Nurturing independence in toddlers + preschoolers

Imagine living in a home where every time you need something you have to ask your spouse.

Thirsty? Find your husband and ask him to stop what he is doing and go to the big cabinets where all the drinking glasses are out of reach and fill the glass up with water from the sink which is also too tall for you. 

Hungry? Again, go look for a more capable person who can suggest things to you because you have no idea what the grocery inventory is or how to prepare what you want to eat. 

Feeling tired and want to relax on the couch with a book? Maybe this time, the person who does everything for you will give you instructions and encourage you to take your already tired self into your room so that you can “grab your cozy stuff” only, grabbing your cozy stuff really means you’ll need to make multiple trips from your room to the couch. And you’ll have to do this while dragging and pulling pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals that are bigger than you are. 

This sounds like a joke, right? These scenarios would be frustrating to anybody.

But for many kids (and some adults), this is their life every day. 

Sometimes grown-ups just don’t give kids enough credit here because we have forgotten what it is to be a small person in a big world. 

In our home, we began implementing a lot of changes to give our kids independence, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that I immediately saw less frustration. 

Independence does not look the same for everyone, but I do want to share some suggestions for you to evaluate for yourself and see if/how they may fit into your home with your family. 

Practical tips to encourage independence in toddlers + preschoolers 

  1. Bring things down to their level: For us, we went room by room and asked 2 questions→ What does my child need/do in here? + Is there a way I can safely make it easier for him? For example, a simple faucet extender or wooden stool could safely make time in the bathroom less frustrating. Clearing out a drawer in the kitchen to fit all of the kid cups + bowl and setting up a little water station with a water dispenser gives him the ability to take care of his own needs when he is thirsty. Something as simple as setting up a few command hooks  + shoe basket at preschool eye level makes getting out the door a lot easier for us. These things will look different for everyone, but I encourage you to go room by room and ask yourself the same questions.  
  1. Set up an easily accessible way for them to take rest as they need it: Imagine how frustrating it could feel to get yourself situated for rest time as a little person. As adults, we are probably used to grabbing a throw blanket, a pillow, a beverage, and a snack and getting it all set up just right. But kids can’t do that as easily because those things are just bigger and harder for them. It takes a lot of energy to just go get a pillow. In our home, I have rest time items easily accessible. Kids can have their own throw blankets in a basket near the couch, rest time books + fidget toys have a small space nearby and snacks and drinks are easy to grab. This also brings a much more enjoyable attitude to the idea of rest because now it rarely begins with a meltdown or frustration. 
  1. Sit down and plan together: I like to sit down with the kids at breakfast and say something along the lines of “Here is what we need to get done today, is there anything you think we should add to the list?” I might even ask for suggestions on the order of the list being completed if I have the flexibility on that day. This is also a great way to model flexibility. 
  1. Set them up to be helpers: Sometimes kids just need to know they are needed. If we put ourselves in their shoes again, it could feel deflating not to be old enough, big enough, or strong enough to contribute to the community you are a part of. This looks so different in each family and even with each individual kiddo. But some ideas for this would be getting kid-sized kitchen tools that allow them to actually help. A wavy chopper or wooden chopper has helped us tremendously with keeping things calm during meal prep time. The kids love to know they are helping our family and it keeps them busy with a meaningful task. Something like a simple broom and dustpan set that they are able to reach and use when you need some help is also another great way to do this. 
  1. The ability to get ready for the day on their own: One of the best mom decisions I ever made for our family was doing capsule wardrobes for the kids. Does anyone else ever feel they are drowning in kids clothes and still finding time to argue about clothing choices with a 3-year-old?! Making the switch to keeping (about) 15 articles of clothing for each child that are all seasonally appropriate, easily accessible, and that also match together helped in a lot of ways. If you have a child that likes (or needs) some extra time taming the hair–an eye-level mirror with hooks for a hair brush + hair ties + headbands can be a fun addition as well. 
At the end of the day, your home is a safe place for your family and how you set it up is totally and completely unique to you. These ideas are just meant to encourage you to look at that place through the eyes of your child who is learning and developing so much every day. Sometimes a frustrated child is a child who just needs to know they can do something–anything– all by themselves that makes them feel important. So let’s get down in those feelings with them and help them see the beautiful, capable, competent, and important people that they are. 

I want you to know that I understand how hard it is to brainstorm some of these ideas on your own–especially when you feel you’re riding the struggle bus in the toddler + preschooler frustration department. So if you’re feeling a bit stuck here and want to join the conversation, come  have a seat at our table, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s figure this out together.  


