FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Welcome to Preschool

with Brenda Nixon | October 28, 2009
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How are you going to raise your preschooler? Parent educator Brenda Nixon talks about the two questions all children want their parents to answer: “Do you love me?” and “Are you going to let me do whatever I want?” Brenda gives parents practical suggestions for setting boundaries and helping their children make good choices.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • How are you going to raise your preschooler? Parent educator Brenda Nixon talks about the two questions all children want their parents to answer: “Do you love me?” and “Are you going to let me do whatever I want?” Brenda gives parents practical suggestions for setting boundaries and helping their children make good choices.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

How are you going to raise your preschooler?

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Welcome to Preschool

With Brenda Nixon
October 28, 2009
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Brenda:  For my daughter Laura money talked.  I remember saying to her one time, “Laura if you get out of bed again I’m going to have to take a quarter out of your bank.”  Well, like a self respecting preschooler she had to push the envelope and she jumped out of bed.  But mom is a promise keeper and I said, “Laura I’m sorry that you chose to get out of bed now I’m going to have to take that quarter.”

And she hopped back in bed and did the “I’m in bed now” thing that kids do because they want you to back pedal and I said, “I told you I’d have to take a quarter for you getting out of bed and you chose to get out of bed.” 

I went over and shook a quarter out of her piggy bank and walked out of the room feeling like a big creep but guess what?  She never got out of bed again because she trusted my words.  She knew I meant what I said.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 28th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I am Bob Lepine.  There is a lot of instruction and discipline and correction and training that goes on when our children are toddlers.  We’ll help you navigate some of those issues today. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today!  Thanks for joining us.  You and Barbara have talked about a stage of a child’s life that you called the golden years.  Right?


Dennis:  Right.   

Bob:  There are some of our listeners who are wondering now when do those years start? 

Dennis:  They are preceded by three or four years that are the preschool years. 


Dennis:  I would not call the preschool years the golden years.  

Bob:  They don’t come until kindergarten?

Dennis:  Well, yes.  If you asked me what I would characterize what golden years are it’s those years right up until puberty. 

Brenda:  The golden years are the compliant, sweet…

Dennis:  Oh, well it’s just under control generally speaking and your family is not being torn by schedules going to and fro.  To soccer and baseball and piano lessons.  You may have some of that but it isn’t out of control like it can get as you move into 11, 12, 13, 14.

Bob:  Here is what defined the golden years for us.  I remember when my boys would come in to kiss mom goodnight as they were going to bed and they would cuddle and kiss and say you are so beautiful.  That’s when you know you are right in the middle of the golden years when your kids are still talking to you that way, right? 

Dennis:  That is exactly right.  We aren’t going to talk about the golden years but we are going to talk about preparing for the golden years.  To do that you have to have a game plan for how you are going to raise your preschooler especially ages 3-5.  With us to help do that is Brenda Nixon.  Brenda welcome back.

Brenda:  Thank you.  It’s great to be here.

Dennis:  Brenda is a speaker for MOPS international.  She speaks at MOPS groups, Hearts at Home, national conventions and she is an author and has two children of her own.  She and her husband have been married for 30 years and she has written a book that is really a good preparation for those golden years.  It’s called The Birth to Five Book:  Confident Child Rearing Right From the Start

I have to start out by asking you for advice around the issue of rules and relationships because all of us as parents need to find a way to have the proper tension between developing a good relationship with our child and understanding yes we do represent authority and we will establish boundaries.  It really is from the time you start to the time you go through the golden years on into adolescents you have to be able to balance those two don’t you?


Brenda:  It’s a delicate balance really.  If you fall too much on one side or the other you are going to be in trouble.  If you want all relationship and it’s like Oh, I can’t stand it when my child is mad at me.  You get manipulated because you can’t stand the tears and the temper tantrums and you’re always caving in because you only care about the relationship you are in trouble.  Don’t cheat your child out of having a parent who loves them and is their cheerleader and their best advocate by being all about rules.

