Before I start writing about toddler behaviour, I feel like there are some pretty major caveats (lest you see me on the street with a refusenik toddler and think, ‘she hasn’t got this thing covered at all!!’) (I don’t).
I have 4 children, 7years and under, and have spent the last seven-and-a-bit years as a stay at home / work at home / generally at home mum. I’ve been in constant contact with toddlers – my own, and all their toddler friends (all delightful).
And, as it turns out, actually, pretty much all toddlers are Strong Willed.
(Unless your toddler is extremely compliant in which case you should feel very pleased with yourself / the world, stop reading this and go off to boost your smug quota even further with some smug and lazy crafts).
But really, the most important thing to remember is that this strong will is – developmentally at least – totally normal and fine and it doesn’t mean that you are a terrible parent when they are shrieking or refusing or pushing or throwing and nor does it mean you are going to end up with a Strong Willed Older Child (although I think I may also have ended up with those, too).
It is just a developmental phase. A bit of defiance (a lot of defiance) and asserting of independence (refusing) is completely normal.
Sometimes, though, it can be pretty exhausting! And oftentimes when a toddler is in full No No No battle mode it is, strangely, when you are trying to help them – as with the ultimate conundrum, an uncomfortably cold toddler who does not. want. a. coat. on.
I wrote about some coping strategies, here, for those moments that things are melting down.
But there is also one key sentence that mr tMatM introduced when our eldest was a toddler and it has been the biggest and most important part of our toddler interactions. So all credit to him (points in hand for my next Rate my Husband).
He knows, too, as an ex teacher and with a phd in education, behaviour no less, so I trust him on this – even more than when he says he is happy to watch the final series of Girls with me. (Loved it).
It’s a game changer. And, if you have spent any time with me and my children – you will likely have heard me say the following:
“Now you say – ‘okay mum'”
Admittedly that looks like an odd sentence, grammatically speaking. And it it might be a little bit odd, but it really is the first part of my negotiation and/or non negotiation with toddlers (and older children, some times..)
Here’s how it works.
Me: let’s get our shoes on! It’s time to go out.
Me: we need shoes on to go to school!
Me: time to put shoes on. Now you say, okay mum.
Toddler: okay mum. (Puts on shoes)
Miraculous! I mean obviously it doesn’t work all the time. But it does work a lot of the time.
A surprisingly useful tool.
When your toddler is in the midst of refusing to do something, or feeling overwhelmed (read: shouting), then you have two choices: give them some space to make the decision themselves, OR, give them some clear direction so that they don’t have to make the decision themselves.
Sometimes, you don’t have time for them to make the decision themselves (you need to get to the school gate). Sometimes, they are too tired and emotional to make the decision themselves.
But they have already said ‘no’ to your request, and now they are stuck with that narrative. It’s hard for them to make the switch to agreeing with you, even if they want to.
So, telling them what to say in response to your request gives them an easy and safe path through the situation. Once they have said, ‘okay mum’, then it is often plain sailing.
Toddler refusals, reversed!
The only problem here is that after so many years of toddlers I often find myself veering in this direction in my conversations with adults. As in, if my husband disagrees with something I find myself having to bite back ‘now you say…’ – which may be slightly less effective, not to mention socially acceptable.
The most fundamental of all interactions with toddlers. Good luck!