I am immensely proud of my 3 year old daughter, L. She is smart and funny and resourceful. She is also stubborn, opinionated and spirited. When she makes up her mind it is near impossible to change it. She doesn’t like to be corrected. She takes things to heart and is easily hurt.
It isn’t always easy to manage her.
Over the years we’ve tried sticker charts, rewards, telling her off, ‘consequences’ for bad behaviour… it helped a bit, but I felt frustrated as sometimes she didn’t seem to care about either getting in to trouble or getting a reward.
I really liked the idea of using positive parenting skills, but didn’t really think they would work for L. I thought she was too stubborn.
I’ve written before about how much the books ‘The Whole Brain Child‘ and ‘How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen‘ have helped me. They contain really useful parenting tips for toddlers and have hugely improved both my relationship with L and her behaviour.
I want to share some of the parenting advice for toddlers that I have gleaned from these books and show how it’s worked with L, so hopefully you can use it with your own children!
Change your attitude
Sometimes I just want L to do as she’s told, because I’m her parent and it’s up to me. I find it very frustrating when she doesn’t share this viewpoint.
This is certainly the traditional view of parenting – your child obeys simply because you are the parent and they are the child. The issue with this is how you make them obey if they don’t want to – do you force them? Reward them? Punish them?
I’m not proud to say that I have tried all of these.
I have forcibly dressed L when she refused to get her clothes on. The issue with this is it did not make her any more willing to comply when she next needed to get dressed and it set us up for a miserable morning of fighting one another. It’s also not really a lesson I want to teach my daughter – if you don’t want to do something then it’s OK for someone bigger and stronger to make you.
I have rewarded her for good behaviour, with stickers, sticker charts, sweets… it worked initially but taught her that the point of behaving well was to get a reward. Why bother if no treat was on offer?
I have punished her for bad behaviour – taking away her kindle fire or not allowing her to watch TV. These upset and angered her and did produce a temporary change in behaviour, but it was short-lived. There was a temptation to escalate threats if she didn’t do as I wanted and we were both upset by fighting one another.
The key to positive parenting skills is to change this whole attitude – it’s not about you overcoming your child’s will, it’s about you and your child working together.
I want L to make good decisions, not because she is afraid of being punished or expecting a reward, but because she wants to do the right thing. She will need this as she gets older and more independent and laying the foundation for good choices will hopefully make it easier for her to do the right thing in the future.
I had to let go of my belief that she had to obey me ‘just because’ and start to consider her as an individual, with feelings and thoughts and opinions that were as valid as mine.
It’s not easy and I am not perfect at it, sometimes we still end up in a battle of wills, but I can honestly say that since following the parenting advice for toddlers in the books discussed above, our family is much happier and L’s behaviour is so much better than when I was trying to make her do as I wanted.
Problem solving instead of punishing
This is a strategy that we use all the time when we encounter an issue. For example, L started getting up in the middle of the night and demanding that my husband or I come and sit with her. Initially it was just once a night but it increased, she wanted us to stay longer, she was up more and more often. It was driving me crazy.
We have worked hard to get L sleeping well and when this suddenly stopped it was so frustrating. I was tired and not in the mood for nonsense and nothing seemed to help – being empathetic, soothing her, getting angry, bargaining with her, ignoring her… it made no difference. She kept saying that she was lonely and didn’t want to sleep by herself.
I decided to use a strategy from ‘how to talk so little kids will listen‘ – I sat down and wrote ‘Problem: L doesn’t like to sleep alone’ at the top of a bit of paper. She came over and asked what I was doing and I read it to her and then told her that we needed to think of solutions.
I started writing ideas down, reading them aloud as I did: ‘L could have a night-light’, ‘L could have the pet hamster in her room’, ‘L, mummy and daddy could sleep with their bedroom doors open’.
L started giving me her own suggestions and I wrote them all down, no matter how unlikely. They included ‘L could sleep with mummy and daddy’, ‘L could have sweeties in her room to eat when she wakes up’, ‘L could sleep with her little brother’, ‘L could sleep with a special rainbow teddy’.
We went through the list and each of us crossed out options that weren’t acceptable to us for whatever reason. We were left with five options and L picked sleeping with a special rainbow teddy as her favourite.
The next day we went out and L chose a rainbow teddy from the bear factory. She chose clothes and a strawberry scent for it and we added a personalised voice-box that says ‘good night L, sweet dreams’. She named it Sparkle.
Sparkle has slept with L every night since we got her and she tells me that when she wakes up she squeezes Sparkle’s hand and knows she isn’t alone so she goes back to sleep. She (usually) doesn’t disturb us in the night anymore.
L already had lots of special teddies and I had tried choosing one and telling a story about how it kept her safe at night. It didn’t help. The difference with Sparkle is clear – sleeping with a special rainbow teddy was L’s idea, she came up with it, she chose it as her favourite solution and she chose the teddy.
Essentially, L solved her sleep problem herself.