Bob:  As you are saying this I’m remembering and we’ve talked about this a number of times on FamilyLife Today that there was a study done at I think the University of Minnesota years ago.  They said children are asking fundamentally two questions of mom and dad.  The questions are do you love me and can I do whatever I want?  And they said how you answer those two questions decides what kind of parent you are.  Of course the right way to answer is, yes, I love you and because I love you, no, you can’t do whatever you want. 

Brenda:  Exactly.

Bob:  But some of us as parents we’re a little soft and we say of course I love you and you can probably get away with more than you should.  That is the permissive parent and that is not good.  Then there are others who say no, you absolutely cannot get away with too much and you are going to wonder if I love you from time to time.  That is the authoritarian parent and that is a dangerous place to be.

Brenda:  Absolutely.

Bob:  Finding that balance where you say sweetheart I love you more than you can even imagine and you can absolutely not get away with whatever you want.  That is where you are trying to get to but that is a hard place to know where the balance is.    

Dennis:  The way you find that balance I think is getting into the Bible.  The best seller of all time and the reason that is so important is it will demonstrate how God did it.  Our God is a God of relationship and of rules.  In John 1 verse 14 and this is really a key verse for Barbara and me.  It talks about Jesus becoming flesh and dwelling among us. 

He developed relationships with people and it says we beheld His glory full of two things.  Grace and truth.  Full of relationship love, care, compassion, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  Also full of truth.  Standard, rules, regulations.  The Bible has lots of regulations in it.  The Ten Commandments are not ten suggestions.  They are commandments given my almighty God to represent who He is.  I think as parents whether we realize it or not we are modeling who God is to our children.  They get their first glimpse of what He is like from us as parents.

Brenda:  Absolutely. 

Dennis:  How we model what you are talking about—rules and relationships.

Brenda:  Absolutely and I think parents are doing a great disservice to their child if they error on either side in the extreme.  I encourage parents to try and find that middle of the road.  The fact is when your child feels loved is when your child knows that you care enough and love enough to set rules, boundaries, and regulations.    


Bob:  Yes.  I remember Josh McDowall talking about this on FamilyLife Today a number of years ago.  He said rules without relationship equals rebellion.

Brenda:  Yes.

Bob:  And that is why it is important that while we do set up an authority structure in the home the child has to know that it is set up on a foundation of love. 

Dennis:  And relationship without rules leads to permissiveness and a spoiled brat.

Brenda:  That is exactly right.  My definition of a spoiled child is a child who is searching for boundaries and limits.   

Dennis:  And looking to a parent to provide them.  One of the real battlegrounds is bed time. 

Brenda:  Yes. 

Dennis:  We have all experienced it.  Not all of us have children like Bob’s who come in and say mommy you are beautiful.  Daddy you’re handsome.  You are such great parents.

Bob:  Now wait.  I just want to say they did that and then they would come back and want to say the same thing and then they would come back another 15 minutes later…

Brenda:  That is called a stalling technique. 

Bob:  That’s exactly right.

Brenda:  Kids are great at that. 

Dennis:  So let’s talk about that.  What if you are experiencing battles around bed time?   

Brenda:  Okay for any parents listening if you have a preschooler who is resisting going to bed at night there is a reason for that.  You are the center of the universe to them and they don’t want to be separated from the action.  Most self respecting preschoolers are going to stall and fiddle around and resist going to bed.  It’s not pleasant but it is normal behavior.  At least you know your child is typical. 

The important thing is to always have a bed time routine or ritual.  The reason this is important is because it gives them something safe and predictable that they can count on.  It actually helps them to start getting into that sleep mode if they know what comes next after this.  The routine is necessary and so it telling them your expectations right up front. 

Remember I said the most effective discipline is proactive.  Tell your child what you expect.  You would say Susie, I expect you to stay in bed.  It is bed time and I’m turning out the light and you stay in bed.  You cannot make a child sleep.  That is something they control but you can make sure they stay in bed. 

