Saturday, April 08, 2006

Being Reasonable with a Toddler: Making things Happen

Mid-morning, I lay two and a half year old Zach down to change his diaper. First diaper change of the day at Mary's house. Good grief! This diaper looks like it's been changed by a blind man. A one-armed blind man. On a roller coaster. At sea. Onced I would have been confused, but I'm savvy now. I know what this is. This diaper has been changed on an upright child. "He just won't lay down for a change any more," his parents explain at the end of the day. "It's always been a struggle, but lately, it's getting so much worse. So now we change him while he stands up. Sometimes we finish while he's walking away." They are utterly serious. Once again, I find myself shaking my head in bemusement at the nonsense otherwise sensible people take from their toddlers. He won't lie down? Okay, then. Diaper changes are not optional; if he won't lay down voluntarily, you need to lay him down. And see that he stays there. "But he won't!" they wail. "We've tried and tried to explain, but he just won't co-operate. We don't know what to do." This is becoming a theme with me, I know, but here it is again: Toddlers are not the most rational of people. You'd noticed that, huh? But you know what? Sometimes, neither are parents of toddlers. I see this most often when a parent is acting on a chosen principle, a principle which simply does not work (or is not working the way it's being implemented) and yet which they insist on trying to implement. Case in point: I will always be rational with my child; I will always have a reason for my interactions with my child. A laudable principle. In fact, it's an excellent principle, one which I try to act upon in all my doings. Too often, though, the principle is misapplied, and the result is a parent held hostage to the tiny tyrant who runs their home. And you find yourself trying to put a diaper on a child while he walks away from you. Being rational with your child is a good thing. But, too often parents, they... parents, [snort] in their delusionary state, actually [chortle, snort] expect that their two-year-old will be (you ready for this?) rational back! Oooooh... heeheeheehehee... Ah. Sorry. Let me just pull myself together a moment. Okay. I'm better now. Little Suzie wants to go outside and play in the snow but adamantly refuses to put on her boots. Little Johhny loves to ride in the car, but fights getting into the carseat each and every time. Freddie won't eat anything green. Boris will only eat peanut butter and macaroni. Despite her evident exhaustion, Sadie refuses to go to bed. Anna will not take her medicine. All everyday stuff for parents of toddlers. What's a parent to do? I've gone on before about how one is reasonable with a toddler. Give them your reason, certainly. It is good for them to understand that mommy and daddy are rational. (They have to learn about rationality somehow!) Give it in a short, simple sentence. "You must wear boots because it's very cold outside." "You will eat those beans because they will make you strong." "You are very tired. It is time for bed." Having given your reason, do not wait for the child to suddenly morph into a rational creature before your eyes. They weren't rational five minutes ago; they're not going to be rational now. In another couple of years, yes. Now? No. These things don't happen instantaneously. So you've stated your expectation, you've given your reason, and your offspring is glaring up at you with the "I don't wanna and you can't make me" expression on their face. Can you feel it? Can you feel the urge welling up within you, primal and raw? "You wanna bet I can't make you?" And of course, being good, 21-Century parents, you fight that urge down. No, no! Don't fight it! USE it. Because sometimes... No! Often, with toddlers, you do have to make them. You don't have to bully or threaten; you certainly don't have to shout at, and you never need to hit them; but you often have to calmly, implacably, unyieldingly insist that something happen, and very often that means physically. "It's very cold out there. Time to put on your boots." "No wanna." Pop the child into your lap, and pull on his boots, calmly repeating yourself, ignoring his struggles and anger. "It's very cold out there. Time to put on your boots." For the vegetables? This isn't one you respond to physically, but it's definitely the time for implacable. I've discussed this here and here, so I won't say it again, except to encourage you: Win this one now, and you won't have to fight it every meal for the next ten years. For diaper changes? You hold them down, saying calmly, "You lay still for a change. You can play when I'm done." (There are several ways to do this. Here's one for the flexible among you!) Point is, there is no point in waiting for the child to respond rationally, if they've once stated their intention to be unreasonable. They will learn to be rational, in time, and with your firm, and sometimes physical, guidance. But in the meantime, you have to see that rationality prevails for everyone. Changing a diaper on a child who is walking is not rational. Letting a child choose to be inadequately nourished is not rational. Getting into a prolonged coax/plead/whine session with a toddler about wearing clothes appropriate to the weather is irrational. When you expect rationality from a child who is pre-rational, you end up joining them in their irrationality. Be the grown-up! Be rational. Be rational for both of you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~ © 2006, Mary P

20 Comments:

Blogger stefanierj said...

Oh, Mary, when you write it, it sounds almost easy. When I'm wreslting a 28-lb badger who is almost as strong as I am, it seems less so. Since I'm not as flexible as MIM, I insist on the laying-down diaper change, but often my compromise is letting him chew on/tear up a fresh wipe.

4/08/2006 08:44:00 AM  
Blogger Kristen said...

