As parents we influence our children – they see us and they copy us. We know this – we see it and we chuckle. They mimic our tones, word choices and actions. They copy the good and the bad. But they also learn from what we don’t do. If we give instructions and don’t follow through – they learn to ignore us. If we don’t ask for forgiveness when we’ve done something wrong towards them, they learn that we don’t really mean it when we say it is important and they’ll only go through the motions.
But the issue that most concerns the toddler is our instructions – we need to give instructions in a clear and firm way. We don’t need to be angry – in fact getting down at their level and speaking very gently and softly can often carry more weight than something yelled at them. But what we do after the instruction is just as significant:
- No follow through – If we don’t mean it, don’t say it. Before we give an instruction we must be prepared to make it happen. Not via threatening a major consequence – but by being prepared to get up from where we are and guiding our toddler through to obedience. If we say ‘come’ we need to be close enough to make them come by a gentle hand on their shoulder, if we say fold your hands we need to grab those hands and hold them together for the toddler, if we say sit in the bath we need to gently push them down to sitting position. If we don’t carry out our instructions by helping the child obey, we are just speaking into the air.
- Bribing, cajoling or threatening – when we resort to any of these options we have given the toddler the upper hand – we’ve given them the choice to obey or not and our job is to make it attractive enough to do it. We have invited conflict. The thing is these statements we make are often based on an idea of truth. If you don’t come, I’ll …(insert threat)! But we don’t carry out what we said we would, often we just repeat the threat or make it bigger!
- Repeating – say it once and expect it to happen (though it may not happen of their free will, you may need to make it happen). We never counted to three to get our kids to obey. We figured if they know we are serious on 3 they can know we meant it when it was said. That being said, I have seen Toddler think about it and I give her time to decide whether to obey or not, but counting to three during that processing time is muddying up the waters. She is a toddler, it doesn’t take long to decide what to do – and if I’m close enough I can see that process going on in her mind and I know when she’s decided ‘no’ or ‘yes’.
- Let your no be no – we need to really think carefully before we say something. It is much easier to just say no, don’t do that! But do we really care? I found myself in this trap when we were camping. I’d just say no – but there was no real reason. When Daniel was a toddler/preschooler I’d say no, then realise the context of the situation actually needed a yes, and I’d change my mind. He exploited this and arguing with me, waiting for me to change my mind became the norm for him. (Not good parenting practice!!) So let your yes be yes and your no be no. But think about it before you say one way or the other.
A friend once shared with me a lesson she learnt from teaching in a classroom and applied it to her parenting – Nip it the first time. This is so important with toddlers.
The issue I most applied this to with my own kids was grumpy mornings. The first grump, the first whine, the first sour face – they would go back to their cot for some time out (and to find a happy heart). I found, more often than not, that this realigned their attitude and the day went better than the days I put up with it and thought that they’d just woken up on the wrong side of the bed and they’d get over it. They probably had woken up on the wrong side of the bed but by helping them get over it quickly, they were right then to enjoy the rest of the day. But it applies to wanting to be out of the pram or shopping trolley, throwing toys off the highchair or running away when called (or any number of things they try to do).
When we do something over and over, we develop a habit. We recognise that in ourselves, and we know how hard it is to break a bad habit. When we let our little ones do something over and over, they are developing habits. We have the opportunity to help them develop good habits or bad habits; habits we want them to keep and will help them in their life forever, or habits that will hinder them. It is so much easier to develop good habits from the start instead of breaking bad ones.
You can see the rest of my Living with a Toddler for 31 days series here.
Or find more 31 day series here.