As moms, we all know that trying to negotiate or convince a toddler to do anything takes some skill, lots of luck, and a whole lot of patience on our behalf.
But what if it’s gone beyond that? What if you’re to the point where you are having daily struggles with your toddler because you just can’t get them to eat their food, put on a t-shirt, stop bouncing the ball inside the house, or anything else?
Well first, you need to make sure that you’re interactions with your toddlers aren’t rushed (I know easier said than done). But it’s important. Although our children can go from happy to what in the world happened? all by themselves. As the parent, we need to be the one adding the calm to their world. And if we’re feeling pressured or rushed, we’re just adding chaos to their little world.
So, check in with yourself first and figure out if you need to make adjustments on how you approach your children. How do you first greet your child? Do you start your day off on a positive note? Do you give your child a bit of time to ease into the start of the day or unwind after school? Are you warm, welcoming, available?
After you’ve made sure that you are doing your part as a parent to add calm. Then try adding the following to your daily struggles of getting your children to do anything.
So Simple Yet So Effective
Provide your child with choices.
Providing your tiny tot or an older kid with a choice will hopefully make your interactions with them, to try to get them to do something a little better.
Why It Works?
Children love to take charge, in case you hadn’t noticed. Toddlers especially are trying to assert their independence, therefore, giving them a choice makes them feel in charge, capable, like a big boy/girl, independent. And they love this POWER!
How Do You Do It?
Come up with a few options beforehand. And then present them to your child/ren and tell them they can choose whichever they’d like. Below are some examples of simple approaches to a few different situations.
Problem: I struggle with finding what my kids want for breakfast. I always ask them what they would like and this turns into a whirlwind of crazy suggestions, whining, and frustration. Or I serve them something without asking them what they would like and they flip out.
Example: Pick three options beforehand. Pancakes, Cream of Wheat, and Scrambled eggs. Tell your kids “Okay, these are the choices, and this is your lucky day. You can pick whichever you want, it’s totally up to you.” Of course, if a child says “I wanted french toast mommy” you wouldn’t be bound to stick to your three options, the entire point is to facilitate and eliminate arguing and whining.
*Personal Tip: What works great with my 3-year-old is a “pretend menu”. I either write down the options on a piece of paper or I draw a few quick illustrations. And then, I greet him “Welcome sir, right this way. Here is your menu” He loves it, he plays along and breakfast flows by like a breeze (most of the time)!
Problem: I have a very difficult time getting my son/daughter dressed in the mornings (or anytime for that matter).
Example: Pick out two shirts, two pairs of pants, and 2 pairs of shoes. If your mornings are rushed, you can even pick these out at night. Then spread them over the bed (one category at a time, you don’t want to overwhelm them with choices.) Lay out the shirts and say “Which one would you like to wear today? It’s your choice.” And then repeat for the other articles of clothing. You could ask “Would you like to wear a crewneck or a hoodie today? pants or shorts?” and so on.
It’s very helpful to ask them after they’ve picked out their outfit and are dressed “How do you feel, you picked out your own clothes today?” They are going to feel good about it. And when we feel good about something we are more likely to want to repeat those actions. Thereby, we’d be changing the focus on dress time from a negative one, of frustration and difficulty, to a positive one, where your child is doing great picking out their own outfit.
*Personal Tip: Sometimes my boy just plain and simple doesn’t feel like getting dressed that day, regardless of choices. In these cases I hear him out, if it’s a day where we don’t have anything pressing to get to, I let him lounge a bit longer in his PJs. If it’s a must that he gets dressed, I play into what works for him (you can play into what works for your child). My son, Kian doesn’t like it when other kids are dressed in their outdoor clothes and he’s still in PJs. So after sympathizing with him I say, “I know you don’t want to get dressed today, I wish I could let you hang out in your PJs a bit longer but your cousins will be coming later and remember that time they showed up and you were still in your PJs? You didn’t like it very much. So we should get you dressed, that way when they get here, you’re ready to play!” another one is “I’m sorry sweetie, I know you don’t want to get dressed, sometimes I don’t feel like doing something and it’s not a good feeling but I have to do it anyway because I need to leave the house (go to school, go shopping, etc)” This normally works. I think it’s the part where I sympathize with him. It makes him automatically feel a little better when I say, I understand you versus ignoring how he’s feeling about the task. You could also try pointing out something positive that will happen after they get dressed. Such as “Let’s hurry and get you dressed so we can go outside to play (get ice cream, paint, visit your friend, etc).” Motivation often makes them budge.