My nephew used to be so awful about the diaper changes that my sister-in-law coudn't do it without an extra person - one to hold him down, one to change the diaper. However, I think this resulted from the kid having absolutely NO other boundaries in his life, either.

We've done the "logical consequence" thing where if they don't want to put their shoes on, then they just don't get to go outside, or they can't walk to the car, they get carried to the car (which they hate), etc. It works!

4/08/2006 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Kristen said...

Oops, I meant "natural" consequences...but I guess they ARE logical, too.

4/08/2006 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

yes, we did have to use the "seatbelt" and an extra arm across the hips on the change table for a while, but now she has - yay! - come to ask for changes, hold up her legs, and generally help the process. I love it! It can't possibly last... On the occasions when she's not been into it, I have found it really helps to let her choose a small toy to bring with her for distraction. or telling her a story or singing a song really work too.

4/08/2006 10:25:00 AM  
Anonymous MIM said...

We had a nanny who didn't stay with us for very long because one day when I asked what he had for dinner, she answered, "5 meatballs."

"You let him eat FIVE meatballs? Did he eat anything else?"

"No."

"Then why did you let him eat FIVE meatballs?"

"Because that's what he wanted," she answered in all seriousness.

So basically I was paying her when really I should have been paying my then 10-month-old because he was obviously the one in charge. Needless to say, she was gone shortly after that.

(BTW, thanks for the link!)

4/08/2006 05:15:00 PM  
Anonymous MIM said...

Oops. Wasn't very clear on that first paragraph above. "He" refers to Tod-lar. Sorry. multi-tasking when I shouldn't!

4/08/2006 05:16:00 PM  
Blogger Jenorama said...

You know, I wish somebody had told me this when my children were younger. I was surrounded by people telling me that I needed to give my children choices, but what they were actually demonstrating was the tyranny of children over their lives.

4/08/2006 07:15:00 PM  
Blogger Angela said...

Last night I had a mom tell me that her children don't usually eat dinner, that the twelve month old like to chuck his food across the room- and that they could have cookie dough when they finished whatever amount of food they wanted.

Okay, grownups- give your kids an appropriate amount of food, if they are pre-rational don't argue or so "if you finish this you can have dessert" save that until they've eaten some. And the word no is acceptable when children throw food across the room! I got the older one to eat two small pieces of the cheesy bread-pizza, and the little one ate at least some- I lost track while dodging flying pizza! But the point is, it was non-negotiable, you don't get anything else unless you eat what's in front of you.

And, isn't cookie dough unsafe for children? Especially babies? Doesn't seem like the safest dessert to me!

4/08/2006 09:56:00 PM  
Blogger Granny said...

I've had to call for reinforcements with a shrieking child but the principle doesn't change. I'm not as dextrous as MIM either and it sometimes took two of us when arms and legs were flailing wildly accompanied by screaming.

I did better with the first generation of kids. Third is a little harder but fortunately the diaper changes and other snits are in the past. Now I have the tweens and teen.

Maybe diapers were easier?

4/08/2006 10:45:00 PM  
Blogger Mary P. said...

stefanierj: The principle is straightforward. Implementation can be more difficult, I grant you! I don't see anything wrong with letting him play with a wipe, though, if that makes him happy. Around here, because I'm not having to fight them down, diaper times are playtimes - I sing to them, we play peekaboo, I blow raspberries on fat toddler tummies. Fun.

Kristen: I love consequences as a parenting tool, both natural and logical. I use them routinely with the older toddlers. With the younger ones, I tend to use other techniques, but that would vary from child to child. The nice thing about a consequence is that it puts the child in control: "If you choose this, that will happen."

Kittenpie: Now that she's discovered diaper times can be fun times, she'll probably continue to enjoy them. We all know kids can cut off their noses to spite their faces, but they love to play, too. You're probably okay!

mim: There's a nutritious meal for you. And excellent decision-making -- on your part. "Because that's what he wanted" is not a good parenting strategy, all in all. What if he wants to chase his ball into the path of a car? Or see what the bleach tastes like? Sheesh. (Oh, and you're welcome! That post entertained me no end.)

Jen: Well, there are choices and choices. I give them choices all the time. "Beans or carrots with your lunch?" "Sweater or windbreaker when we go out?" I do not, however, give them the choice of no vegetables at all, or wearing a t-shirt in the cool spring air.

Angela: Okay, then. These children are being well-prepared for a disciplined and healthy life, now, aren't they? I'm sure their teachers will be thrilled to have the child who has never had to heed the word "no", and the children who can't concentrate due to inadequate nutrition in the room. Sheesh.

Cookie dough is of concern for the youngest because of choking issues: it's sticky and could form large clumps in the throat. For anyone else, regardless of age, the concern is salmonella from the raw egg that may be in there. (Which is not to say that my own children - or even myself!! - have never scarfed dough from the bowl...grin...) But that's the concern, and that's why the daycare tots never get it from me.

