Communicating with Toddlers: The Power in Choices by Teresa Palmer
I’ve discovered something pretty life changing this past month and I’m still in a kind of disbelief at just how much it has impacted our lives. It’s all about choices. Specifically, giving your toddler choices when communicating with them. It’s a really simple and effective way to create an environment which allows for your toddler to still explore their emotions, preferences and assertion whilst you in turn get your needs met.
I’m a huge proponent of allowing my son to lead with play and giving him the space to explore his surroundings without leading or directing him, however there comes moments during the day when we need to leave the house, it’s time to get dressed or eat breakfast/lunch/dinner for example. It’s in these moments that we find ourselves met with resistance, “I don’t want tooooo” “Nooo Im playing Mama!!” Etc
Here is an example of how I USED to handle this situation;
Me: I hear you, you’re really having a great time playing. It’s time to eat though my love.
Bodhi: (crying) I’m plaaaaaying with my friends (toys) I don’t want to eat.
Me: I’m sorry but it’s time to eat. You can play straight after tea.
Cut to; more crying, fussing, pushing food away, arching his back etc.
So after some reading of Joe Newman’s: Raising Lions and scouring Janet Lansbury’s RIE parenting website janetlansbury.com I decided to do a mash up of philosophy’s and find what works for us. What I focus on is simple and clear communication through giving choices. I also really make sure I validate Bodhi’s feelings and allow him to have the space to have all of them. I love RIE’s philosophy about ensuring the child feels heard. We use “I hear you” all the time in our communication with him.
Here is an example of how I handle the above situation NOW;
Me: I hear you, you really want to keep playing. Bodhi, you may choose to come inside to eat food now OR you may choose to come inside in 3 minutes. Your choice!
Bodhi: hmmmm 3 minutes!!
(3 minutes later)
Me: Okay love it’s time to come in.
Bodhi feels empowered because he made the decision to come in, my needs are met as he is excited about “his” decision to eat his food therefore he is more enthusiastic about his meal AND we managed to do it without the power struggle. I love that Mama is still the Mama bear guiding his way and giving boundaries and he is actually content with the changing situation. Winning all around!
The choices thing takes a minute to get used to. At first I would make one choice so undesirable that he would still fuss at hearing the option, now I make one only slightly less desirable. Here are a few other examples we have used-
Bodhi is walking or running around at the dinner table with bread/food in his hand
Me: Bodhi when you get down from your chair it tells me that you’re finished eating.
Bodhi: NO I’m still eating.
Me: You may choose to sit down in your seat and finish your food OR you may sit with Mummy/Daddy quietly until we are finished. Your choice!
Bodhi: Okay! Sit down
(He sits in his seat and finishes his food)
(Last nights example!)
Family is playing Monopoly and he wants to push all of the pieces off the board and move the houses! Haha
Me: Mummy, Daddy and Izy are playing Monopoly. When you move the pieces it’s hard for us to play. You may choose to help Mummy play and roll the dice OR you can look at your books. Your choice!
Bodhi: I want to roll!
He rolls a few times then gets bored.
Mummy: I’d like to remind you of your choices Bodhi, you may choose to help Mummy play and roll the dice OR you can look at your books. Your choice!
Bodhi: I’m going to read Charlie Goes Choo.
Bodhi is jumping from couch to couch and I’m worried he will fall.
Mummy: Bodhi, it makes Mummy nervous that you might fall when you jump like that!
Bodhi: I’m jumping like Corny! (our kangaroo in Australia)
Mummy: I see that, it looks like your having so much fun, I want to make sure your safe though. You may choose to keep jumping but on the floor OR you can jump and Mummy will hold your hand. You choose!
Bodhi: ummm Mummy hold my hand!
If it ever seems like the choice you’re presenting isn’t working you can simply take a beat and recalibrate. Come up with new options. I always make a point of never raising my voice or changing my facial expressions to indicate frustration. They’re so sent over they pick up on discomfort and start to wear it themselves, like our brilliant little mirrors. I also talk to him in a clear voice not stern or too quiet, just a steady voice with an open and warm face. When he is met with simple choices coming from a very calm and focused parent, he responds in a way that’s typically enthusiastic. He LOVES having the freedom to make the choice.
These shifts in our parenting with Bodhi have been the most exciting development in our communication. He really feels heard by us, he is also developing his sense of sense as he explores which options work best for him. We aren’t his dictators, we include him in decision making whilst still moving things along to get goals accomplished. Through this method we are helping to build his autonomy and we are ensuring that we are all are happier at the end of the day. Give it a try and let us know how it works for your family!