How to get a toddler to do something they don't want to do (but need to)
A toddler's determination to stick to their guns is frankly awe-inspiring.
It has all come down to a battle of wills and you’re beginning to realise that you are definitely the weaker willed opponent in this stand-off.
Defeat has never felt so bitter, especially as you don’t really care about the outcome – this confrontation is over something that HAS to be done, rather than something you particularly want to do.
But you can’t move on until this impasse is broken and your toddler finally brushes their teeth/puts on their shoes/agrees to wear pants as they were designed to be worn, rather than on their head, before you go to the shops.
Getting a toddler to do something they don't want to do (but need to), would test the patience of a saint. But rather than repeatedly butting heads, it can help to have a large and varied arsenal of strategies to draw on. Here are the tactics other parents employ to persuade their toddlers to get a chore done without a fuss:
Play ‘Would You Rather’
Five parents told me that this method works with their toddlers.
“Don’t make it your way or the highway - give them an A, B and even a C option,” says writer Nicky Collinson. “Then they feel like they have a wee say in things.”
The important thing, according to Lauren Virdi, is that you make sure all of the choices are acceptable to you. For example, instead of asking her three-year-old to tidy up, Lauren says: “Would you like to tidy up alone, or should I help?” Or: “Would you like music whilst you tidy up or would you rather tidy without music?”
“This way I’m not asking her to tidy up, so she doesn’t think about it. Just does it without fuss,” explains the mum-of-three and founder of Aromatikos.
Find out why they’re saying ‘no’
Now this can be easier said than done - especially as sometimes a toddler won’t know why they’re feeling a certain way, but it can help just to ask whether they’re feeling angry/anxious/frustrated/annoyed. Then acknowledge how they’re feeling and explain that you don’t always want to brush your teeth either, but it is important that we do it, even when we don’t feel like it. That way they’ll feel like you’re on their side rather than the enemy.
Turn the chore into a game
“Making something a game is a winner for me,” says Karen Sidell, mum-of-two and founder of It’s Playtime Tots. “Getting them to help me tidy up, we play a game I created.
“We each have baskets or a toy trolley, have a set item we need to collect then pop the timer on for two minutes. My oldest actually requests to play it now.”
Initially this takes a bit more effort than simply asking your child to do something - but if it avoids an argument in the long run it will turn out to be the easier and quicker option.
Don’t expect instant results
Giving kids a set time period in which to do a task rather than expecting them to follow your instructions instantly, can make a big difference, says Kirsty Ketley, mum-of-two and founder of Auntie K’s childcare.
“Use a timer - we use our Alexa speaker,” she says. “So for instance, when we've wanted the TV off, or the kids to get dressed, put on shoes, we have set a five minute timer on Alexa and without fail the kids have gone and done what it is we have wanted them to.”
Play to their sense of pride
“Tell them they’re too small to manage it,” advises Flic Everett, editor and mum-of-one. “Works every time!” Kirsty also recommends this approach.
When Jinny Chivers faced a struggle to get her daughter to eat vegetables, she found a surprising aid on YouTube.
“My daughter is a very fussy eater, especially with vegetables,” explains the mum-of-two and founder of Cooking With Jinny. “I discovered Copy Kids on YouTube - three minute videos of children eating a particular vegetable. I can put her in front of that and she will eat a plate full of broccoli or carrots. Weird, but it has definitely helped.”
For more fussy eating advice, check out this previous issue:
Don’t underestimate the power of creating a routine and sticking to it. Toddlers don't like having request sprung on them - but if you stick to a routine they’ll know what's expected and when.
Caroline Allen, journalist and mum-of-one, says when it comes to bedtime, “the single only thing that works for me is repetition. Even if we’re on holiday I sing him the same song and put him to sleep in the same way.”
Can You Help With A Little Thing?
An upcoming issue of The Little Things will focus on how to help an overexcited child calm down. The build up to exciting events such as Christmas or birthdays can prove too much for children and heightened emotions may cause them to act up. Have you found any little ways to get through to an overexcited child and prevent an emotional outburst? If so, please do let me know by replying to this email. Your advice could help make life easier for other mums and dads.
“Looking back, maybe I shouldn’t have used the phrase when this is over quite so often when talking about the pandemic with my kids.” Nicole Chung grapples with how to talk to kids about the continuing pandemic when there is no way of knowing when it will come to an end for Time magazine.
If your family has been battling one of the mega colds going around, you may find this previous issue of The Little Things helpful:
In the market for a new cot? I asked 10 parents with great taste to share their recommendations for The Strategist UK’s round up of The Best Cots for Babies, According to Stylish Parents.
I’m Ellen Wallwork, a sleep-deprived mum-of-one, incessant worrier and freelance journalist. I’ve been writing about parenting for more years than I care to remember and previously launched the Parents section on HuffPost UK. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, (but be warned, I’m not a prolific poster).
If you enjoyed this newsletter and perhaps learnt something new, please do forward it to your friends or give it a shout out on social media. You could also buy me a virtual coffee through ko-fi, here. (Caffeinated please, did I mention I'm tired?)
Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe here.
Disclaimer: This newsletter does not provide medical advice and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. The use of any information contained in this newsletter is solely at your own risk.