I know my daughter Laura would jump out of bed like a Mexican jumping bean and she would think of everything.  She had a kinkernail.  That was her word for fingernail.  She has this wrong or that wrong or she needs a drink or she forgot to brush her teeth.  She would come up with a myriad of number of reasons for her not to go to bed.  We would have to get very firm with her and say if you get out of bed again this is going to happen and we set a negative consequence. 

Dennis:  Such as?

Brenda:  For her now this is what we did in our home.  For my daughter Laura money talked.  In the preschool years she would get a whole quarter for her allowance.  I remember saying to her one time, “Laura if you get out of bed again I’m going to have to take a quarter out of your bank.”  Well, like a self respecting preschooler she had to push the envelope and she jumped out of bed.  But mom is a promise keeper and I said, “Laura I’m sorry that you chose to get out of bed now I’m going to have to take that quarter.”

And she hopped back in bed and did the “I’m in bed now” thing that kids do because they want you to back pedal and I said, “I told you I’d have to take a quarter for you getting out of bed and you chose to get out of bed.”  I went over and shook a quarter out of her piggy bank and walked out of the room with that coin in my hand feeling like a big creep.

Dennis:  What a terrible thing.

Brenda:  I know.  Stealing money from a child.

Dennis:  Really.

Brenda:  But guess what?  She never got out of bed again because she trusted my words.  She knew I meant what I said.

Dennis:  Right.

Bob:   We had that experience from some of our kids.  They got into this pattern in the three or four year old stage where they would come in in the middle of the night.

Brenda:  That’s very common. 

Bob:  And it was not just an isolated occurrence but it started being every night.  At 2 in the morning I’m having a bad dream.  Now at that moment you want to comfort your child.  You don’t want to ignore what maybe going on in their heart but after a while it started to look like I don’t know that you had a bad dream I think you just woke up and you were looking for some comfort.  

Brenda:  It becomes a habitual behavior.

Bob:  We used the money technique that you were talking about I remember with one of our kids saying if you can stay in bed all night tomorrow morning I’m going to give you a dime.  If you wake up in the middle of the night and you’re having a bad dream and you feel like you want to come see mom and dad we will want you to do that but if you can stay here I’ll give you the dime. 

So when they woke up they had their choice.  How bad do I want to see mom and dad?  Do I want to see them a dime’s worth or not?  It helped them try to weigh out it wasn’t just the impulsive I’m awake let’s go see what mom and dad are up to.  It was now a decision of do I really need a dime’s worth of comfort?  And it did seem to help the situation. 

Brenda:  What you were doing was so powerful because you are actually giving your children the opportunity to make a choice and when we give our children opportunities to make an either/or choice we are actually beginning to share some of the power with them so that as they get older and older they take on bigger choices and more important choices like job interviews, who they date, and where they go to college.  They get those little opportunities to make decision making when they are young and you help them to make that decision of what do I want to do without always telling them what they must do. 

Dennis:   Let’s talk about another pattern of behavior and that is wars over food.   

Brenda:  Oh, my goodness, food wars.  They start a little before the preschool years maybe about two and a half but parents will call my office and say okay Brenda what is wrong with my child?  He only wants macaroni and cheese for a week now and I’ve fixed it on the eighth day and now he screams and cries and says no, I want peanut butter.  This is called food jag.  Kids will go through a very normal albeit troublesome phase where they just want a certain type of food. 

Another thing is they put the brakes on nutritionally.  They really don’t need as much in the preschool years versus those first three years but parents are used to shoveling it in.  Then when kids start putting on the brakes around two and a half to three and are becoming more picky and don’t eat as much parents get all nervous.  Then what happens is the cajoling and the “please open your mouth” and the play airplane and the begging or you sit there until your plate is clean and those kinds of food issues.  What happens is that food becomes a power issue and that is where food problems and eating disorders start. 

Dennis:  Can it be an issue of control?

Brenda:  Absolutely.

Dennis:  That is what we viewed it as.  When the kids started pushing back and saying they weren’t going to eat something.  We’d say that’s alright.  That’s what we are having tonight.

