can always find the small socks, underwear, t-shirts, pants, etc. and your children won’t have to empty the whole drawer looking for something.
  • Have a nice bag, not necessarily even a baby’s diaper bag, on hand always stocked with spare diapers, a bottle of water or juice pack, dry munchies, change of clothes etc. so that you are always ready to go.
  • Make up and sing a song every time you are tidying up the toys with them or getting ready to leave home. That way you link those experiences with a happy song, even if it’s only Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
  • Have routines. They are critical to small children’s security and sense of well-being. Start with one and gradually add many into your day so that things run much more smoothly. Check out my article on Routines to give you ideas.
  • Always give yourself extra time for outings, time to get them dressed, in the car/carriage, getting around. These moments are highly challenging when kids are uncooperative. Maybe sing some songs or play them in your car to set a better tone. Always give them a heads up that in 5 minutes they will be leaving. Small children cannot switch activities as quickly as adults. Once they are old enough to do some things on their own, i.e. get their shoes on, let them. This takes them seemingly forever, but while they do it take the opportunity to straighten your closet, organize a drawer, read mail, etc. Praise them for their success, be happy to have tackled a task and move on.
  • Keep a plastic jar full of crackers or other non-perishable food items in your car. That way if you are running behind schedule and have hungry kids in the car, you can offer something to put them in a better mood. It’s also good to give them something before you get out to do grocery shopping so that their hunger does not turn into whining while you are there. I always had a pack of lifesaver candy in my purse to share after a good outing to celebrate how well-behaved they were. Always draw attention to the things they did that you appreciated (stayed by mommy, kept hands to themselves etc.). They will be more inclined to repeat it again.
  • Instead of spending so much money on toys, let them enjoy the simple household items. Keep the bottom drawers in the kitchen stocked with items they can play with when they are just learning to crawl, ie. Pots and pans, plastic containers, potatoes, plastic utensils. Also keep in your bathroom a container of different kinds of plastic bottles, cups, squirt bottles etc. that they can enjoy. Also use the toys you have effectively. See Toys, Toys,Toys!!!
  • Some kids need a challenge to motivate them to co-operate. For example, can you go to your room and get your jacket. See if you can do it by the time I sing three ABC songs or can you do it by the time I count 25 bunnies. Ready. Go. 1 bunny, 2 bunnies, 3 bunnies … or can you do it by the time I think of 20 foods. 1 banana, 2 oranges, 3 melons, 4 …
  • Kids like to take tantrums. You have to find what works for you to stay sane during them. One of my kids, once she started, could take a tantrum for 30 to 45 minutes. No matter what we’d do she wouldn’t stop, so we put her in the bathroom (knowing it’s childproofed and that she can use the toilet if she needs to) and shut the doors between us, turn up our favorite music and go about our daily work. We open the door when between her sobs and calmly ask if she’s ready to come out. If she is, we let her and if not, it’s a repeat performance. Another child shuts up immediately if we start clapping and saying, “Bravo. Wonderful. Louder, I like it. Give me more.” Another would stop when threatened with a spanking. Each kid is different. Find what works. All kids take tantrums. The trick is to not give into their desires and still cope with the situation.
  • When the kids are small, listen to your favorite music during the day to have you focus on pleasant sounds in between the mayhem. It helps rejuvenate you and creates a positive dimension to your day.
  • Take your housework seriously and get it done during the day so you can rest with your husband in the evening. Consider meal planning (especially cooking in bulk so you get more than one meal out of the effort) and other meal tips. Cooking the main course in the morning after breakfast while you have lots of energy is fabulous, as well as talking on the phone with a girlfriend while doing it. Usually the kids are happy to be off doing their own thing first thing in the morning.
  • Get small kids helping whenever possible. Always appreciate their efforts and as soon as they can do something on their own, let them. They will be in a better position to help others as they grow, develop skills and give you time for other things.
  • When kids are fighting over something (a toy), remove it and put it on your kitchen timer. Each gets it for 3 minutes or whatever you decide and then switches. That usually clears things up quickly.
  • As kids, if you hit, you sit –on a chair, in a corner, on a step, wherever you decide. Put that on a kitchen timer too since you’ll quickly lose track of the time.
  • Kids like to always be around you. Take that into consideration and permit it. For example if I’m folding laundry at the kitchen table, I might have the kids coloring nearby. Also, kids are usually eager to do activities which begin with you. For instance, make a pizza out of play dough, or a snowman, then proceed to do some housework, reading, or paperwork nearby.
  • Professional Development. Your most important job now is to succeed as a spouse and as a parent. Take steps to educate yourself in this awesome venture. Read. Read. Read. I cannot emphasize this enough. What we read today, walks and talks with us tomorrow. What we put in our minds touches our hearts and creates actions in our lives. Get books that are highly recommended by people you personally respect—books that inspire you to be the best version of yourself. Keep a book in the bathroom and read a paragraph each time you sit down. Have another in your bag so that you can read when waiting for appointments, sitting at the playground. Keep a third at your bedside table to read 15 minutes before going to bed. Have a book for pleasure, one on marriage and one on parenting. Prepare and equip yourself for a good life and avoid family pitfalls. I cannot emphasize this enough. Create an amazing library in your home. Read a paragraph a day. Don’t be afraid to underline or highlight gems of wisdom. Know that reading slowly helps you internalize more, think things through better. Take your time and read.
