It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Being Reasonable with a Toddler: Making things Happen

Mid-morning, I lay two and a half year old Zach down to change his diaper. First diaper change of the day at Mary’s house. Good grief! This diaper looks like it’s been changed by a blind man. A one-armed blind man. On a roller coaster. At sea.

Onced I would have been confused, but I’m savvy now. I know what this is. This diaper has been changed on an upright child.

“He just won’t lay down for a change any more,” his parents explain at the end of the day. “It’s always been a struggle, but lately, it’s getting so much worse. So now we change him while he stands up. Sometimes we finish while he’s walking away.”

They are utterly serious.

Once again, I find myself shaking my head in bemusement at the nonsense otherwise sensible people take from their toddlers. He won’t lie down? Okay, then. Diaper changes are not optional; if he won’t lay down voluntarily, you need to lay him down. And see that he stays there.

“But he won’t!” they wail. “We’ve tried and tried to explain, but he just won’t co-operate. We don’t know what to do.”

This is becoming a theme with me, I know, but here it is again: Toddlers are not the most rational of people.

You’d noticed that, huh? But you know what? Sometimes, neither are parents of toddlers. I see this most often when a parent is acting on a chosen principle, a principle which simply does not work (or is not working the way it’s being implemented) and yet which they insist on trying to implement.

Case in point: I will always be rational with my child; I will always have a reason for my interactions with my child.

A laudable principle. In fact, it’s an excellent principle, one which I try to act upon in all my doings. Too often, though, the principle is misapplied, and the result is a parent held hostage to the tiny tyrant who runs their home. And you find yourself trying to put a diaper on a child while he walks away from you.

Being rational with your child is a good thing. But, too often parents, they… parents, [snort] in their delusionary state, actually [chortle, snort] expect that their two-year-old will be (you ready for this?) rational back! Oooooh… heeheeheehehee… Ah. Sorry. Let me just pull myself together a moment.

Okay. I’m better now.

Little Suzie wants to go outside and play in the snow but adamantly refuses to put on her boots. Little Johhny loves to ride in the car, but fights getting into the carseat each and every time. Freddie won’t eat anything green. Boris will only eat peanut butter and macaroni. Despite her evident exhaustion, Sadie refuses to go to bed. Anna will not take her medicine.

All everyday stuff for parents of toddlers.

What’s a parent to do? I’ve gone on before about how one is reasonable with a toddler. Give them your reason, certainly. It is good for them to understand that mommy and daddy are rational. (They have to learn about rationality somehow!) Give it in a short, simple sentence. “You must wear boots because it’s very cold outside.” “You will eat those beans because they will make you strong.” “You are very tired. It is time for bed.”

Having given your reason, do not wait for the child to suddenly morph into a rational creature before your eyes. They weren’t rational five minutes ago; they’re not going to be rational now. In another couple of years, yes. Now? No. These things don’t happen instantaneously.

So you’ve stated your expectation, you’ve given your reason, and your offspring is glaring up at you with the “I don’t wanna and you can’t make me” expression on their face. Can you feel it? Can you feel the urge welling up within you, primal and raw? “You wanna bet I can’t make you?” And of course, being good, 21-Century parents, you fight that urge down.

No, no! Don’t fight it! USE it.

Because sometimes… No! Often, with toddlers, you do have to make them. You don’t have to bully or threaten; you certainly don’t have to shout at, and you never need to hit them; but you often have to calmly, implacably, unyieldingly insist that something happen, and very often that means physically.

“It’s very cold out there. Time to put on your boots.”
“No wanna.”

Pop the child into your lap, and pull on his boots, calmly repeating yourself, ignoring his struggles and anger. “It’s very cold out there. Time to put on your boots.”

For the vegetables? This isn’t one you respond to physically, but it’s definitely the time for implacable. I’ve discussed this here and here, so I won’t say it again, except to encourage you: Win this one now, and you won’t have to fight it every meal for the next ten years.

For diaper changes? You hold them down, saying calmly, “You lay still for a change. You can play when I’m done.” (There are several ways to do this. Here’s one for the flexible among you!)

Point is, there is no point in waiting for the child to respond rationally, if they’ve once stated their intention to be unreasonable. They will learn to be rational, in time, and with your firm, and sometimes physical, guidance.

But in the meantime, you have to see that rationality prevails for everyone. Changing a diaper on a child who is walking is not rational. Letting a child choose to be inadequately nourished is not rational. Getting into a prolonged coax/plead/whine session with a toddler about wearing clothes appropriate to the weather is irrational. When you expect rationality from a child who is pre-rational, you end up joining them in their irrationality.

Be the grown-up! Be rational. Be rational for both of you.

© 2006, Mary P

April 8, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 20 Comments