For parents struggling to find time to spend alone together, often the problem is the sleep habits of their children. Children need to sleep more than their parents, so there ought to be time in the evenings for Mum and Dad to be alone together. This is one of the many benefits of getting children in their own beds and on a schedule. Often parents feel lost at first when they realize they have an entire evening to themselves. But fear not—I'm sure you can find a way to fill the time if you put your mind to it.
Always balance being firm with being loving. That doesn't mean you cuddle right after you've disciplined, but it does mean that you should have many moments that are loving and affectionate. As you'll see in the next chapter, I'm not a fan of British households that are all rules and limits and no love. I'm also not a fan of American households that are so loving of their kids that the kids can do no wrong. There's a balance.
Parents often will trade off babysitting duties with a family in their neighborhood. One week they watch your kids while you go out, and the next week you return the favor. Some families I know even have three families in the rotation, and while one of the couples goes out, the other two families and everyone's kids have a lovely evening together at home. If you're not already part of such a babysitting circle, start one!
Children need to realize they are independent beings, that they are separate from their parents. It helps them operate in the world much better. The more they grow accustomed to sleeping on their own, the more they feel confident operating in other ways on their own. A five-year-old who still sleeps in his parents' bed is likely to panic when invited to a friend's house for a sleepover, so start teaching him the skills early on that he will need to go into the world on his own.
Lovies, by which I mean security blankets, can be great for sleep, but they need to stay in the bed. Don't let your child take it in the car or stroller, or even to the kitchen table. Not only might it get lost, but your child needs to learn to cope without it. It's good for her self-esteem to limit her dependence on an object like a lovie.
Never let children have milk in the crib. It's dangerous, it's bad for the teeth, it's messy, and it creates a bad habit. Perhaps it's easier in the short-term to put your child down with milk, but definitely not in the long-term, so resist!
Role-playing is a great way to teach manners. One of my favorite activities is the old standby the tea party. Make it as elaborate as you like, with real food and tea or simply a toy tea set. Get dressed up (boys get into this, too, I promise!) and speak with over-the-top politeness. "Oh my darling, I'd love nothing more than a cup of tea! Thank you so much!" "Could I trouble you for a spot of butter for my roll? Oh, many thanks, this is delightful!"
Always try to tie consequences to the action happening at the moment. For example, if they're throwing blocks--take away the blocks.
You can't control everything, and strangers and family members alike will make comments to your child and about your child that perhaps you wish they wouldn't. Don't worry that just because Grandpa calls your toddler a "bruiser" in front of him, that the toddler is going to become one. Understand that some talk like this is normal—people love to compare siblings' dispositions, for instance, more to remark on how strange it is that two beings with the same parents could be so different than anything else. Much of it is harmless, and once you have an ear primed to listen for it, you'll easily be able to tell if it's frequent, and if there's a danger of it being self-fulfilling.
As much as I think it hurts self-esteem if a child is never included in birthday parties, that does not mean I think they always should be. I strongly disagree with some schools' policies that if a child is having a birthday party, he must invite his whole class. That's unfair to the child, and unfair to the parents sponsoring the party. Instead, use birthday parties and their requisite invitations as a means to teach good social skills. Teach the party-thrower to be discreet so as not to hurt the feelings of those not invited. If your child is left out of a party and feels badly about it, teach him that sometimes that's the way these things go—there are parties he will be invited to, too, and not being invited to this party is not a statement about him as a person. Let him know it's okay to feel bad but important not to make too much of it. This is the long-view approach, for even if you can protect him as a kindergartner, you won't be able to make the girl he wants to take to prom accept his invitation twelve years down the road. Start building the skills for resiliency when he's young, and he'll learn how to adapt.
For children struggling with self-esteem, I like to play a cooperative game where I time them skating (or running or jumping) from one mark to another. The object of the game is for the children to beat their own score. When they don't beat their own scores, they often look to me to see if it's okay. The key is to keep it positive and make no big deal of the fact that the child didn't beat his highest score. It's amazing how much this helps a highly stressed child to relax. It's all about letting children make mistakes and focusing on efforts.
Resist the urge not only to correct things done improperly but also to do things for your child that he can do himself. I've taken care of an eighteen-month-old who doesn't like wearing his socks when he takes a nap. Instead of just taking them off for him, which certainly would have been easier, I would ask him to do it. I would help him pull, but at least he was trying. Step in or out depending on how much your child is able to do himself, but always think of your job as one of guiding, not doing. Not only will you end up doing less and making your life easier in time, but you will build positive feelings of self-reliance.