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5 Ways to Train Little Hearts and Minds (Guest Blog)

A sweet friend of mine offered to do a guest post during this new and busy time in our lives.  There's just not as much time for blogging with a newborn, so I thought this would be a perfect time to have her do this. :)  Her ideas and methods are wonderful - simple and biblically sound.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


5 Ways to Train Little Hearts and Minds - Practical Ideas for Teaching Toddlers
Guest post by Charity Hawkins, author of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel.


I was praying and thinking about what information you moms would like to know and you know what? My two-year-old helpfully gave me the answer the other day! I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned in teaching those precious two- and three year-olds. I thought specifically of Whitney with Levi and Baby Ezra! (I’ve never seen any evidence that Levi is anything other than a perfect angel, but surely there must be times!) 
My husband and I learned a lot of things with our first one (let’s just say our parenting philosophy has changed considerably). We have put those things into practice with our second and third, and things are so much easier and smoother than they were the first time around. I thought I’d share some ideas with you. God has taught me a lot through lots of older Titus 2 women around me, and I’m so grateful.  I tried to make these tips as practical as possible, since I always felt like, “Enough with the theories, just tell me exactly what to do!”

1.       Non-Conflict Role Playing  – Toddlers are such imitators. They do exactly what they see parents or siblings do. I’ve used this to my advantage much more this time around. I try to teach a concept during a non-conflict time: at a meal, for example, or in the car, or in the living room when everyone’s happy.

One thing we work on is the “Yes, Mommy” Song. I made it up and it goes like this: “Yes Mommy, Yes Mommy, that is what I say. Yes Mommy, yes Mommy, I obey today!” I smile and nod my head as I sing and it is about as cheesy as you can get. But you know what?  My little guy LOVES it! He nods and sings right along with me and then asks for “Yes, Daddy.” I teach it to the toddler class at our homeschool co-op; the moms tell me their kids sing it at home too. 

We also play the “Obedience Game” a lot, because my seven- and five-year-olds seem to need to be reminded (more than you would think) how to obey quickly and cheerfully without arguing. I sit on the couch and say, “Pat your heads,” and they need to say, “Yes, Mommy” with a smile on their face and do it. If they are being especially grouchy and not obeying very well, I tell them cheerfully, “Wow, it looks like we really need practice on this. We better keep going!” They straighten up pretty fast. When they are all following the silly instructions well (my toddler especially loves this) I make the instructions harder: “Now, pick up this fork and take it to the kitchen, please.” They need to answer, “Yes, Mommy!” with a smile on their faces and obey quickly. This is all very cheesy but it does help them practice quick, cheerful obedience.  For a toddler, what they see and practice is what they do, so it really helps when a conflict happens that we’ve practiced “Obey quickly with a smile on your face!”

Not that this always works, mind you, but we’ll get to that. It helps, is what I’m saying. The more practicing of the good response, the better.


2.       Meal Time Memory – Breakfast and lunch are a great time to teach because your toddler is strapped in and relatively quiet. Fabulous! Two of the easiest and best things to teach, in my opinion, are scripture and songs.
Songs – Toddlers absorb songs so easily and I put things to music all the time. I can’t actually sing, but they don’t know that. I teach a Baby Bible class at church and you should see how those little toddlers sit still for things put to music. At breakfast we try to sing our morning song, which is, “This is the Day the Lord Has Made!” My two-year-old loves to clap and punch his arms up in the air when we say, “Rejoice!” Any songs you know that help them focus on God are great. They seem to absorb plenty of things like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or the current favorite in our house “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” without any effort from me, so I try to teach them songs that focus on God whenever I can.
Memorize Verses – even at this age those little ones can learn a verse, especially if we put motions to it. Sometimes I pick verses I want them to learn, and sometimes it’s one I am working on myself. We learned, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1” because I was working on having a gentle answer to my children. The motion we used for “gentle” was to gently stroke each other’s faces, then when we said, “a harsh word stirs up anger” we made grumpy, mean faces. My two-year-old may not totally understand the meaning, but he knows the words “gentle” and “grumpy” and understands the difference between being sweet and having a mean face.

