Updated: May 31, 2020
As your toddler begins to discover their independence, you will start to notice defiance and an emerging desire to be in control of situations. This is healthy, natural behavior for their age. It is developmentally appropriate. However, in these moments, we have a responsibility to teach and empower. The challenge now is not to engage in these power struggles. Remain calm, offer appropriate choices, keep clear boundaries about what they CAN do. This can be very difficult with a determined toddler who thinks they know what they want. This is where you step in with clear, consistent routines and over time, there will be success. The outcome will be an empowered toddler, who respects boundaries and gains self-help and self-regulation skills.
Let’s take an example of a scenario that could easily turn into a power struggle. My youngest daughter was (is) very strong-willed. She wanted what she wanted. For her, getting dressed each day could have easily ended in tears for everyone involved. Understanding that she was expressing a desire to have some control over what she wore created an opportunity for teaching some independence she was hungry for. Creating an environment where she could experience that independence left her feeling empowered and me feeling proud. The following steps will help you to guide your toddler through this process. Keeping in mind, it may be difficult for them to transition into this new routine while it's new. Consistency is your friend!
Set the environment - create a consistent dressing area
Create a photo chart of the dressing process (involve your toddler/take pics of her)
Offer two outfit choices (ONLY) - she may choose one to wear
“Which outfit would you like to wear? You can choose, or I’ll choose for you”
Follow through with your statement
“When you get dressed...we can do…”
Repeat as needed, calmly, patiently, walking them back to their dressing area as needed if they walk away
Once dressed acknowledge their accomplishment with observing statements
“Wow, look at you! You’re all dressed, now we can go do…”
Avoid praising statements such as good job, simply make observations and acknowledge how they must feel and be grateful
“Thank you so much for getting dressed, you look so proud of yourself!”
Practice and repeat this with such consistency that it happens in the same way each time. Your toddler may refuse and argue at first, but remain calm, cool, collected and simply use your clear statements.
By giving your toddler a choice, they feel empowered to make a decision for themself. By only giving two clear choices, you have set yourself up for either answer being acceptable, therefore avoiding a battle.
Over time, these daily routines will become smooth and successful! This method can translate into most daily routines.