How to Pick Your Battles with Toddlers

Looks like he wants to wear his Batman cape to the supermarket again. Or she's about to throw another tantrum before teeth-brushing time. Toddlers can be both stubborn and curious... it's tough being a little kid in a world where interesting things are going on!

As a parent in a struggle for independence and self-expression with your child, how do you know when to win and when to pass on the victory? Follow these battle tactics for keeping peace in your house.

  • Quick assessment: is this a life and death situation? If your toddler wants to do something that could physically or emotionally hurt him or others, you have to stop the behavior now.
  • Know what is worth fighting for. Some rules are non-negotiable, and every household is different. Whether it's time for bed, taking a bath, no food in bedrooms or dressing nicely for church, you have to decide what daily rules and values are important to set for your toddler.
  • Weigh the pros and cons. Is it important that your child learn to dress himself, or that he wears matching socks? Do you want her to learn control over her eating habits, or that screaming gets her another cookie? Think about the larger lesson your child will learn and decide whether or not to fight.
  • Other ways to avoid a fight: Redirect your toddler - if he wants to color on the fridge, open up a coloring book and tape it to the door. If she wants to taste the Play-Doh instead of playing with it, it might be time to wash up and eat a real meal. Also, offering a controlled choice gives toddlers a bit of freedom within limits: "Do you want to wear the blue shoes or brown shoes today? Do you want to sit in the stroller or hold my hand and walk?"
  • Battle fairly, for you and for your toddler. Stick to the rules, even if you're exhausted - if you let your child eat a cupcake for breakfast today, he'll expect one tomorrow too. Be careful with the word "No" because if you use it too often children stop paying attention to it. Use other words like "stop," "hot," or "dirty." Make sure you know how to give a timeout if necessary.

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