Problem: My son/daughter won’t help clean up the toys after they’ve played.
Example: Before you bring out a game or any toys. You say something along the lines of “This looks really fun, but there’s a lot of pieces to it. Are you going to help me pick this up once we are done playing with it?” “Okay great! because we won’t be able to play with anything else until this is all cleaned up” This is great because it lets your child know what to expect next so they can mentally prepare, kids, love knowing what’s coming up next (that’s why routines work, wink).
*Personal Tip: In my house, we normally clean up one play area before moving onto the next. Sometimes, I forget myself and look around at a big mess of toys. At which point I simply ask that we take a pause from our current game to put away the rest of the toys. And say something like “Oh no, we’ve got a big mess, we forgot to put away the stuff. Let’s do it quickly so we can get back to our game” His desire to want to move onto something else motivates him to clean up. Rather than waiting until the end when he’s tired of playing and too tired to want to help pick up. But of course, I still get those times (very few though) when he doesn’t want to pick up. So say, he’s asking for a snack. I’d say “Okay, lets’ clean up so we can go get you a snack (watch a movie, read a book..)” If he still doesn’t budge..”Let me know when you’re ready to clean up. I’m ready to help you. And as soon as we’re done we can have a snack” And then I stay close doing whatever else. He normally says he’s ready but sometimes he’ll come up to ask for something else and I repeat “Sure, as soon as we pick up your toys we can do that or you can have that”. All the while my tone is calm, friendly, and matter of factly.
Providing a choice can really work in almost any situation. These are just three examples where you could inculcate some choices. But say your child won’t stop bouncing a ball inside the house, you could say “Would you like to go outside and play with the ball?” or you could also redirect (another simple way of handling situations, that actually works), “This looks like a cool puzzle, can you help me with it?”
What do I say to the parent who considers this negotiating with your child and they won’t stand for that?
When you and your wife or a friend hang out. You probably get the other person’s input as to how the day should flow. “Should we stop by mom’s first or go eat?” “Where do you want to eat?” “Do you feel like catching a movie or would you like to go have a drink somewhere?” None of these phrases sound like “negotiating” to my ear. They sound more like one person taking another into consideration. It sounds like respect to me.
Respect is a two-way street
Your relationship with your children should overflow with respect for one another. And giving children choices makes them feel respected. Where is your win, in all of this? Well, you got your toddler (impossible mission) to pick up his toys, pick something to eat, get dressed, all without all of the screaming, tantrums, and frustration on both ends. As the parent, you navigated the situation beautifully, calm and collective. Way to go!
A choice can truly flip the script.
Bonus to Giving a Choice
There’s an additional plus side in providing your children with choices. Offering choices allow your children to begin making choices on their own. Even though it’s being done in a controlled environment, they are learning to think for themselves, to take in the information put before them and do something with it, such as making a decision. You are also encouraging your child’s independence which will do wonders for their self-esteem. You are inserting trust and an “I know you can do it” attitude towards them, by giving them a choice.
One last thing
Think of it this way. By giving your child a choice often times it’s not just what color shirt do you want to wear, or what movie do you want to watch, or what should we eat today. A choice is a loaded action. In giving your child a choice, you are saying:
You choose, I trust you.
You choose, I believe you will make a good decision.
You choose, you have good taste.
You choose, I know you can do it.
These positive messages can do wonders for our children, who take our words and the way we make them feel and run with them.
Thank You for Reading!
(Listening to: Right to Be Wrong- Joss Stone)