Parenting toddlers is easy. When they aren’t yours

May 23, 2012

Ay Ay Cap’n

Parenting is so easy in theory – the number of times I have thought ‘I’d never let my child do that’ only to be that parent I so disapproved of a few years earlier. Writing the Top Ten Things My Mother Taught Me did also start me thinking about the stuff to do with parenting. She wasn’t a baby person, but adored small children and they adored her. I don’t think they ever misbehaved when they were with her. Partly as she was Grandma, but partly that she was great with them. I was in no way a natural parent of babies, but started enjoying it more as they started to say no. I give you this list not to say ‘I was great at this’, but if it helps one exhausted parent avert one distressing temper tantrum it is probably worth it.

So it is with some trepidation I give you my

Top Ten Toddler Tips To Tame Terrible Twos

Obviously all these suggestions are assuming there are no specific developmental difficulties and caveated in the usual ‘every child is different’ and  ‘you have to find what works for you’ fluffy claptrap.

  1. Don’t ask closed questions that have a right/wrong answer. Mum believed that there is no need for temper tantrums and the terrrible twos as it is simple enough to present options to a toddler that only allow him or her to make the right decision. So that means never giving them a yes/no option if one of those answers is wrong as far as you are concerned. Thus don’t say ‘OK, time to get in the car ‘ or ‘Shall we get in the car now?’ as your loveable rogue is likely to say NO
  2. Ask questions that give the child options to choose, all of which are acceptable to you. Two is normally more than enough options or they get confused. Do say ‘Do you want to get in the car now or in 2 minutes?’.
  3. Positive reinforcement when they have made their choices. Give plenty of praise for that being such a good idea.
  4. Also praise stuff that you take for granted – sitting up nicely, smiling prettily, eating their toast, cleaning their teeth….
  5. Remind them how much you liked their good behaviour and show them that  it means they get more of your attention for being good. So, when you have time to sit together to read a story or play a game, start by saying something like, ‘You were such a good boy today when you got in to your car seat all by yourself, it meant we got to school on time so shall we read a story together now?’
  6. Don’t use the N word youself in response to a question. No matter how valid, your automatic NO will be the only word they hear and may be seen as a challenge. So avoid it.
  7. Phrase all responses positively and then supply acceptable options for the child to choose. So when they ask to watch TV, don’t automatically say ‘No, not now’. Instead say ‘Yes that’s fine. Do you want to do it when Katy gets home or after tea?’, thus giving them two options both of which are acceptable to you.
  8. Take the timetabling stress out of life by removing non essentials. Fun doesn’t have to be a separate activity from daily life. Cleaning can be a game. Laundry sorting can be a game. Shopping can be a game. Then it isn’t a stressful hurtle round Sainsburys to get back in time to go to tumble tots; Sainsburys is the game.. Find the baked beans, what colour is that, choose which cheese we buy, hop to the end of this aisle etc etc.,
  9. If the options above fail, and they just start screaming, kicking or shouting , don’t lose your cool (how easy to write!). Get down to their level and hold them tight. Don’t say anything for 30 seconds, but keep them close in your arms (like a substitute swaddling blanket). Then talk quietly and calmly and tell them they can have one last chance to choose between the two options you have given them, and if they don’t then you will choose for them/not let them watch TV at all tonight or whatever. The younger they are the harder they are to ‘reason’ with, but also the less likely they are to go completely mad in the first place, but it is important they derive no benefit or extra attention from you when they do it.
  10. Nobody is a perfect parent all the time. And some people are better at some phases of childhood than others. Some children are better at some phases. So a really good toddler can turn in to a monster teen, or that screaming baby can be a model adolescent. It’s all swings and roundabouts and as a parent all I could hope for was to keep them safe and try to enjoy the ride.



6 Responses to “Parenting toddlers is easy. When they aren’t yours”

  1. PAUL Says:

    What about the ‘terrible teens & twenties’ ?

  2. I know the options thing, I just always forget. It’s hard to back track to the more favorable options thing once the meltdown starts (only 50% success rate of aborting meltdown, much higher chance of preventing it if used first!)

    • oh indeed average. Completely agree. And it is all so much simpler in theory when you haven’t got toddlers clinging on to your ankles as you try to go to the loo… 🙂

  3. Great advice, Sarah. I’m a mother of a nearly three-year-old and it gets more and more difficult to not use the N word…all the time. Seems it’s reflex for nearly everything they try in their toddler curiosity/desire to rebel and destroy for fun. The “give them acceptable options” idea always works and this is a much-needed reminder. So easy to revert to the black and white yes and no world when we’re just trying to get from place to place. It also helps to slow everything down, bring down the energy in the room and bring everyone back in to the present when I make space for him to choose how he lives. Thanks, Sarah!

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