I want to talk a little bit about what it means to be a place of peace for your child. 

Sometimes, in the trying moments,  we may feel the need to step away from the situation or our child so we can calm down. We certainly all need to just take some space from the crisis sometimes. But I want to remind you that we as parents are gifted not with our own inner peace, but with the peace that comes from abiding in Christ. 

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

Jesus, while speaking with His disciples, spends a great deal of time explaining that the safe place for them is abiding in Him as their place of peace, ability, and safety because Jesus is abiding in the vital source of life in all its fullness–God himself. 

As parents, we do not take the place of Jesus, but we do build our model after Him and we see that He offers us a space within Himself that allows vulnerability and protection. 

When we understand abiding in Christ and live in this every day, we are able to be that place of peace for our children because we abide in Christ, and Christ abides in the Father. We are offering ourselves to be a link in the chain that helps connect our children with their creator. 

One does not simply bounce in and out of this abiding business. It is a conscious choice–a lifestyle. But it isn't quite as easy as giving you a checklist of things to mark off to make sure you're abiding in Him. How I wish it were that easy!

Ultimately, abiding in Christ is not about doing all the things, rather it is resting in our identity in Him. 
When we find our true identity in the One who created us, we are freed from misplacing our identity in the things that so quickly tempt us: how tidy our homes are, how obedient, how many Bible verses we have memorized, how much we accomplished around the house or for the Kingdom.

We do not have to strive for, work for, negotiate or argue for, defend, or take credit for Christ’s unconditional love for us. 
He is just as much at work in us when we’re dancing in praise to Him as when we’re dancing around toys on the floor. His faithfulness to us is just as steadfast when we read our Bible for an hour as it is when our Bibles sit in the car forgotten since last Sunday. His peace is available to us as reliably when our children are tucked snuggly in their beds and the house is quiet as it is when chaos ensues and screaming and crying and tantrums are the soundtrack to our days.

How I wish I could give you the indescribable gift of this freedom: abiding in Christ is about His faithfulness and goodness, not about how hard we’re holding on to Him. Jesus-Centered parenting, abiding in Christ is giving radical surrender to our weakness so that we can depend wholly on His strength. The world tells us to defend, hide, be ashamed of it, and deny our weakness. Jesus invites us to welcome our it as a sacred reminder to abide in Him and His strength.

To be sure, we can develop holy habits that remind us of Christ's faithfulness. But we must recognize that these habits are about being with Him, not about doing more or trying harder. 

Ultimately, as we abide in Christ we will begin to see evidence of His work in us:

The fruit of the Spirit: 
One of the evidences we are abiding in Christ is by bearing fruit–we are told what some of those fruits look like. I find that being familiar with something and putting those things into practice can be two totally different things. It may be a good idea to make a chart or write them out in a place where they are continually before your eyes as you a reminder of the work He is doing in you and through you. Yes, you may have to practice gentleness and peace many times over! But the work isn't yours to do alone! 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Looking for opportunities to learn from Jesus:
How do we do this? Make time to spend with Jesus. For some people that looks like taking a chunk of time in the morning to soak in the word and be in prayer. For others in more busy seasons, it may simply be taking time to pause and bring the Lord into your day, or using the chromecast to put on a scripture playlist while you’re busy at home. Whatever the case may be, abiding in Christ looks like being drawn to spend time with Jesus and learn from Him how we can put His model Kingdom way of living into practice as a parent. 

 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

Letting the Peace of God rule in your heart:
This is simple–stop striving for peace as though it’s something you can wrestle down. Remember who the Lord is and that He is always a non-anxious presence whom you can trust. Don’t let your mind be led down all sorts of rabbit trails. Practice, instead, letting the peace of God rule in your hearts. It’s not something to force. It is something to simply allow. It may take some practice, but if Jesus told us to, I can promise you it is worth it. 
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Colossians 3:15

Your unique story needs to be told in unique ways.
God is writing the beautiful story of you. The failures, conflicts, and struggles that arise in your story are part of what makes you unique. We know that the application of the scriptures we shared may very well look a little bit different for each of us, but ultimately, they will all point to Jesus. 

When we focus our energy on being peaceful, regulated, and steadfast we are able to bring those things–and Jesus– into every situation.

This abiding does not fail us because Jesus doesn’t fail us. Instead,  it brings peace to the chaos and our children are able to regulate and be at peace much more easily when we are doing just that. 


