I had a client come to me once, and they told me, “Whoever labeled it as the terrible twos, clearly never had a three year old! My toddlers has it out for me!”
The toddler years can be some of the sweetest, most fun, and hilarious times of your child’s life. But they can also be one of the most frustrating and exhausting stages of parenting. After all we have all read those hysterical stories of why toddlers are crying. My niece was because she wasn’t allowed to eat dog food! With their new found vocabulary and growing sense of independence, the most commonly heard word out of their mouths (and their mother’s) is “no!” Sometimes that “no” can be cute ad you can’t help but giggle and grin as he says it. And yet other times it is downright infuriating, using every last ounce of patience to stay calm.
As trying as it is I promise you, your toddler is not out to get you! They are just trying to assert their own space in the family. Up until now the baby was so connected to you, she didn’t need or occupy her own space. As she grows and turns into a toddler she starts to need more and more of her own space. If she does not get it, she will begin to demand it. As parents our goal should be to raise children to be happy and healthy individuals who are productive in society. We want our children to be kind and strong people who can take care of themselves. So if that is our goal we can’t stifle their independence right from the beginning.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for giving into every tantrum or toddler whim that blows their way. Part of raising strong independent people comes from knowing the boundaries and understanding that every decision has a consequence for good or bad. But we do have to find ways in our daily lives to allow our children to begin making their own decisions and supporting them in that, even our tyrant toddlers. Here are some ways we can help our toddlers gain some control over their surroundings.
The Never Ending Questions
Toddlers will question you about everything and anything they can name – what they wear, eat, do, see, hear, anything. They are trying to control their surroundings by gaining more knowledge. While the endless questions get old fast, by answering them we are giving them more and more pieces to the puzzle they are constructing in their heads. When they don’t know something and you won’t answer they get incredibly frustrated and begin to tantrum. This is not manipulation so much as lacking the ability to articulate clearly what they want or need. So answer their questions the best you can, they don’t know any better.
Channel their desires to make Decisions
One way to help them gain more control is to allow them to make their own decisions. This can be from what they play with to what they eat. I am going to talk mostly about dressing themselves and meal times because those are the biggest struggle for parents to relinquish the control while still remaining in authority. I say this because, unless they are playing with something harmful we don’t particularly care, and it is easy to allow them to make that decision.
Being allowed to dress yourself is a lot of freedom. As parents we can control what they are allowed to choose from by only putting out things you want them to wear. This means putting up or away all seasonal wear so that everything is weather appropriate. As much as we might hate it, if they choose to wear three different patterns, it isn’t going to hurt them. They can be proud that they made a decision about something that you can support.
Meal times are another area of struggle for many families. One way to let your toddler have control over meal times is by giving them several options and allowing them to eat freely from their plate however they choose to do so. Now please hear what I am saying, do not make your child 3 different meals, just present them with a few options you already have prepared. If they choose not to eat, that is their choice. But the consequence of that choice is not eating, so they don’t get to go directly to the pantry and demand fruit chews.
Work with your Child
Working with your children instead of against them will make everyone’s life easier. Giving your child your attention prevents them from having to demand it from you in negative ways (i.e. tantrums). While they are growing in their independence, parents are their safe harbor. They want you to be right there with them every step of the way. This means answering their questions, playing with them, instead of watching them play. Remember in just a few short years they will want nothing to do with you. So soak it up now!
Set them up for Success
As you work with your children give them every opportunity to success and make you proud. That means catering your schedule to theirs. Don’t go out during nap times or right before nap time. And be prepared for the expected and unexpected when you leave. If you set them up for success from the beginning there will be fewer tantrums along the way. Because as much as they want control, they still rely on you to help them.
So see, toddlers don’t set out to make our lives more chaotic. They just want your love and attention as they begin fully exploring their world and claiming their independence and place in the family. As parents we begin to learn the art of slowly giving more and more freedom along with more responsibility as we pull back control a little at a time. Parents are resistant to this process because somewhere deep inside they know it means they are losing their baby. So they hold on tighter. If we learn to allow our toddlers to make their own decisions, we will be surprised by how much happier they can be. Find the areas you can give them some freedom and praise them when they succeed. And then you will be well on your way to raising those happy, healthy, independent adults you dream of.
Military parents, I know how hard it is to keep good behavior patterns going through times transitions. Between deployments, PCSs and mom/dad coming and going, friends PCSing can all disrupt our children’s behavior patterns! Age affects how children react to all of these events, as development plays a huge role in behavior and ability to process change.
If you looking for great ways to help lead your children through these transitions and maintain good behavior hop over to my Military Parenting Page and check out my program coming soon: Parenting Coaching Designed specifically for Military Parents to address the unique concerns that we face with our children. Take a moment and sign up for updates and receive a FREE GIFT: An Easy How to Guide for Promoting Positive Behavior in our children to help go with your Behavior Chart.
What areas do you let your toddler have more control?