** I've had a lot of you ask me for specific behavioral strategies and parenting tips to use with Toddlers & Preschoolers. I mean... obviously! They look so cute and innocent at that age, but geez, they can stump us parents sometimes, right?! So, this is post #4 in the series: "Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers"! You can find my previous posts by scrolling through my blog. If you have any specific parenting dilemmas or questions, for kiddos of any age, feel free to post them on our Raising Smart Cookies facebook page. **
Did you know that when your baby is born they literally think that they are the same person as you? It isn’t until about 7 months that your baby will realize that she is a separate person.
This is why separation anxiety tends to peak between 7-12 months. I mean… just imagine what your baby is experiencing. She’s just figured out that you’re a different person and now you’re going to just up and leave??
No, thank you.
Your toddler or preschooler will spend years forging their sense of identity: figuring out who they are (separate from you!), testing limits, making decisions, and exerting their independence.
This is a really healthy part of our child’s development.
I absolutely love toddlers and preschoolers because they are transitioning from completely dependent babies to small, increasingly independent little people. People who can do things for themselves, speak for themselves, and have their own opinions. It is so fun to watch a toddler begin to try to dress herself or a preschooler begin to make his own lunch.
But with all of these adorable little milestones in developing an identity, there are lots of not-so-adorable ones.
Like that stage where our toddlers think it’s a super fun game to stand on the couch and jump, laughing and climbing back up each time we take them down.
Or when they think it’s hilarious to throw all of their dinner on the ground.
Or when they demand to pick out their own clothes, obviously the most hideous, stained outfit in their entire wardrobe. (Or in my case much of the time, completely mismatched shoes.)
As our children begin to exert their independence, we will likely begin to hear a lot of “NO!”, “I DO IT!”, “ME!”, "MINE!".
They may throw a tantrum because they wanted the red bowl (not the yellow!), they’ll want to walk across the street without holding your hand and may dart out of your grasp, and will want to pick out their favorite outfit (likely a souvenir shirt from a vacation or amusement park) to wear for your family’s Christmas pictures.
Don’t worry, all of this is normal. The tantrums over bowl color, the standing on the couch, the darting across busy streets, the throwing of the food, the picking out of ugly clothes and mismatched shoes... It’s all frustrating, exasperating, mind-boggling. And completely normal.
As parents, we want to encourage our children to be independent, yet also need to set limits and boundaries for their safety.
That’s why I recommend constantly giving children choices.
Basically, we can allow our children to make decisions constantly throughout the day so that they are given the opportunity to exert their independence in an appropriate way.
This is one of those parenting tricks that, once you figure out how it works in your home and in your family, you will use it CONSTANTLY. Because it works in nearly every parenting situation.
For the tantrum-thrower: “Do you want your cereal in the yellow bowl OR the red bowl?”
For the street-darter: “Do you want to walk across the street holding my hand OR do you want to ride across the street in the stroller?”
For the fashionista/fashionisto: “Do you want to wear this red shirt today OR this green shirt?”
For the couch climber: “Do you want to sit on the couch OR do you want to jump on the trampoline in the backyard?”
The only rule when you’re giving your kids choices is that you have to be prepared to actually allow them to choose either option that you’ve provided! Do not give them a choice that is, well, not actually a choice that you will allow them to make.
So… if you won’t actually let them wear their green shirt in family pictures, don’t give it as a choice.
Once you get used to giving your kids lots of opportunities to make choices, you’ll probably notice that your house becomes a bit more peaceful. While giving choices and preventing tantrums, you are actually also improving your children’s decision-making abilities which will impact their life forever.
Seems like a pretty easy choice to me.