When I think back on my experience transitioning into peacemaker parenting I can honestly say that it wasn’t hard at all to choose not to spank or use shame as a form of discipline.

The hard part came next…What on earth am I supposed to do instead?!

As parents, we are instructed to discipline our children and help equip them for life. But what does that look like when the goal is no longer control and compliance?

The short answer is: it looks like teaching. Teaching children to brush their teeth looks a lot like teaching them to ride a bike. Teaching children how to do conflict and disagreement well looks a lot like teaching them how to do math well. Teaching them how to navigate changing boundaries and limits looks like teaching them about changing seasons and social expectations for those seasons. 

It takes time, modeling, practice, practice, practice, and more practice. We expect mistakes! We expect struggle. We expect forgetfulness. Not only from our children but sometimes from ourselves as well, because that's what being human looks like!

One thing you need to know: the majority of your discipline will not take place in the heat of the moment. Yes, there are times when intervention is needed in the moment to keep someone or something safe. But the actual teaching and training of what to do takes place later. Did you catch that? Discipline is about teaching. It's about discipleship, not behavior management. And the goal of discipline is to raise our children towards wisdom, discernment, Spirit-empowered obedience, and maturity. 

Let's take a look at how gentle discipline is a means by which we R.A.I.S.E. our children towards maturity.

When the human brain is dysregulated, the learning centers are shut off, or at least slowed down. In Peacemaker Parenting, the goal is for discipline to happen after the child is regulated so that they can learn the lesson or skill that needs learning.

How you respond to your child in the moment largely depends on how urgent or unsafe the behavior is. Assessing for safety and/or injury will inform your response. (You will find that as children grow, the need for  this assessment goes down because children become more aware of how their actions impact others.)

You aren't simply teaching a child not to hit their brother. You're instilling family values and kingdom ethics, and you're informing their self-identity and character. Peacemaker Parenting seeks not only to correct a child's misbehavior, it aims to instill core values in age-appropriate ways. 

Learning about child development will help you know how to guide them toward maturity. Peacemaker Parenting recognizes our expectation of a child's behavior must be reasonable within their developmental abilities. When we expect beyond that which they are capable, we risk exasperating and discouraging them - both of which we are commanded not to do (Colossians 3:21). We also study our child's unique personality, wiring, and temperament so that we provide opportunities to learn and grow in ways that best fit their needs.

The goal of discipline is to teach, train, disciple, and instruct. Children must be taught and equipped with tools and skills to know what to do instead of their impulsive, immature actions. Peacemaker Parenting invests in the child's future success by teaching them the skills and wisdom they are lacking, and allowing the time and space to practice (sometimes quite messily!) until they are confident in those skills.

When it comes to first steps if you’re anything like me, you need a bit of a strategy.
It’s not enough to know what not to do. We need to know what we are going to do when we are running low in both the caffeine and patience departments and a crisis breaks out. Spend some time reading through these ideas and practice what it will look like in your family.

  • Use your calm body to help: This one requires a certain level and quite a bit of self-regulation.  Sometimes a child might just need a gentle nudge in the right direction. Maybe you have a child refusing to brush their teeth (Been there!). Rather than threatening them with no story at bedtime, it might just take you gently helping them walk into the bathroom. You might even say something as you walk. Something like “you don’t want to brush your teeth right now, but it is my job to help your teeth grow healthy and strong so we are going to brush your teeth. Let me help you.” Your calm influence will help regulate their brains and bodies, which allows them to better follow directions, or collaborate and problem-solve. (A fun collaboration for brushing teeth is to allow your child to brush your teeth and then you brush their teeth!)

  • Get to the heart of the issue: Maybe you have an older child who is not doing their chores properly. You know they are capable because they’ve done it well many times, but when you approach the subject with them they are disrespectful and cold. Could it be that they are feeling unmotivated or disappointed because it was a long winter and now it is warm and they would rather be outside? If you don’t ask, you may never know. There could be a simple thought process they just need a little help working through. Ask nonjudgmental questions in an empathetic way. The key is to stay calm and consistently show and tell them that you are always there to help.

  • Offer a do-over: This is a beautiful demonstration of grace to our children. Do-overs are a no-pressure way to give a child a second (or third or fourth) chance to do what is expected. Bonus Tip: Turn into a playful robot or fairy to offer the Do-Over, it helps defuse tension! "Malfunction! Malfunction. Reprogramming. Beeep Booop. Do-over sequence initiated." 