We have used this technique for all sorts of things and L loves it. The best thing about it is that if something doesn’t work, we go back and think up more solutions. I don’t get annoyed as it’s not me getting L to do as she’s told, it’s us working together to solve an issue.
It’s also teaching her how to approach problems in the future – coming up with solutions, trying them out and changing them if needed is a much better strategy than L thinking that she can punish, force or bribe people in to doing what she wants!
Setting limits but letting your child take the lead
There are some things that are not negotiable, they just need done. Getting dressed for nursery is an obvious example. L hates this. She would happily stay in her pyjamas all day and will constantly try to put off getting dressed ‘after breakfast, once my hair’s done, once I’m downstairs’. It sometimes ended in us forcing clothes on her whilst she screamed and fought.
We all hated it and it was horrible starting our day with a battle, but she needed to be dressed in a timely manner so we could get to work and nursery on time.
I was fed up of the battles, so I sat down and drew a chart.
It’s not exactly artistic, but it shows the steps that are needed in L’s morning routine. I stuck it on her bedroom door and waited. When we went up to bed she asked what it was. I explained that it showed what she needed to do each morning to get ready for nursery and we talked through the different pictures.
The next morning she woke up and we asked her to get dressed. She started her usual ‘I want to go downstairs first, I’ll get dressed after breakfast’. I asked her to go and look at her chart and tell me what was next. She came running back and said ‘getting dressed’. Then she started putting her clothes on. She ran back to check the next step and reported that it was going downstairs.
That chart has been on L’s door for quite a while now and she still loves to check it. She knows the steps by heart but she still runs up and down to see what’s next. She likes being the person to read the chart and report what it says. She doesn’t feel as though we are giving her orders, instead she is telling us what is to be done and then she does it.
This chart was a vain hope. I didn’t actually think it would work, but it has. It allows me to set the limits of what she needs to do, but her to feel in control of following them.
You may also notice that the chart only says ‘Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday’ at the top. Saturdays and Sundays we relax the routine and she can choose at what point in the morning she gets dressed. I think this has also helped as L knows there are days when she can have flexibility and there are days she can’t, when we have a time limit to keep to.
It helps her to see that rules are there for a reason, not just arbitrarily enforced because we’re the parents and we can.
Making things your child doesn’t want to do fun
Yesterday we were at the shops. It had been a long day and we were all tired and a bit grumpy. As we were leaving L said she was tired and asked to be carried to the car. I explained that we couldn’t carry her as we had all the shopping to carry, plus her brother’s pram to push.
She started crying and screaming, sitting down on the floor. She very rarely bothers to tantrum now as we have a firm rule that we never give in to tantrums, so she knows there is little point to them. However, she was overtired and emotional and not being carried was obviously the final straw for her.
She woke her sleeping baby brother up, she screamed, she refused to walk, she stood wailing in the middle of the floor whilst shoppers walked around her. It was embarrassing and irritating.
I could have dragged her out. I could have walked off and left her screaming. I could have shouted at her or threatened to take away a toy. All were tempting, I was tired too and it had been a long day.
Instead, I bent down and said ‘it’s really annoying when you want carried and we can’t do it, isn’t it? You feel really upset and annoyed. I wish I could carry you. Even better I wish that we could fly out of the shop. We could just flap our arms and fly’. She stopped crying and looked at me. I asked her if she wanted to fly to the car, hop like a bunny or jump like a kangaroo.
She chose fly. We flapped our arms all the way to the car, L laughing the whole way. We climbed in and she said sorry for screaming in the shop.
It took a bit more effort to think of something fun to help encourage her to cooperate than shouting would have, and I was a bit embarrassed flapping across the car-park. It was worth it though as we were both laughing by the time we got to the car and our trip ended on a high, rather than a low.
If it doesn’t change your life, it will at least change your relationship with your kids
L is not perfect and I am by absolutely no means a perfect parent. I get angry and frustrated and impatient and sometimes all the positive parenting skills I’ve learned are forgotten and I lose my temper.
Most of the time though, I make an effort to use a more positive approach and it has had way more effect than shouting or threatening did. I’ve been amazed by how much less defiant L is when I treat her with respect and understanding, rather than locking horns to see who will give in first.
I am teaching L how to handle disagreements, not by shouting loudest, but by problem solving and compromising. I hope that these skills will stand her in good stead in the future.
Best of all, I see her using these skills with her baby brother.
One of my loveliest moments as a mum was hearing L getting increasingly annoyed at her brother for knocking down the tower she was trying to build. I came through from the kitchen expecting to have to intervene, and instead heard her say ‘it’s not OK to knock my tower down, you’re really annoying me. Why don’t I build you a tower to knock down on the floor and I’ll build my tower on the table’.
J had no idea what she was telling him, but she divided her time between building towers on the floor for him to knock over and building her own tower. They were both happy and I felt good seeing her treat her little brother with respect.
I hope that you’ve found these parenting tips for toddlers helpful and that they help you to reduce conflict and improve not only your child’s behaviour, but your relationship with them. I’d love to know your thoughts on positive parenting, leave me a comment below and let me know your opinion!