Every request I made of my two-year-old was met with resistance. Whether I asked him to wash his hands or get his shoes on, the answer was “No!”
I had heard more than my fair share of “no” during my career as a childcare provider. During those nine years, it never really bothered me. I always found a way to gain cooperation. Now, here I was with my own child, having tried everything I could think of and feeling frustrated. Was I doing something to invite such resistance?
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HOW WE INVITE RESISTANCE
Does this scenario sound familiar to you?
Mom: “It’s time to go to the store. How about we get your shoes on, OK?”
Mom asked. He answered. Now what?
We know that saying “no” is a healthy behavior for toddlers. We also know they are still developing impulse control and don’t understand the concept of “no” the way we do.
In other words, expecting a toddler to consistently cooperate is an unreasonable expectation. Understanding this may not stop toddler resistance from driving us bonkers, but it can help us intentionally choose how to respond.
After checking in with my copy of Positive Discipline: The First Three Years by Jane Nelsen, I realized that a shift in my language could make all the difference.
OFFER LIMITED CHOICES
Offering Limited Choices is a simple but powerful Positive Discipline tool. The key is to offer your child two acceptable choices that lead to the same outcome. Toddlers feel powerful because they get to make a decision. We feel good because we gain cooperation, dodge another tantrum, and meet our child’s developmental needs.
Let’s try the script from above again, but this time offering a Limited Choice.
Mom: “It’s time to go to the store. Would you like to wear your blue sneakers or your red sandals? You decide.” Mom intentionally says “you decide” to increase her child’s sense of power – making it more likely that he’ll cooperate.
Mom: “Ok, I’ll help you put them on. Here, let’s get the left shoe on… and here’s the right one…Ok, here we go!”
Could it really be that simple? Yes!
I’ve found that offering Limited Choices can increase cooperation dramatically. It’s a win-win situation, as long as everyone plays along. But what happens when we don’t get the answer we are looking for?
Let’s look at one more example.
Mom: “It’s time to go to the store. Would you like to wear your blue sneakers or your red sandals? You decide.”
Toddler: “Flip flops!”
Mom: “That wasn’t one of the choices. Would you like to wear your blue sneakers or your red sandals? You decide.”
Toddler: “I want flip flops!”
Mom takes a deep breath and keeps her tone light and friendly. “Either you can decide, or I can help.”
Toddler: “Flip flops!”
Mom: “I can see that you’re having trouble deciding. I’ll help you put on your red sandals.” Mom then follows through in a kind and firm manner.
The words we choose can invite resistance – or cooperation. Offer Limited Choices to avoid power struggles and support your child’s sense of autonomy.
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