  • Role-Playing: Role-playing allows children to practice tricky situations or challenging behaviors in low-pressure and neutral moments. Give them tools of what you want them to do instead, and then practice with them by playing pretend, practicing scripts, and switching roles.

  • Story-Telling: Using stories is one of the most powerful ways to teach children. And we see the greatest disciple-maker, Jesus, using stories to teach important lessons all the time! Story-telling takes a child's particular struggle and redirects it to a relatable character, which allows them to learn without pressure, and even help problem solve. 
If you're looking for more tools and strategies, our Peacemaker Parenting Workshop goes over these, and many more other approaches to disciplining our children with peace and gentleness. And our Peacemaker Parenting Scripts E-Book contains more than 70 sample scripts to help you respond to your children with grace and confidence. 

Do I Have a Strong-Willed Child?

Have you ever thought that you might be raising a strong-willed child? Here are six signs that you just might be right…

1. Incredibly Inquisitive
Strong-willed kids often learn by asking questions. Lots of them. It is part of who they are! Their brains are naturally inquisitive, and they tend to seek knowledge and understanding, which means they ask "why" about almost everything. Their desire to understand the why behind things is not necessarily rooted in disrespect or a lack of trust in you as the parent, though sometimes it can feel that way. Rather, it is part of who God made them to be!

Action step: This trait is something that should be nurtured and guided to serve them well. Sure, a game of 100 questions is not always appropriate, but if it is a reasonable time to answer, remember to do so with patience and a heart that wants to teach them wisdom and critical thinking skills. 

2. Selective Hearing
It might seem like your child is ignoring you or refusing to acknowledge what you are asking them to do. You’re 10 feet away from them and they aren’t answering. What is going on? Young children have a difficult time transitioning their focus from one thing to another. Their brain can quite literally get lost in its own world. Some research indicates it can take a child 60-90 seconds longer to process and respond to auditory stimulation than it does an adult. Add to that a strong sense of determination and independence, and what feels like intentionally ignoring or disobeying is really just an immature brain that is still learning how to transition.

Action step: Remember that this isn’t a game of disrespect, but a display of focus and determination! To help them hear you and transition more smoothly, get down on your child’s level, show an interest in their work, and then communicate your expectations in as few words as possible. 

3. Noisily Rejects Help or Suggestions
I think of the child who is trying to complete a puzzle. They have the last piece in their hand. They KNOW it fits here, but they’ve been trying to no avail for a painfully long time to put it in upside down. Mom patiently steps in to guide the piece in a slight rotation and then comes the words “NO! I can do it ALLLLL by myself.” Does this sound familiar? You might have a strong-willed child!

Action step: This child needs help learning 2 things: how to decline help in a graceful way and how to be open to mutual problem-solving. Ask yourself, is there a way you could model this for them? If you are making dinner in the kitchen and your child comes in to help without being asked, then shoves their hands in the mixing bowl, what is your response—Are you responding the same way the child with the missing puzzle piece responded? Or are you making the most of every opportunity to model appropriate and graceful behavior?

4. Intense Emotions
Spirited, spicy, and strong-willed kids feel things very intensely. It could look like an angry outburst because a sibling took a toy, a meltdown because their favorite pink plate is dirty, or a lot of other things. But the common factor is that the way they feel isn’t a secret and it might come on suddenly. Some parenting experts have suggested that strong-willed children live close to shame. Even when parents are intentional not to shame them! These children have a deeper understanding of shame, and it's not quite understood why. 

Action step: Your child is freely expressing their feelings to you– But what do you do with those feelings? First, keep your calm. Then, share your calm. There are a lot of different strategies for working through these intense feelings but always ask yourself– “Am I escalating or de-escalating this situation?” Then work toward mutual problem-solving in a way that will help them control and guide their own feelings down the road when they are confronted with the same feelings again. Co-regulating your child will teach them how to regulate their own emotions.

5. Structure-oriented
Sometimes, though not always, kids who are strong-willed can be very schedule-oriented. They thrive on predictability and struggle with the lack of it. Consistent rhythms and routines can be a security to a child who wants to feel in control of their day and they may feel dragged about and helpless if they are just being told to do one thing and then another. 

Action step: 
Help create structure for the child but also demonstrate the beauty of flexibility. Be looking for opportunities to say “sure! I can be flexible here.” Or “Do you think we could be flexible about this?” Celebrate them when you see them being flexible–it can be hard! 