So, those are some ideas for non-conflict teaching, but many of the teaching opportunities come in a time of conflict. If we as moms can have a plan ahead of time and remember, “Oh, great! He’s throwing a fit about his sippy cup. We get to practice having a thankful heart!” then it makes that situation easier to handle and helps us keep our mind on the bigger picture.
And here’s one thing I’ve definitely learned: whatever the problem is just gets bigger as they get older, so it’s best to address the tantrum when it’s a) in your own home, not out somewhere embarrassing and b) just a sippy cup. As opposed to letting them have their way, and soon they have a fit about every tiny blasted thing in the day and you can’t even get them dressed to go anywhere and you’re exhausted by nine in the morning. Hypothetically speaking.


3.       Situation (Opportunity to Teach): Your toddler screams when you give him a blue sippy cup as opposed to the purple one.
What You Can Teach: Thankfulness and being content with mom’s plan instead of my own.
If I’ve already started to get the blue sippy cup ready and he starts to scream, “Nooo!” well, it’s too late. Blue it is. So I’ll sweetly (as sweetly as possible if this is before coffee) say, “This is the cup Mommy chose. We’re using this cup today. Say, ‘Thank you, Mama.’” Usually he keeps screaming. Then I say, “____ (his name), don’t say ‘no’ to Mama. Mama is getting you milk. Say ‘Thank you, Mama.’” Sometimes he reluctantly grumbles, “Thank you, Mama.”  If he’s still grumbly and having an attitude, I’ll say, “Smile and say it nicely, ‘thank you, Mama!’” and usually he’ll smile back at me if I smile at him and say it nicely. If not though, or if he says, “No!” and clearly is not going to obey I’ll cheerfully say, “Okay, you go sit in your pack-n-play until you’re ready to say thank you.” I’ll put him in the pack-n-play. It usually takes about thirty seconds before he’ll say, “I wehdy! I wehdy!” Or, if he’s already strapped into his high-chair, I’ll just hang onto the milk until he’s ready to be thankful. I’ll say, “Okay, you tell me when you are ready to be thankful and you can have your milk.” It usually takes less than a minute.

The principle here is they need to learn to be content with what we give them without grumbling or complaining. This is basically a submission issue. At two, they are trying to figure out if they are in charge or we are. The sooner they figure out we are in charge and they need to cheerfully obey, the better. I use this same approach with my older children, by the way. They need to say thank you for the food I prepare, not grumble and complain. If they complain about not getting chocolate milk, then I just hang on to their drink until they are ready to be thankful. (We are still working on this with my older kids. When they start to groan and feign upset stomachs when I make something horrendous, like chili, for dinner, I remind them then need to be thankful and eat it cheerfully. Not that they do, but we’re working it. I try not to let them whine their way into getting something else.)

4.       Situation (Opportunity to Teach): Your toddler runs away from a diaper change or says “No!”
What You Can Teach: Happy Obedience

I have learned by now to not fight if my toddler is not going to obey. With my others I think I would try to hold them down as they fought the diaper change, both of us getting more and more upset. With this one, if he says, “No!” I say, as gently and sweetly as possible, “Well, then you need to go in your pack-n-play until you are ready to obey Mommy.” Usually he screams and cries in there about one minute, then I go over and say, are you ready to obey?” “Yes! I wehdy!” he usually says. So I pick him up and say, “Okay, you need to tell Mommy you’re sorry for not obeying. Say ‘sorry.’” He sniffles, “sowwee.” Then I pray, “Dear God, please help me obey Mama. Amen.” And he says, “Amen.” 

Then we go over and he lays down nicely for his diaper change. (If he doesn’t we repeat the process above.) Often I’ll give him a little toy and as I change it I remind him of our song, and I’ll sing it for him, “Yes Mama, Yes Mama, that is what I say. Yes Mama, Yes Mama, I obey today.” When we’re all done I praise him, “Good job, ________ (his name), you laid down so nicely for Mama! You obeyed Mama! Good boy! That’s good!” 
I realized one of the reasons we didn’t discipline our first son as much when he was two was that we thought everything he did was so stinkin’ cute. Run away laughing when I say it’s time for a diaper change. Awww—sweet baby. Growl at me when you’re upset? How adorable. 
My husband and I still have to stifle smiles sometimes when our two-year-old is not obeying, because he is so cute while he’s doing it. But stifle we do, because we know it’s not quite as cute when they are four and have learned to disregard whatever we say. So, when your toddler is being adorable, but not obeying, just remember: they are even cuter when they obey.