Brenda:  Yes.

Dennis:  This is not a…

Bob:  Short order restaurant.   

Dennis:  Yes, and with six kids. 

Brenda:  You eat or you don’t and if you don’t the consequence is that you get hungry but parents have to allow that consequence to happen and not rescue the child by an hour later fixing a meal for them.

Bob:  I knew one parent the daughter all she wanted was noodles or rice.  That was every meal.  I’m not talking for a week.  I’m talking about for six months.   

Brenda:  Wow.


Bob:  This was all that would satisfy her.  And this mother decided okay I’ll make you noodles or rice.  You better have something.  I thought to myself it’s not good from a nutritional standpoint but it’s also not good in terms of the child really calling the shots around this is what I demand and I’m not going to be satisfied with anything else. 

Brenda:  Right.  They do need well rounded nutrition.  I look at it as a very easy division of labor.  Your job is to present the food and make sure it is healthy.  Their job is to eat it or not.  It’s very simple.  You don’t have to cross over the line and do their job for them and beg or trick them to eat. 

Bob:  So if you have a dinner and it is a piece of chicken and some mashed potatoes and some lima beans.  And they go I’ll be perfectly satisfied with the chicken and the mashed potatoes.  I’m not touching those lima beans.

Dennis:  I’m going to flip those lima beans across the table. 

Bob:  Do you make them eat?       

Brenda:  You must have lived in my house.


Brenda:  That’s what I did as a child. 


Dennis:  They were like little hockey pucks at our place.   

Bob:  Do you make them eat some of those lima beans?

Brenda:  A taste but don’t sit there and say you have to clean your plate.  Because what you are doing is you are setting up a battle of wills and food becomes the ammunition.  That child will sit there until it is dark and the crickets are singing outside and the food is stone cold and they still won’t eat it.  The idea is just taste it.  Anytime you have an unfamiliar food a kid is usually going to turn their nose up to it so the trick is to introduce an unfamiliar food along with the familiar and well liked foods. 

Repetition is the key.  A lot of preschoolers are going to say I don’t like that and they haven’t even tasted it because it looks strange or it is a different color.  Just keep having it in your home and keep introducing it several times a week and the psychologists say the constant stimulus looses affect so the constant stimulus is having this new food several times a week.  They get to where it’s not strange or new to them and they are willing to try it.

Bob:  I was the one with the lima beans.  As an adult I still don’t like them. 



Bob:  So I’m glad we got that worked out.

Dennis:  Another battle line issue is thumb sucking.

Brenda:  Yes. 

Dennis:  What do you recommend to a child who...

Bob:  Or a binky or a pacifier?  Four years old with a binky?

Dennis:  Is this similar because some of our kids carried their blankets on into the golden years and on into the adolescent years.  They enjoyed sleeping with their blankets. 

Brenda:  Yes, did they go out on dates with their blankets?


Dennis:  No.  They sure didn’t.

Brenda:  It’s important first of all to look at your child’s behavior and wonder what is going on behind the behavior.  Sometimes if you see an increase in regressive behavior such as thumb sucking or pacifier usage or cuddling with blankets there could be some real stress that the child is perceiving.  Your job as the parent is to find out what is that stressor and help eliminate it. 

There is no problem though with a child using comfort items.  I think it is more helpful though when they use them at the appropriate time and that is at bed time.  All of us even as adults we have our techniques for getting comfortable and getting into that position where we fall asleep best.  Children likewise need little comfort tools to help them go to sleep at night.  I think it is harmful if they have the pacifier in their mouth 24/7, or if they are sucking on their thumb 24/7 especially if it is an increased behavior. 

Dennis:  So what do you do if a child is sucking his or her thumb during the day?  There is not a reason for it necessarily but they are repeatedly doing it.