6. Seems to Look for Conflict
Sometimes (okay, many times) it feels like strong-willed children just look for an opportunity to dig their heels in and say no. It can be absolutely maddening! Here is where we can shift again– Oh, what an excellent job they will do solving the world’s problems, standing up for themselves, and defending the weaker ones if we can just teach them well. 

Action steps: 
Do not enter the struggle. I repeat! Do NOT enter into a power struggle with them. After all, it is not actually a question about who is the leader. You both know who the leader is here. You don't prove you're in charge by controlling your child, you prove you're in charge by controlling yourself! Work toward solving the problem–hint: Your child isn't the problem. Hear them out. Empathize. Look for the “yes.” 

I have found that these struggles can be avoided often if parents would stop asking yes or no questions when “no” is not an acceptable answer. Instead of saying “Are you ready to leave for the store now?” you could say “It is time to leave for the store now. Would you like to hold our bags or my hand while we walk down the steps?” 

Our strong-willed children are so precious to us! Each one of them has such tremendous potential. We must learn to steward them well and equip them to thrive and flourish as the natural leaders God's created them to be.

Having a spicy, spirited kid is a lot for one set of parents to handle. How well I know that! But it is also a tremendous gift. 

If you want more detailed help with peacemaking discipline + helpful explanations of what is actually going on in their little brains, we’ve got you covered! Our upcoming Spirited, Spicy, and Strong-Willed Kids workshop is open for registration! 

Why Peacemaker Parenting is important

When it comes to parenting styles we must first take a moment to think about our goals. 

I think oftentimes this decision is made based on how an individual was parented. We either think we turned out fine and try to replicate what we remember of our experiences or we feel some level of trauma and we do 100% the opposite. Now both of those instances are from a position of goodwill toward our children, but is it possible that there is more to this decision than that? I would say a very hearty yes.  

That is where we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable (maybe even with our own selves) and make some serious choices. 

What is important to you as a parent? 

I remind myself often that the short period of time my children are here at home under my roof is really only a small part of their lives. My job is to train them to be hard workers,  critical thinkers, and steadfast individuals who are unwavering in the truth. 

These life skills don’t develop through a parent’s use of fear tactics and punishments to force compliance. 

Actually, science tells us that the brain isn’t receptive to developing positive behaviors and habits when fear and punishment are involved. 
Fear and stress send the brain into crisis mode and the person becomes like a deer in the headlights just looking for the fastest way out. Compliance is obtained, but it isn't heartfelt obedience or from a place of love and trust. It's a survival instinct. The more effective way to train our children in these skills is from a position of peace. 

It is in this place where children are ready and able to learn, create habits, and correct behavior. 

The Bible tells us something about this too—this scripture verse has become a motto for me and I refer to it nearly every day…

“And the seed whose fruit is righteousness, is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:18NASB
How cool is that?! 

If we want our children to develop into strong individuals, rooted in righteousness, and bursting with fruit, what do we do? We sow the seeds in peace and we become people of peace. 

The heart of peacemaker parenting is this…
Christ is our perfect example.

He showed us peace, purchased peace, and gave us a sufficient measure of grace to operate in that peace through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Something else that is neat is the fact that modern neuro-science backs up God’s plan for family peace. How could it not, right?! 

If you are new to peacemaker parenting and are ready to learn, then buckle your seatbelt and head over here!

No need to feel overwhelmed here!  I’m going to leave you with just a couple simple things to help you as YOUR mind is processing and learning. These are tools that I personally use and find really beneficial to me as a mama doing my best to be a peacemaker. 

  • Before responding to a crisis, ask yourself “am I in a place of peace?”  
    Sometimes it takes a pause and a deep breath, sometimes it takes a handful of mini Twix bars. Whatever the case may be, just get in that place of peace before addressing a crisis. This one gets easier as you practice it. And you’re going to find that if you come into a storm with your peace, it helps calm the chaos around you.
  • Re-evaluate and determine if you are seeking justice or if you are seeking peace. 
    There is a big difference here! I know this because I’ve been on both sides. Sometimes we just want a punishment to fit the crime, but that isn’t where we peace, is it? When the goal is peace, there is often true repentance and resolution. Instead of looking to bring justice, look for ways to bring peace. 
  • Speak and declare peace over your home. Find God’s promises for peace. Be proactive and pray them over your family. Here are a few of my favorites—> Numbers 6:24-26 | John 14:27 | Isaiah 26:3 | Psalm 34:14 | Hebrews 12:14 | Ephesians 4:3 | 2 Corinthians 13:11 

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