  • Ask for help from live people who walk the talk. Don’t just surf the internet for solutions. Seek out out an experienced mom who you deem is successful. Ask her for ideas, feedback, coping strategies, whatever you need. This relationship will be a gold mine for you. It is worth all the trouble you go through to seek her out. She will offer many immediate tips that will save you oodles of work, heartache and time. Get together with her often, call her, email her or do whatever it takes to be in touch regularly. You will find encouragement, friendship and much peace.
  • We put some fluorescent lights in our basement to make it more inviting to the kids. We also found a lot of second hand furniture on which they could jump, make forts and have fun. We don’t allow the majority of the toys from here overflow into other areas of the home. We use the principles laid out in Toys, Toys,Toys!!!   In order to minimize the amount and make them more appealing.
  • See Zone your house too in order to have less maintenance issues and teach your children from the time they are small what this means.
  • Realize you are home with your kids because you feel it is important and worthwhile for you to be so. Therefore, look at them as a joy more than a hindrance. Enjoy their innocence, affirm their successes, comfort them when they are crying. You don’t need to be actively playing with them at every moment. Teach them to have independence, initiative, and creativity. The fact that you are there nearby is a comfort and security to them. Give them affection when they need it, attention when they desire it and a calming presence. That’s what counts, not that you are always doing something with them.
  • Teach them the meaning of No, and that you mean No. Don’t change your mind. Be firm. So think before you speak. Emphasize the positive, more than the negative. Praise more than reprimand, but be firm in your criteria. Also save yourself lots of aggravation by baby proofing your home. All kids love to explore, love to try new things. So if you have plants, put them out of reach, remove breakables, place valuables out of reach, lock up items that are dangerous. Make their environment safe, fun, kid friendly and decrease your stress. I never had experience with kids prior to marriage. I found the book “Children: The Challenge” by Rudolph Dreikurs extremely helpful. You can easily find it in your library. It is chock full of everyday examples of discipline issues and strategies.
  • Schedule in regular real adult contact, not just over the internet. Talk to other moms on the phone or through Skype, get together regularly with them – whether at your place, theirs or the park. Be among people who share your life (playgroups, library groups, drop-in’s, moms groups, etc.) so that you feel normal and supported. Exchange ideas, learn from watching and talking, laugh off life’s craziness. Make friends. Lots of them, no matter how shy you may be. You will be so much better for it and it will put you in better spirits for your spouse. He is a great guy, but cannot refuel your battery after a long day at work. Rather, do it yourself through your girlfriends.
  • Never give into the notion that if you are home full-time with the kids and your husband leaves for work, that he does nothing to help you and should do so once he gets home. This is a gravely mistaken idea. You and your husband have mutually chosen your lifestyle and both of you work extremely hard each day make your choice a reality. What gives value is not the title, the pay, the glamor or lack thereof, but the love you put into what you are doing. If you have the privilege of being home with your children, affirm your husband’s hard work each day to provide you with this option. He comes home tired. He needs a good hearty meal and a bit of downtime before you ask him to help with the kids and the house. The traditional role of a wife and mom in the home is not prized at all in society nowadays. Yet nevertheless, it is a privileged position, one that is deeply meaningful and rich in love. Make every effort to overcome the hurdles of resentment, exhaustion, isolation and self-pity that can creep into your life. You and your husband are a great couple. Make love the centre of your intentions, not a search for equality. You will fare much better.


  • From Jana:I find it important to get out of the house once a day, whether it be for a walk, groceries, an appointment or to the park. It keeps the kids and myself from going crazy.As well it makes a huge difference in my week if I can schedule in one or two visits with other women, especially moms like myself. It helps me stay positive and keeps me from feeling lonely.I notice my children are very clingy around supper time while I am trying to make a meal. This drives me nuts. I find it helpful to take 10 minutes to sit and read them a book or play with them. I let them know that once the book is finished, I will have to go make supper. Giving them that parcel of time makes them so much happier and then I can work more productively.
  • From Clare: I buy a roll of dog poop bags and use them for baby diapers. It helps reduce the smells in my garbage can and is very cost affordable.
  • From Jenn: I have bins by my front door, one for each child. They can then easily find their hats, mitts, sweaters, etc. So can dad. Saves a lot of headache.
  • From Marian: I have a small bag filled with books and toys that my child only sees when I go to church.
  • From Christine: When I come home, I give my girls squeezy hugs. We actually have a special name for them: Squeeze till  you squirt. My kids love them and we giggle so much. Helps to  change our dispositions. We also love to go on my bed and have tickle fights. I don’t consider myself a playful mom, but this one always works and dispels my stress.


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