5.       Situation: In the Car/ Bedtime
What you can teach: God’s word and truth
I love hymns, and at Christmastime, Christmas carols. When we hold our little guy by his crib before naps and bed, we sing hymns or “Jesus Loves Me.” I have a hymn I sang specially for each of my children when they were babies, and his is “Trust and Obey.” I always sing that to him as I stand and hold him before bed. For a long time he would say, “Tristan, obey.” And we couldn’t figure out why he was singing about our neighbor, Tristan. Then we realized he meant, “Trust and Obey!” The other day as we were driving home from church, he sang the whole chorus.
And, that’s the main point of this whole post. The more we can get God’s word, or his principles, into our toddlers’ lives, the better. As they grow they will understand more and more, but they will have a solid foundation. As mothers, what you do every day is laying the foundation for your child’s life. What a wonderful and noble privilege that is. Daddies can read Bible stories and play games and be involved too, but chances are you are the one with your child the most. Whatever is on your heart and mind will be on your child’s, too. And, even though they might not understand the full theological implications of it, this is a pretty good thing to know:

Trust and Obey,
No, there’s no other way,
To be happy in Jesus
Than to Trust and Obey.
Charity Hawkins is the author of The Homeschool Experiment: a novel. You can sample the first three chapters of her book here, or order paperback or Kindle versions from Amazon. Charity Hawkins is a pen name, but the real author lives, writes, and tries to get her toddler into his car seat without a meltdown in Oklahoma.  (You can also Like the book on Facebook to learn about giveaways.)

A great online resource with lots of practical ideas and information on teaching and training young children is

Many of the ideas I mention here are discussed in the book A Love That Multiplies, by Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. This book has lots of great and practical ideas for training children to love the Lord and serve others. Our local library has several copies.

Question: What are some struggles you have with your toddler and how do you handle them?
I am a modern day homemaker with a passion for family, cooking, celebrating, decorating, travel, and memory making! The Lord has blessed me with the desires of my heart in my husband and our two sons. We recently built our dream home and cultivating a loving and happy haven for my family is where I find so much joy.


  1. What a great post. I was just trying to figure out how to acquire more patience and maybe rather then losing it I can think of it as "a teaching moment" that sounds good.

    Question: What about whining? My 15 month old is starting to whine a lot and I just can't handle it, it's like nails on a chalk board. She seems too young to understand the concept of what she is doing wrong yet. Any suggestions?

  2. Hey Sarah, I know, my kids go in whining phases and it drives me NUTS. If your 15 month old can whine, she can totally understand the concept of asking nicely. How about tomorrow try NOT giving her ANYTHING she asks for with a whiny voice. Say in your best super-sweet voice, "You need to say, "Please, milk?" or if she's only signing, have her sign please. Then repeat that and don't give her her milk or whatever it is she's whining for until she says it nicely. Please let me know how it goes, okay? :) Sometimes when I'm working on a particular habit like that I have to gear myself up for battle too--pray in the morning for patience (2 Tim 2:24), realize you may get NOTHING else done, but if you make progress on this issue, the next, oh, four years will be easier! Nip it in the bud! But do let me know how it goes. I'll be praying for you.

  3. I love all of these ideas and have already taught my 3 year old the song Yes Mama, Yes Mama... and the obedience game! We've been working a while on obeying the first time you're asked. It's such a tough age though because he's so busy and so active that it requires a lot to obey the first time. Ahhhh. Guess I'll keep being consistent. And celebrating the successes because I'm really working on trying to keep a good, positive attitude myself! Thanks for a great post!

  4. Meggie,
    Thank you and good job on staying consistent. It can be so tiring, so good job Mom!


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