"Do you want to put on your boots now, sport?"
"Come on, now. You have to wear your boots."
"It's very cold. Your feet will be cold if you go out in your slippers."
"NO wanna!" Child shoves at parent.
"Now, sweetie. Let's get these boots on, huh?"
"NOnonoNONONOnonononoNONONOno. NO." Child take a swing at parent.
"That's not nice. Dada doesn't like it when you do that."
Child takes another swing. Protests now escalate into a scream, and a tantrum is under way.
I have seen this enacted, oh, it must be hundreds of times. Each and every time I sigh softly in exasperation, adding it to my mental list of "Things to talk about with this parent", along with "please send more diapers", and "don't forget to take his craft home with him".
The initial error is very common, very basic, and simple to eradicate. I've said it before, and I'll say it again:
STOP ASKING QUESTIONS!!
If "No" isn't an option, don't present it as one
! No self-respecting two-year-old is going to turn down the opportunity to say NO. You ask him a question, you're giving him a GIFT. "Hoo, boy, something to resist! A chance to express all this negativity churning around inside me. I get to prove my autonomy! Oh, no,no,no,no,no,no, NO,no, no. Oh, yeah!"
So, the whole rest of the "dialogue" may have been avoided entirely had dad said, "Okay, sport, let's get those boots on you. It's COLD out there!"
The underlying problem is bigger. This parent, like many of my parents, is a nice, well-meaning, kindly, principled person, who has made a decision that he will always endeavour to treat his child with respect, that he will alway try to be reasonable with his child. And that's a good thing. Thing is, he's also expecting his child to be reasonable back.
I have a flash for you: Two-year-olds are not
So what's a parent to do? Well, continue being reasonable. Just because your toddler is throwing himself kicking and screaming to the floor doesn't mean you can, too. No; no you can't. Get up off that floor, right now please, and be the grown-up. Sorry about that.
But, you say, wasn't that what this dad did? He continued being reasonable, and look where that got him!
Well... he was being reasonable, yes he was, but he was also expecting his toddler to be reasonable in return. He was honestly expecting that child to smack his hand into his forehead and say, "Oh, dad, of course you're right! What was I thinking
Not going to happen.
So, how does
one be reasonable with an unreasonable tot?
"Okay, sport, let's get those boots on. It's COLD out there!"
"Oh, yes," says the parent, pulling the tot onto his knee, and picking up the first boot. "Everyone wears boots in the snow." Parent begins to put the first boot onto the child.
Now, if this has happened many times before, the child will subside and let the proceedings continue. Parent can keep tot's mind in a positive channel by talking about what's going to happen next (NOT in a coaxing way), by talking about the child's day, by talking about all that lovely snow outside -- whatever.
If this pattern is unfamiliar to the child, though, if this child has always gotten to throw a fit before complying, then that's likely what he'll do. So you have this screaming, thrashing child on your lap. Now's your chance to REALLY practice your reasonable-ness!
You completely ignore the behaviour. The child is screaming and thrashing in your lap. You don't soothe, you don't coax. You just get those boots on. Then you put your child on her feet, you take her by the hand (in part to prevent her from ripping the boots right back off again), you "Wave bye-bye to Mary!", and you head out the door.
You want this task to get completed? Then see that it is completed. You don't parent by committee, waiting for the child to comply. Do you seriously WANT to give your two-year-old veto power over your every instruction? I can't imagine you really do, because, you know, they're not the most cooperative of critters. Team spirit is a concept that looms in their future, but isn't likely part of their current reality.
If the conflict is over something you've asked the child to do - pick up their toys, say - you'd be doing it "hand-over-hand", meaning you take their dimpled fist in your hand, and you place it on one toy after another and put them where they belong, even if the small body attached to the hand is uttering ferocious protest. "It's time to put the toys away. You can either do it yourself, or mummy will help you."
When the task is finished, you turn to your heaving, sniffling, red-faced, furious tot and give them a beaming smile. "All done! Thank you for helping!" Give them a big, comforting hug. Do not soothe them. No "there, there's" and absolutely no "I'm sorries"!! Officially, that hug is to say thank you
. You want the child to focus now on the satisfaction of having completed the task. You want them to experience the rewards of compliance. So the hug is to say "There! I knew you could do it! Thank you!" You
know it's also to help calm them. They don't - they shouldn't - know this. Don't offer comfort for tantrums - it encourages more of them.
After a moment or two, go on to the next thing. (And remember: DON'T ask questions. "Would you like to... next?" is certain to elicit a NO, and probably a resumption of the tantrum in a child who has so recently been so ruffled. Instead, "Come sit on dada's lap, and we'll read a story." Accompanied by action.)
If the tantrum doesn't subside so soon, you put them someplace away from you - in their room, behind a baby gate in the next room - and say "When you're quiet, you can come out."
Throughout this, you have been entirely reasonable, you have modelled rationality to your tot, but you have not expected the impossible from her. She will get to it in the end, by your consistent example, by practice, with just a little more maturity.
Just not quite yet.
© 2005, Mary P