Granny: You're on your third go-round with this, so you can probably speak to it better than me, but in my experience, nothing does "snit" better than a fourteen-year-old girl. Nothing. My respect for my own mother went up a thousand percent when my eldest was 14, and I was so frequently torn between laughing at her and throttling her, and I realised, "Oh, lord. That's EXACTLY what I used to do to my mother."

I'm alive this day because my mother is a good woman. :-)

4/09/2006 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

As diaper changes go -- and pretty much everything else -- sometimes they are bad. I had a few weeks where we really loved the convertible type that were very standy-upy friendly.. but I am always trying. Current estimates would place our diaper protests occuring in less than 5% of changes.

Key to this is what you suggest.

Give them the deal and then whether they deal with in or not move on. Don't give in or reinforce a child-driven ratty behaviour as the new normal. Ya-dah, ya-dah.. who's in charge? etc...

It ring so true where you talk about the boots. You would swear I was torturing the girl with pointy sticks last Monday over the putting on of socks? Since when does she hate socks?? Don't know, don't care. We are late. You are getting dressed, sock on missy. I probably threw in "I am sorry you are so upset about it", just because I am a complete marshmallow... but socks on.

What the rational utterence really does is what you describe.. It is the adult brain distracting itself into CAAALLLMMM .. all in spite of the badger (nice metaphor, steph!) in front of you that you must accept as your own offspring.

4/10/2006 01:18:00 AM  
Blogger Mary P. said...

You got my point entirely. "Like it or lump it, kiddo, this is what's happening."

Some things are negotiable, some things are not. Don't waste breath coaxing cooperation with non-negotiables, save it for the effort of repeating the direction (calmly) as you make.it.happen.

And soon enough, as you note, the issue will become a non-issue.

4/10/2006 07:57:00 AM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

ha, mo-wo just reminded me of the day misterpie came downstairs to fins me literally clamping pumpkinpie under my arm and wrestling a pair of pants onto her kicking legs, while growling, "This is not a choice!" Not my most shining moment, but kinda funny in retrospect. Pointy stcks indeed.

4/10/2006 11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anne V said...

Hee! My two year old is going through a massive NO! stage at the moment although he's not too bad about diaper changes. Yet. That happened in the past and ended very quickly when I took to placing my leg over his chest (I obviously change him on the floor) during diaper changes. He's learned that it doesn't help to fight. That said, there are still times when I'll change him in an upright position because it's more convenient for ME. I won't tolerate walking during this process though...

4/10/2006 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

The first time I witnessed a mom change an unwilling childs diaper I was thouroughly impressed. Her son was a year or so older than my girl at the time and he wanted nothing to do with getting changed. As you described she explained what was to be done laid the kid down, pinned him by throwing a leg over his chest and changed his diaper much to his chagrin.
I have employed the technique a few times myself and have learned that once the child learns that he/she is not going to win this battle of wills they look for other tests.

4/10/2006 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Mary P. said...

Kittenpie: On the contrary, I see that as a shining example of doing the necessary when required. If pants truly aren't optional...well, they're not! I bet you haven't had to do it again. (More than once...)

AnneV: Welcome, and thanks for commenting! Leg over the chest works well, yes. Good strategy. Your quick aside that you change him on the floor brought a picture to mind of a limber young mommy swinging one leg up onto a change table. LMAO

It would probably work, but I'd walk funny for a week if I tried it, I'm sure...

Peter: Oh, there are always more battles to be fought - but at least you don't have to keep revisiting the same tired old skirmish day in and day out. And eventually, when they learn that you say what you mean and mean what you say, they save their resistance for the things that really matter to them. And one day? One glorious day, you'll be able to *reason* with them. But not at 15 months.

4/10/2006 01:31:00 PM  
Blogger Lady M said...

Love your site! This post in particular made me laugh (a one-armed man on a roller coaster at sea, indeed!). There was a week or two where I was chasing the kiddo after baths waving a fresh diaper, and I was in fear of having to do that for years.

Fortunately, after we decided to carry him back to his room to do the diapering on his regular changing table, he is mostly well behaved, given a song or distraction toy. Let's hope that keeps working.

4/11/2006 02:21:00 AM  
Blogger Mary P. said...

LadyM: Welcome! Cute picture you have there.

What your story illustrates, I think, is how children like their routines. For your boy, diaper changes take place on his change table. When he's there, of course he lies down. Easy. When he's somewhere else? Not so straightforward!

4/11/2006 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger L. said...

I have started commenting here on this post FOUR times, and gotten interrupted ALL FOUR times!

One more try: I remember putting my leg over a toddler on the floor, to do a diaper change. I remember hoping no one would look in the window, because I`m sure it looked as if I was smothering my screaming baby.

I knew people who could make the "standing change" work for them, to avoid the child lying down in icky places, but ONLY if the toddler was cooperative.

4/11/2006 11:10:00 PM  
Blogger Kelli in the Mirror said...

I just found this blog and I love it! I'm a home daycare provider too. My question is: do any of your parents read? Because I completely agree with your stand, but don't have the guts to say some of this stuff when it's necessary. :)

4/13/2006 10:37:00 PM  

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