Parent? Here...make it a little easier :)
As the parent of a toddler and a newborn (3+ months now), it’s incredibly easy for the balance of power to shift out of my control. The day, along with my mood, can be completely lost with one early-morning disagreement (OK, tantrum).
I often think to myself, “How do people do this? How do you control a toddler who has no respect for directions?”
I learned quickly that raising my voice was not the answer. In fact, showing anger toward my toddler seemed to be like feeding her candy – she’d find any way to get more.
But working as a tag-team with my wife, we are slowly seeing some patterns. There are a few things we do to help sway our toddler in the direction we need her to go. I’m going to share four secret words that will make your life as a toddler’s parent much less chaotic: choices, positivity, distraction and bribery.
My wife is a genius for helping me see that giving a toddler choices is a shortcut to pointing them in the right direction. When given an A/B scenario, a toddler will usually make the decision you’re looking for.
As an example, I used to say: “OK, Samantha - time to get your shoes on!”
What do you think the response was? …yeah, exactly.
Now I’ve morphed that request to a choice: “OK, Samantha – do you want to wear the purple shoes or the black ones?”
And guess what? She answers! Holy-freaking-psychology!
This can be applied to a number of situations. Taking a bath for instance. Saying “OK, its bath time” usually won’t cut it. But if I say “Do you want to take a bath now so we can watch TV after, or do you want to just go to bed now with no TV?”, I get the answer I’m looking for.
One more illustration: Getting in the car seat. Have you ever tried to put your toddler in the car seat and they do that pushing, resisting and back-arching thing? Man is that annoying! So what I’ve started doing is allowing her to make a decision: “Samantha, you can get in the car seat nicely and I’ll let you watch your tablet (or play with whatever toy I’ve brought); or I can put you in the car seat and you won’t have your tablet (or toy)”.
It works about 90% of the time. The other 10%, well, it can get ugly – but no one said there’s a perfect method and no one said that toddlers are easy.
I suppose giving toddlers choices is playing on the fact that we have the ability to outthink them. When you give toddlers a choice, they won’t normally go outside of the presented options, which benefits us. But to them, it makes parenting seem more permissive than restrictive and can alleviate some of their inherent tendencies to do the opposite.
The second secret mantra to making your roller coaster through parenthood a bit easier is positivity. It is astonishingly easy to build short-lived resentments toward your toddler when they are in a rut and not listening to a word you say. Staying positive is not easy when you’re ready to boil over, but, like my wife tells me, remember who the adult is here.
As frustrated as you may be in a given situation, it won’t last. The impression you press upon your child, however, will.
Right before you think you’re going to explode, ask yourself: “Is this behavior really over the top, or am I just out of patience?” It might make sense to walk away and hand off responsibility to your spouse for a few minutes so you can regain your cool out of your child’s sight (remember, they are parrots – they’ll mock and model your behavior. If you blow up, they’ll believe it’s normal to blow up).
Starting small to stay positive is a suggestion. Try to pay attention to whether or not you’re making eye contact and sharing smiles with your toddler. They notice and respond to that attention.
It’s also incredibly important to recognize when your child is not being bad. It’s easy to point out all their bad behaviors. But if your toddler is just playing nicely, sitting nicely, eating neatly, using the word please, etc. – it’s a good idea to start recognizing and acknowledging those small things! That positive reinforcement will resonate with them. Are you clapping and cheering when they climb up the stairs themselves? Are you telling them how proud of them you are when they try to go potty?
Their misbehavior might seem like its pervasive at times. You may say to yourself “my toddler doesn’t listen to anything I say” Been there! To stay positive, you might try ignoring them if they are not acting appropriately (when applicable). For instance, my three-year-old likes to babble in a silly voice when she wants something (more food, usually) - she knows it gets under my skin. My wife and I stopped paying attention to the hubbub even when we know what she wants. She’s learned that she’ll only get something if she asks nicely for it and says ‘please’.
Another one word mantra that has assuaged some parenting angst is distraction. It sounds simple, and it is simple – and effective.
We use distraction when we need to redirect our toddler’s action or attention. For example, let’s say you just put away all her toys because you’re going to leave the house. She decides its playtime and prances in to dump the toy buckets back out. You have to think quickly. “Samantha, can you (assign a task that makes them feel helpful) go get daddy’s phone from the nightstand?” They usually hop at the call-to-action because they love feeling useful.
There is a spectrum of distraction you may have to employ. Some behaviors require a small diversion, others require more intense action. For instance, my toddler loves to test our limits. I’ll tell her, “Samantha, don’t stand on your chair because you can fall and get hurt.” (Side note – always give them a reason they can’t do something so they clearly understand) Usually when I tell her not to do something, she’ll just do it differently. So rather than stand on her chair, she’ll turn it on its side and kneel on it. Time for distraction!
Instead of yelling, punishing or pulling her off the chair, I’ll use a decoy when I see her doing it. “Samantha, how about we get out a coloring book and you can sit on your chair and color?” Done! Mission accomplished with no major tantrum or repercussions.
When all else fails, it’s time to bring in the big gun – bribery! If you want to feel less bad about it, then call it a reward system. I’m a realist; it’s a bribe.
There is a right way and a wrong way to go about bribing toddlers. The key is to remember that they live for the moment. I’ve proved this time and time again by saying things like “If you don’t turn off the TV now, we can’t go to the playground later” That never works. They want TV now. And later they will throw and absolute hissy if they don’t get to go to the playground. A general rule of thumb is promising something good for later will fall on deaf ears now. Tough battle, right? Ahh, the joys of parenting.
Fear not, dear parents – jelly beans to the rescue!!
Hardly a morning goes by where it’s not a struggle to get my toddler to the potty, dressed and hair done without some level of resistance. Some days are worse than others; it’s unpredictable. So here’s what I do:
When she starts to disobey or put up a fight, I offer up the bribe. OK Samantha, if you go potty, you’ll get a jelly bean. She goes potty – she lives for the moment.
Immediately after, she’ll ask for the reward. I’ll say “Sure Samantha, as soon as we get dressed and do your hair you can have your jelly bean”. Boom - 3 birds in one stone! Or one bean, rather.
A Jelly Belly has 4 calories. One or two Jelly Bellies does the trick. What would you rather: deal with an out-of-control tantrum (which ruins your day, makes you late, etc.), or give your kid 8 calories of sugar? If you said the latter, I’m in your camp.
I’m not the quintessential parent and none of these four tactics or mantras is fool-proof or 100% effective. But I’ve learned that being a parent to a toddler means you have to adapt. Learn from every day and use the information to make tomorrow easier. I also highly recommend a tag-team approach; my wife and I have become the dynamic duo in our parenting efforts and its helping.
So there you have it, the four principles that have lessened the everyday stresses of parenthood: choices, positivity, distraction and bribery. Hopefully you can implement these in your parenting plans!
And just as a side note, its always a good idea for parents to get some "me time". We deserve it and we need it. Try to pick up a small hobby. For me, its this website andmy slam poetry!
Photo courtesy of mommyish