Brenda:  Okay, if you have decided that there is no stressor going on and your child is increasing in thumb sucking and you are not really sure why the important thing is not to make a big issue.  Not to say get that thumb out of your mouth.  Look at you.  Stop acting like a baby because you are embarrassing me.  If you make an issue out of it, it becomes an issue.  What I encourage parents to do is give that child something to do with their hands.  Keep their hands busy.  Crayons, chalk, help them draw pictures, do play dough. 

Dennis:  Would you give them a reward if they quit?

Brenda:  I wouldn’t even talk about it.  I would just say here you’re going to have to pull your hand out of your mouth in order to use this play dough with me.  It can be very simple and matter of fact way of approaching it.  But if you make an issue out of it, it becomes an issue and a lot of times children will repeat behaviors because it gets mom or dad’s attention.

Dennis:  You know in all these things we have talked about here it demands that parents have a good game plan and they know where they are going.  Not just as a mom but as a mom and a dad.  One of the things our kids tried to do is they tried to get us divided.  Because they knew if they could get dad to agree to do something or mom to agree to something then they had a divided household at that point and they could get their way. 

Here’s where parents need to be together.  They need to get a plan.  They need to prayerfully discuss that plan and as a couple read a great book like yours The Birth to Five Book and begin to hammer out what your approach is to issues of discipline, character development, building a relationship, the child’s identity and how you are going to approach delicate issues.  For Barbara and me the way we did it was our date night.  It started out in an attempt to become a romantic date night but it soon with six kids became a CEO and President of the Rainey family meeting together for self preservation.


We had to have that date night. 

Bob:  It was a board meeting is what it was.

Dennis:   It was a board meeting.  We should have kept minutes and notes.  We could probably sell those things. 


As a matter of fact we did.  We wrote a book called Parenting Today’s Adolescent which has helped a lot of people.   I would recommend a good date night for couples on a regular basis so they can pull back and take a look at their kids and see where they are headed and know how to be one voice locked arms as a couple knowing how to handle these issues. 

Bob:  Really a lot of challenges you face in marriage are issues because you are not on the same page as parents.  When a mom and a dad can get together on child raising and go through a book like the one Brenda has written The Birth to Five Book which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center or when you go through the DVD series that you and Barbara have created for parents called Right From the Start that is about early childhood discipline.  You may not agree with everything that Brenda says or that Dennis and Barbara say but it gives you an opportunity as a couple to start to discuss what you think you ought to do and to get you on the same page as you raise your children especially during the toddler years.

There is information about Brenda’s book and the Right From the Start DVD series on our web site FamilyLife  In fact we have some clips of the DVD series up on our web site we also have an excerpt from Brenda’s book. 

You can also call toll free 1-800-FL-TODAY.   That’s 1-800-358-6329.  That’s 1-800“F” as in Family “L” as in Life and then the word TODAY. 

Many of our listeners are aware that the holiday that is fast approaching not the one this week but the one next month Thanksgiving.  That is Barbara Rainey’s favorite holiday of the year and one of the reasons why she feels so strongly about thanksgiving is because of the issue of gratitude.  We need to as followers of Christ to be people who have a heart of gratitude.  In that spirit I want you to know how grateful we are for those of you who not only listen to FamilyLife Today but also who go on line at FamilyLife or call and make donations to help support this ministry.

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In fact this month if you are able to help with a donation of any amount we’d like to say thank you in a very tangible way.  We’d like to send you Barbara Rainey’s audio book Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember.  This has been produced and read by a dramatic actor.  It’s got sound affects and music.  It really brings to life the thanksgiving story and the CD is our thank you gift to you when you make a donation this month in support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today

If you are making that donation on line at FamilyLife you can type the word “THANKSGIVING” in the key code box on the on line donation form.  Or if you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation just ask for a copy of the Thanksgiving audio book and we are happy to send it to you.  Again, I want to say thank you for your financial support.  We do appreciate you.

Tomorrow I hope you can join us.  We’ll again introduce you to Coach Mark Richt.  He’s the head football coach for the University of Georgia Bulldogs and we are going to talk not about football but about adoption tomorrow.  I hope you can be with us for that.  

I want to thank our engineer Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine.  We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today

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