Toddlers and the Power of Choice
Children NEED limits in order to feel safe; when they act out through attention seeking or challenging behaviour this is often a result of craving the boundaries and leadership needed to feel secure.
A child’s job is to consistently test or push the boundaries to check to see which ones are rock solid (generally safety based – holding hands in a parking lot, keeping hands off the stove) and which ones are written in the sand (ex. we wear shoes outside but they can decide on what pair). Without boundaries children will take on too much of the parenting role and this causes them to become overwhelmed; this triggers an anxious response and causes them to question whether they are safe.
Around the age of two, toddlers begin to explore their own individuality and independence. Parenting isn’t a dictatorship; it is a partnership.
You need to give respect to get it and in order to build a secure, safe, attachment you need to establish clear boundaries.
The power of choice is the most underused parenting strategy out there. If you can give your toddler as many choices throughout the day as possible, when situations arise where there isn’t a choice, your child is going to be more willing to co-operate and comply.
Examples of creating opportunities for choice:
Choosing clothes in the morning
Josephine, would you like to wear the green pants or the blue?
Would you like to wear your running shoes or boots?
Which jacket do you think would be best when it’ snowy?
Providing options at mealtimes
Michael, would you like cereal or eggs this morning?
How is your tummy feeling? Do you think it would like an apple or banana?
Your diaper looks quite full. Would you like to change it now or in two minutes?
Giving your little one the opportunity to make decisions and live with the choices they have made is incredibly important. There are going to be strong emotions attached to these boundaries and it is important to hold the space for them, but not to give in to them. Providing your child with empathy and compassion when they are disappointed, have changed their mind, or are upset is not “giving in.” This is being respectful and caring – you are showing your child that you understand that this is hard for them and they are struggling but unfortunately they made that choice so we are going to stick with it. Just because you are empathizing doesn’t mean you are giving in.
While we strongly advocate for providing choices and involving your child as much as possible, some children can’t handle the decisions. They become paralyzed into inaction with the overwhelming options. You can support them by making the choices for them in scenarios where they will not push back (ex. clothing, shoes, breakfast, etc.) or you can ask, “Would you like to ______ or would you like me to do it?” This gives them the opportunity to give it a try or if they don’t want to they can verbalize that. If they don’t respond, wait 1-2 minutes and then say, “Ok, I’ll choose today.”
Setting boundaries and seeing them through is hard. Don’t overwhelm yourself and set yourself up to fail by attempting Boundary Bootcamp where you set every boundary and stand your ground. Chances are you’re going to burn out and your child is going to be an emotional disaster. Pick one thing that really bothers you (this gives you the motivation to stand strong!) and then start setting a boundary around that one situation. Once your little one understands the cause and effect his behaviours and actions have and that you will do what you say, all of the other limits that you set just come together and become much easier!
If you are struggling with boundaries and limits and need more support, reach out for a complimentary discovery call to see if a behavioural support package might be part of your solution!