It’s All About Choices: Getting Your Toddler to Cooperate

choices-for-toddlers-textToddlers have an amazing ability to express their wishes – whether through their growing vocabulary, other ways of using their voices (screaming anyone?), and their behaviors. Unfortunately, their wishes often differ from our own. So how do you allow your children to express their desires – and get them to cooperate at the same time?

Sometimes it’s as simple as offering choices. Your toddler wants to believe that he has some control over his life (don’t we all?) and allowing him to make decisions throughout the day can give him some power while you’re still able to accomplish your own goals. Want to learn more?

You can get with this, or you can get with that:

Your toddler has to get dressed. But asking her what she wants to wear can result in her insistence that she wear the nightgown that is currently in the dirty clothes hamper with a giant chocolate milk stain to a family gathering. That’s not what we want. Instead, offer her two options – either of which will work for you. “So, you can wear the purple dress or the green dress, which would you like?” This works for food choices, tv time, activities – you name it. Limited choices allow her to feel like she’s getting her way, while still keeping you in charge.

First, second, third:

In this case, say it’s bedtime. You need your toddler to brush his teeth, put on pajamas, use the potty, listen to a story, and FINALLY go to sleep! None of these is optional. Ask your child, “Are you ready for bed?” and the answer is a resounding “NO!” So instead try, “It is bedtime. Would you like to brush your teeth or put on your pajamas first?” Move through the routine, offering him a say in the order, but not in whether it gets done.

This also works when you are heading out somewhere. “Do you want to brush your hair or put on your shoes first?” The added bonus is that it lets your child know what else is necessary to get ready, and helps keep you both on track to get out the door – maybe even on time!

My way or the highway:

The last chance choice is there for those times your toddler decides to try to out-stubborn you. For example – a three year old that is refusing to buckle into her car seat while you are late for work. She knows you are out of options – she can sense the desperation you’re feeling. So you give her one more chance to cooperate. “You’re going to buckle up. It’s the only safe way to ride. You can do it, or I can do it.”  Your child learns that some things are non-negotiable, but she still has a chance to show off her big-girl skills.

Do you find that offering choices helps encourage good toddler behavior?

Image via Sara McTigue

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It’s All About Choices: Getting Your Toddler to Cooperate

Sara McTigue is a secret agent, cupcake chef, award winning author, photographer, and PTA mom. At least, that is how things look in her mind. When she isn’t testing the bounds of her imagination, she is a mom to three amazing and hilariously funny children, wife to a charming and handsome man, and thoroughly addicted to reading. With a BS in English Education and an MA in English Literature, words – and their ability to shape our lives and thoughts – are an everyday fascination. Af ... More

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4 comments

  1. melody says:

    Worked well with my now six year old. Saved me from many of toddler melt downs Between this and verbal praise most of the toddler years were smooth. You can’t be negative and forceful with children and expect possitive results.

  2. Sara says:

    maybe tone down the reward opportunities in order to get them to respond to choices. Not every instance of good behavior deserves a juice or cookie reward. it could just be the encouragement of being such a good big girl/boy. My daughter congratulates herself (yay! good job) as well as my husband and I dozens of times throughout the day when we all get things right, rather than asking for cookies 🙂

  3. KaelinRae says:

    I think that offering choices is a great way to make the toddler feel like they are in control without them actually being in control. This is one method I will be sure to try with mine.

  4. pregnant says:

    offering choices to my 2 toddlers don’t really work they would rather get a reward after the choice is made like a cookie or a juice or chips or something like that

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