I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately. It’s amazing how the same thing said in a slightly different way can yield such different results. Parents nowadays know that using any negative words forever ruins our kids, and so we say things like “Feet go on the floor,” rather than “Stop kicking your sister in the face.” But that’s not the focus of this post. What amazes me is the other ways word choice matters when raising a toddler.
Giving them a choice (even when you’re not):
I used to say, “okay, it’s time to get dressed,” and would then spend the next hour or so running after my daughter fighting to get each item of clothing on her. That still happens fairly often, but I have found a trick that sometimes works. I now ask her, “who should get dressed first, me or you?” She usually says me, so I’ll get dressed, and then ask her who’s turn it is now. She proudly says it’s her turn, and if I’m lucky, she will follow through and get dressed. Giving her the choice of which item of clothing to put on first can also work.
Likewise, when it’s time to get ready for bed, I ask her what she wants to do first, brush her teeth or use the potty. I get what I want (the beginning of the bedtime routine,) and she thinks she is in charge (every toddler’s dream.)
Questions versus Commands:
Above, asking a question, giving the child a choice, helps get things done. But other times, asking a question is the worst thing to do. I almost laughed out loud when I heard a mom say the following, “Can we get ready to go now,” shortly followed by, “That wasn’t really a question, I was just trying to be polite.” This short exchange made me realize we can (and should) model polite behavior for our kids, but there are ways to do this other than phrasing every command as a question. Since I learned this, I am careful when telling my daughter we need to do things. Instead of saying, “Can you please put on your jacket,” (to which she could reply “No”), I say something like, “It’s time to put on your jacket,” or, “let’s put on your jacket.” When said in the right tone of voice, these commands come across just as polite and gentle as the dangerous “can.” Of course, the toddler can still say, “no,” but then you can say with truth that that wasn’t a question. I think many of us don’t even realize we’re asking a question until we get “no” as an answer, and then we have to back track and let them know it really wasn’t a choice.
Sometimes no words work best of all:
I am still learning this one, but after fighting with my daughter, telling her to do something multiple times, I’ve found what finally works is just walking away. I’ll tell her it’s time to clean up. I then tell her we can’t read a book (or any other enjoyable activity) until the mess is cleaned up. I used to keep saying different things trying to get my daughter to clean up, even threatening and then following through with, “If you don’t clean up, I will and then it’s going into my closet.” She really didn’t care as she watched me clean up her mess and take her things away. Sometimes she would even say, “Yes, mommy take away.” Now, after the second attempt, “If you don’t do A, then we can’t do B,” I just walk away. Within seconds she comes running after me, shouting, “B B B.” I then remind her what she needs to do, and she usually does it. I’m trying now to not even offer the reminder, and sure enough, after a moment of silence, she does what needs to be done. It reminds me of the old teacher trick of just sitting at my desk to wait for the class to settle down rather than lose my voice in disciplining. Kids really don’t like silence!
I’m still learning the ropes of having a toddler, but she really is teaching me as much as I hope I’m teaching her!