Giving Choices

Sep 26, 2017

So we talked about why your toddler might seem to be manipulating you, and one of the best "manipulation" fixes: one-on-one time.

My second top fix is giving choices.

I know it's going to sound funny, but this one has been an absolute game-change for many of my clients. It's so little and easy to implement, but can reap HUGE rewards and is so worth it.

What kinds of choices? And why are they so important?


A little bit of control

We humans all have a little bit of a control thing; know what I mean? We all like knowing what's going to happen, how it's going to happen, and, to some extent at least, we like to be able to make things pan out the way we want them to.

As adults, we see it a bit more clearly - there are some who fall into a more extreme place in the spectrum, and those who are more easygoing. And then, as adults, we've (hopefully) worked on ourselves and learned to let go of that control. (Well, at least some of the time. You know.)

But our toddlers are untamed little things, and they haven't yet had the opportunity to refine their middos.

So they like control as much as the other guy. Except that it's really really hard for them to get.

Even harder than it is for us adults.

And it's our fault.

"Wake up!"

"Come out of bed."

"Time to get dressed!"

"Please brush your teeth."

"And don't forget to wash your face."

"Breakfast time!"

"Hurry up! We need to leave."

"Please put your coat on."

"Where's your coat? Please go find it."

"Please go put your coat on."

"And your shoes!"

... You get the drift.

Lots of stuff to do... and no choices. Nowhere to exert that control.

So, when there's nowhere to exert that control, they'll create a situation that they have control.

Case Study:

Brachi is a great mom. She wants to make sure that her toddler will eat well, sleep well, have good friends, play nicely - you know, all the things any good mother of a toddler would daven and hope for. The baby stage morphs into the toddler stage without her even realizing it though, and she finds herself guiding her toddler to make sure she's always on track.

But somehow, she always ends up in a power struggle with her toddler during bedtime.

It's a fight into the bath, and then a fight out of the bath. Lots of cajoling and wheedling and begging to brush Sara's teeth, and then all over again when she takes the toothbrush away.

She puts her in her crib, and leaves the room, but Sara will toss her blanket out of the crib and cry and cry until Brachi comes back in to replace it, which she does a number of times before Sara actually falls asleep.

Now again, toddlers can be like little adults - some have a greater "control appetite" and some have a smaller appetite, so this will affect different kids differently.

But same way you like when the boss involves you in decisions your kiddo likes when you do the same.

To clarify - I'm not advocating a democracy. Mom is boss - both because you've got the life experience (and therefore are usually right ;) ) and because it's simply not healthy for young children to have a free-for-all.

The goal is to find that healthy balance between authoritarian and permissive: authoritative.


Give Small Choices

Some things have to happen. You've got to get out the door for work. Your toddler has to eat real food. She has to share. He has to play nicely. She has to go to bed at the proper time.

If it has to happen, it's non-negotiable... but.

But what about the *how*?

Can that be swapped up?

Look at your day, look at your commands and see which of them can be swapped out for choices.

For example, I'm going to grab some those commands I used above, and transform them into choices:

"Get out of bed" becomes: "Do you want to get out of bed now or in a minute?"

"Time to get dressed!" becomes: "Would you like to wear the blue shirt or the grey one? Get dressed by yourself or should I help you? Put your pants on first or your shirt?"

"Please brush your teeth." "And don't forget to wash your face." can be combined into: "Do you want to brush your teeth first, or wash your face first?"

"Breakfast time!" becomes: "Would you like eggs or oatmeal?"



Give Bigger Choices

Bigger kids can mean bigger choices.

So once your toddler is a bit older, you may keep some small choices, but, better yet: don't say anything at all. Yup. You heard me.

Once your toddler is a bit older, he'll be able to understand cause and effect, and will be able to follow a routine and complete it on his own - without any of those choices or commands.

Put together a visual chart of your morning and bedtime routines so that your toddler can see what to expect step by step.

If he gets stuck, you can guide him back to the chart so he can get back on track, but then back off and let him learn to make the choices - and learn what the results of those choices may be.


Give Yourself Enough Time

Letting your toddler do things on her own is going to take a little longer than you doing it yourself. That's normal.

But it's easy to get frustrated when you're working with a deadline. Preparing in advance to make sure you have enough time for her to reach the finish line without getting stressed will you feel calm and mompowered, and will help her feel in control and great about herself!

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