Raising a toddler can sometimes feel like you are on the reality show Survivor, who will outwit, outplay, and outlast the other. But, it doesn’t have to be a battle of wills all of the time. Giving toddlers choices can be a powerful tool to help reduce meltdowns, both theirs and yours.
But, before I share how to use choices effectively, it can be helpful to remember the developmental tasks of toddlerhood and how those tasks impact their behavior.
- Toddlers have no real understanding of intentionality: What does this mean? Well, it means that they see and do without thinking about why or what it means. What does this mean for you? Cleaning up a lot of messes, managing meltdowns, and teaching healthy social skills.
- Toddlers are curious: Toddlers want to explore their world. They want to do and try everything so that they can learn about the world around them. Sometimes they will find that there are things they can’t do or times that they will get hurt doing. This task often leads to tantrums as they begin to understand that there are limits.
- Toddlers want increased control: This means that you will see your toddler having trouble sharing, being told no, and experimenting with increased independence. This is the task that can become a battle of wills between parent and child. Many a tantrum will occur as a result of this developmental task when another kid takes their toy or they are told they can’t do something or having something they want.
Although difficult at times, it is important to remember that all of these things are developmentally appropriate for your toddler. Now, although as parents we can remind ourselves that these behaviors are signs of healthy development, it doesn’t make them any less frustrating. But, just as it is your child’s job to explore their world, seek independence, and try new things, it is your job as a parent to teach them healthy life skills, and to respond in ways that encourage healthy development while keeping them safe. And, let’s be honest, sometimes the goal is simply to avoid tantrums, get them to stop bad behavior, and get them to do what you want them to do when you want them to do it.
So, how do you do that? How do you get your toddler to comply and minimize tantrums? Choices! Choices are a powerful tool to combat problematic toddler behaviors. This strategy addresses your child’s need for increased control and independence by allowing them to make their own decision based on options that you deem appropriate. Here are some important things to remember about choices:
- For toddlers, choices should be limited to two options. Any more and your child can feel overwhelmed.
- You should be ready and willing to follow through on the options you give your child. If you can’t follow through, it shouldn’t be a choice.
- Give your toddler choices throughout the day, not just as a strategy to get compliance. For example, allow your toddler to choose the fruit they have with breakfast or whether you go to the park and play or stay inside. Remember that allowing your toddler to exert some control helps them to develop a strong sense of self.
How does giving choices look? Here are some examples:
- Situation: Your child won’t get dressed in the morning. Response: Pull out two outfits the night before and let them choose which one they want to wear in the morning.
- Situation: Your toddler is drawing on the walls. Response: Remind your toddler that walls are not for drawing on and then give them the choice to either draw on paper or put the crayons away.
- Situation: Your toddler keeps running off at the store Response: Give your child the choice to walk and hold your hand or be carried/put in the cart.
So, next time you feel like you have entered Survivor Island, remember to use choices!