After more than seven continuous years of negotiating with a toddler during the morning routine, scrambling to get out the door on time, I have come to accept the following five stages of dealing with a toddler’s assertive behavior to be fact. It might even be science.
So you tell your toddler that it is time to eat, or get dressed, or put away their toys, or put on their shoes, or use the bathroom, or any one of the other terrible things that you ask them to do in the morning and they refuse. The first emotion you feel might be anger. You cannot believe that this precious child, who you are raising to be well-behaved and respect authority, just flat out told you “No,” without so much as looking up from their Legos. You might express that anger by repeating your request, this time with a sharper tone of voice, speaking slowly and enunciating every syllable. You soon realize that your sternest mad-voice means nothing to your precious toddler.
Next, you might try to reason with the toddler, laying out the consequences. You might tell them that you will take away their Legos for the day if they do not get dressed. Or maybe you tell them that they MUST wear pants to drive in the car or the straps will hurt their legs. Or perhaps you remind them of the one time that they did not use the potty before you left, and then it hurt really, really, bad and they ended up having an accident. It does not take long to figure out that your treasured toddler cares nothing for reason.
Now, you are starting to get a little desperate as you check your watch and realize that you are running late. You find your sweetest, singy-songy voice and offer your toddler their favorite treat if they comply with your request to dress, or toilet, or eat breakfast. It is a no-go. They do not want to pick out a candy at the grocery store later today. They do not even want to pick out a TOY at the grocery store. You offer them a hypothetical star on the behavior chart that you keep meaning to create. Ha! Your star chart is child’s play to them. They do not even budge an inch and you soon recognize that you have nothing left to barter with.
You are getting increasingly frantic as the minutes tick by. You are late at this point. “Please, please,” you say as you repeat your request, sounding very much like a woman dying of thirst might sound as she begged for a drink. You might even cry. You look at them with your biggest, widest, pleading eyes and beg them to do what you had asked. “No,” they say simply, and you come to terms with the fact that your precious toddler is completely unmoved by your tears.
You accept that, not only are you late, but also you have lost this battle; your beloved child is as determined to have their way as you are determined to have yours. But suddenly, like a rainbow after the storm, you remember that if you allow them to make the decision for themselves, they will fulfill your every request. The trick is, to figure out two options, both of which are acceptable to you, and allow your tiny tyrant to choose which option suits them. “Do you want the red shirt or the blue shirt?” you ask. They smile and choose the red. Easy, you think. “Do you want your oatmeal in the blue bowl or the purple bowl?” You realize that you have terribly miss-stepped as they shriek at you that they want yogurt. You recover quickly, though, and hand them a yogurt. But it gets trickier when it comes to the shoes and you go ahead and allow them to wear them on the wrong feet, because you would rather choose your battles and get out the door. And though you are certain that those shoes cannot feel comfortable like that, your toddler smiles sweetly, almost angelically, at you and proceeds to wear them like that all day.
You will repeat the same process at dinner time, bath time, bed time, and the following morning. For two years straight.
Jill Norander is a full-time wife and mom. She is co-CEO of her household, where the motto is “It’s not just good, it’s good enough!” She is also a full-time physical therapist and enthusiastic blogger. She writes a personal blog about the joys and struggles of raising three boys with the limited time, patience, and energy that one mother can summon.