Surviving Toddlerhood, Part 6: Choices and Control, Control and Choices

How would you feel if someone made you eat meatloaf and green beans when you clearly wanted a steak and fries? How would you feel if someone insisted you wear the blue pants instead of your favorite jeans? How would you feel if someone said you had to do the dishes before you could sit and enjoy some TV time?

You probably wouldn’t be too happy, would you?

Okay, I get it. Toddlers are just kids. As parents we know what’s best for them.

But think of toddlers as little people instead. Little people with their own likes and dislikes, opinions, and needs and wants.

Of course we want what’s best for our kids. Of course we want to take care of them and keep them safe.

But they are little people. And they deserve to be heard and given some degree of independence.

Toddlers thrive with choices. It gives them a sense of control. They feel like they can choose and thus control what happens to them. They like knowing they have some power. After all, they are trying to figure out who they are and what they like and don’t like. They’re trying to find their own voice, but they can’t do that unless they feel like they have choices and some control.

Look, I get it. Our kids need to eat their fruits and vegetables and wear a coat in the snow. But, seriously, they can choose between chicken nuggets and spaghetti for dinner. They can choose between the red, blue, and green shirts. They can choose whether to play with blocks or puzzles. Small choices that give them a sense of control over their own lives that don’t hurt them in the long run.

I give my toddler 3 choices at every meal. I let him pick his clothes every day. When it’s time for bath, I ask every 5 minutes if he’s ready. I let him decide if he wants to wear his jacket (we live in Southern California, so the weather is usually pretty nice). After all, kids tend to have a higher body temperature, so he might actually be warm when he says he is! As his mom, I not only have to keep his well-being in mind; I also have to let him find his voice and trust his body and experiences.

Most days, he’s a very happy toddler. He gets choices all day, so he gets some measure of control all day. Believe it or not, but that might be why he listens so well when I have to (here and there) put my foot down. Of course, I always give him a reason that makes sense to him.

I treat my toddler like a small person with his own voice and needs and wants. I’m teaching him to express himself and he’s learning that I respect him and his choices.

Toddlers thrive on choices. It gives them control. But don’t forget, mom and dad, you have control over what choices you give.

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