Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Toddlers are egocentric – that is, they typically see the world only from their point of view. They expect to get what they want, and frequently push their parents to the limits.
For instance, you ask your two-year-old to stop painting because it’s time for dinner, but she wants to continue with the activity. When you insist, she explodes with rage.
Or perhaps she wants another sweet, but you tell her that she has had enough. Instead of screaming, she sobs gently – but continuously – hoping you’ll give her what she wants.
Then at bedtime, she wants you to read her another story. Although you tell her that she should go to sleep, she stares at you with her big, sad eyes and begs: “Just once more, pleeease?”
Here are suggestions for dealing with your toddler’s endless attempts to push the limits:
1. STAY CALM
Remind yourself that she challenges the boundaries you’ve set because that’s what she wants to happen – she doesn’t do this because she’s naughty. So, keep calm and don’t let her repeated requests make you angry. Almost certainly, your tot will try to wear you down by continuing to repeat her demands, but do your best to control your frustration.
2. STAND YOUR GROUND
Once you’ve told her “no”, stick to your decision, whether she has a tantrum that makes your blood boil or pathetically begs you for more, tugging at your heartstrings. It’s in her best interest to have a parent who’s true to her word. Repeat your refusal to give in to her, no matter how challenging her behaviour becomes for you. She’ll stop eventually once she realises you mean what you say.
3. KEEP CONTROL
If you tell your two-year-old “no” and then change your mind when she has an outburst, she’ll quickly learn you really mean: “No, unless you try to get me to change my mind.” This alters the balance in your relationship, placing her in charge rather than you. In the long run, this will only create more tension at home.
4. GIVE ADVANCE WARNING
You can help your child manage limits by alerting her that the activity is coming to an end. Rather than just saying “No more now”, tell him she’ll have to stop what she’s doing in five minutes. Then give him a one-minute warning. He may still ask for more anyway when the time to stop arrives, but at least you’ve prepared him.
5. PRAISE HER GOOD BEHAVIOUR
There will be times when your tot does exactly what you ask and stops as requested. Use these opportunities to reinforce her behaviour. Give her a big cuddle and lots of praise. Tell her how pleased you are that she did what you asked, and explain this means you can both get on with the rest of the day’s activities. Your positive reaction makes it more likely she’ll cooperate again the next time.
6. BE FLEXIBLE
There’s no harm in giving in to her “once more” request occasionally, perhaps because she has been so well behaved all day or because she seems to be enjoying herself so much. This is a special treat that she’ll thoroughly enjoy, and your action also helps her understand flexibility. But don’t do this too often or she’ll begin to expect you to give in every time.