How to Pick Your Battles with Toddlers

Toddlers can be both stubborn and curious... it's tough being a little kid in a world where interesting things are going on!

Are you tired of constantly fighting with your teen? Do you wish that you could just have one conversation that didn’t end in yelling or arguing?

If so, you are not alone.

Kids making mess while mom is baking

Many parents struggle to communicate with their children at different stages. Younger children want to be independent and express themselves. Teens want freedom and the ability to make their own choices.

Parenting can seem like a never-ending tug of war. But you can learn to communicate with your teen and maintain your sanity at the same time.

Is It Worth It?

How do you know which battles to pick? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this a life and death situation? If your toddler wants to do something that could physically or emotionally hurt him or others, you must stop the behavior. If your teen is doing something dangerous, you must speak up.  
  • Know what is worth fighting for. Some rules are non-negotiable, and every household is different. You have to decide what daily rules and values are important to set. Rules should change as the child ages. You may have a firm bedtime for a child and a firm curfew for a teen.
  • 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.
  • 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. Choices give toddlers a bit of freedom within limits.

    The same advice is true for teens. Offer choices. Ask your teen to help write the rules they follow.
  • Battle fairly: 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.

    Consistency and fairness are important to parenting a teenager. That will lead to your teen respecting the rules and your authority. Try not to lose your temper. You may not be able to make an argument better, but you can make it worse.

Avoid Fights through Better Communication

Here are five ways to improve your relationship with your teen.

  1. Change your mindset. Change how you view your relationship with your teen. Showing your teen who’s boss won’t work, but understanding a different perspective might.

    You are teaching your teen effective communication skills, and those skills can go a long way. Research shows that healthy family communication is key to decreasing risk-seeking behaviors and improve a teen's overall health and well-being.

    Research links parent engagement with children doing better in school, being more motivated in the classroom and having improved social skills. Poor family communication is linked with unhealthy outcomes, including body dissatisfaction, substance use, suicide attempts, depression and low self-esteem.

  2. Allow your child to grow up. Kids go through many changes during adolescence. Often, these changes come too fast and you may miss the transition from childhood to the teen years.

    Don’t fight the quirkiness of adolescence; accept it as a time to allow your teen opportunities to grow up and make decisions. Stand on the sidelines and coach, but don’t micromanage. If your teen knows you are there to coach and not boss, he’ll be more apt to seek your counsel. The adolescent years are about helping your child grow into an independent, successful adult.

    If you don’t let him grow up, he’ll never learn the skills he needs to master this stage of development.

  3. Make each moment a teachable one. One day, you’ll watch your teen head out the door to middle school and the next you’ll watch her walk across the stage at her high school graduation. Time really does fly.

    Ask yourself what matters most during these years. To be present and active in your teen’s life, you’ll have to get creative and find ways to bond and connect. Car rides are the perfect place to strike up a conversation and sit back and listen. Steer clear of touchy topics like schoolwork or chores, and refrain from giving unsolicited advice. Instead, just listen and be open to seeing the world through your teen's eyes.

  4. Be real. Let your guard down and allow your teen an opportunity to get to know you separate from being the parent. It’s good for your teen to see your vulnerable side and to know that you have problems that you struggle with, too. Your teen can benefit from knowing that you worry about him, and that sometimes your fear makes you overreact.

    Too often parents allow their fears to guide their behaviors and become too strict and intrusive, leading to teen rebellion. Work on being honest with your teen and have deep meaningful conversations. Teens appreciate honesty, and by showing your authenticity and vulnerability, your teen will know he can show you his.

  5. Validate your teen’s feelings and emotions. Validation is letting your teen know that you understand her feelings, and what she says matters to you. Validation does not mean that you have to agree with how she is feeling or condone the behavior; rather it means you're not judging her. The process of validation can help bring you and your teen closer by showing her that she has a nonjudgmental space to talk and seek guidance. And don’t you want to be the person she comes to when life throws her a curveball?

    The foundation of a good parent-teen relationship begins with trust, mutual respect and the ability to pick and choose your battles. Some battles will be worth fighting, and others won’t be worth your time or energy. When it comes to standing your ground, it’s important to determine your "non-negotiables.” These are the things that you aren’t willing to budge on, such as no drinking and driving, and no texting while driving. Share these with your teen so she knows up front your stance on certain issues.

    Although the adolescent years may seem to drag on, they'll be gone in the blink of an eye. As a parent, you can look upon these years with dread or realize that your teen is growing up and becoming an independent person, and that you have a front row seat to watch that transformation take place!

Source: US News & World Report

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