It’s hard being a toddler.
No really, it actually kind of is. Basically you spend your entire day getting bossed around by other people. Can you even imagine? It sounds super frustrating. Even though toddlers don’t really have a whole lot of power plays at their disposal, it doesn’t stop them from digging in their heels and saying no to everything just because they can. In the eyes of a toddler, any request is an immediate excuse to exert their will. I get it. You’ve gotta work with what you’ve got. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not all kinds of obnoxious when I need my kid to do something and she’s battling me on it … in the middle of a very public (read: embarrassing) place.
Sometimes toddlers are going to have tantrums and there won’t be a whole lot you can do aside from just riding it out. But most of the time there are ways you can navigate the dicey waters of negotiation with a pint-sized dictator. Here are a few things I do to get my little one to do what I want.
1. I make it a game.
The “practically perfect in every way” Miss Mary Poppins taught me this one: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and — SNAP — the job’s a game!” And it really works with toddlers. Simply make whatever task you want them to accomplish into a game and they’ll be all over it. Sometimes I’ll turn getting dressed into a race, or picking up toys into make believe play where we have to “save all the toys from the burning lava on the ground” by putting them into their bins. The game doesn’t have to be particularly original, but by adding that element of fun, you’ll have your toddler helping you out in no time!
2. I make it fancy … or gross.
My daughter loves all things that seem fancy. If I want her to do something, wear something, play something, all I have to do is turn it into something fancy. Serving lunch on pretty dishes and letting her dress-up suddenly turns lunch time into a princess tea party.
Or the other day, in an attempt to get her to eat veggies, I added spinach to her grilled cheese sandwich. She wasn’t into it until I told her it was a “mermaid sandwich” with seaweed. She ate the entire thing while being serenaded by the sounds of Sebastian the crab singing “Under the Sea” as her lunch-time background music. I have friends whose little ones feel the same motivation when it comes to “gross” things. For example, you can give green smoothies instant toddler street-cred by calling them “monster snot” or employ your little one to help you “hunt germs” (i.e. cleaning up their messes) armed with a spray bottle of vinegar and cleaning rags. Get creative!
3. I play the “cool” card.
I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a little guilty about employing this technique since I don’t want my kids to grow up worrying about the pressure to be cool but, sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. If I want Fern to wear a certain outfit (in lieu of whatever frilly, bedazzled number she would prefer), I’ll compare the outfit I want her to wear to the style of someone she really likes or looks up to. (For example: “Yeah, dresses are fun, but you know who wears pants? Princess Jasmine! See! You can still be a princess and wear pants. And you know who else wears pants? Taylor Swift. I bet she would think this is a cool outfit.”) I’ll admit, it’s a stretch, but she falls for it approximately 75% of the time. If that fails, she also thinks it’s super cool to match me or her brother, so I just wear an outfit similar to what I would like her to wear and it works like a charm.
4. I employ reverse psychology.
Telling your kids to do the opposite of what you actually want them to do is pretty much a page from Parenting 101, but it really does work. Kids (toddlers especially) just want to be contrary for the sake of being contrary. If I want my daughter to eat her broccoli, but she really doesn’t want to, all I have to do is tell her that it’s OK. I tell her not to eat it because I actually wanted to eat it myself anyway. Somehow that flips a switch in her brain and before I can get that broccoli to my mouth she’s over there scarfing it down herself. Perhaps it’s more that she just doesn’t want to share than actual reverse psychology, but either way, it gets the job done.
5. I offer choices.
Offering choices kind of sounds like the opposite of what you should do if you’re trying to achieve a certain outcome with your toddler, but it’s actually a great tactic. The trick is to only offer the choices you want them to choose. So, if you want your toddler to pick up a mess, you could say, “Would you like to pick up the mess now, or after lunch?” or if they’re battling you about using the potty, “Would you like me to help you use the potty, or would you like to go by yourself?” Toddlers have very little control over what happens in their lives, so offering them choices is a good way to empower them and avoid a bit of drama.
What’s the most creative tactic you’ve used to get your toddler to do something you wanted them to do?More On