QUESTION: My two-year-old daughter is fighting me about everything! For example, she wants one juice, then cries after she gets it because she now wants milk. She’ll carry on forever about wanting milk when she asked for juice, and the juice is still sitting on the table untouched. I just want to say, “Here, have the milk, just stop screaming!” but I don’t want to give into her fits. How do I deal with this kid?
Put yourself in your daughter’s shoes for a minute–you have ideas that your body isn’t ready to completely do; you have power over some things, but not over others; you have figured out, finally, that you are a separate person from this mommy, but you still have to rely on her for so many things! You sound like you understand things, but sometimes get your ideas and words mixed up (Wait, that is purple? I think I meant yellow). You make confident choices but then regret them because you have realized that choosing one thing means foregoing the other (Why does choosing one milk mean I can’t have the other?).
Here is how I approach this stage. You will have brace yourself to let your daughter meltdown if need be, but try to keep your own sanity and boundaries by detaching not from your child, but from the drama. Seek to empower. Get her a little pitcher so she can pour herself. Have a towel handy so that spills (which will be littler from a little pitcher) can be easily wiped. Sometimes wipe it without complaint, maybe with just a simple, “Oh, spills need to be cleaned up.” Sometimes hand her the towel and say, “Here, you can do it.” Never react as though spilling is a bad thing.
I offer limited choices. Show your daughter both choices, and maybe ask once or twice if she is sure. On days where she’s having a very hard time making decisions, let her have a little of both. On other days, pour her a little and then tell her as soon as that is done she may have the other, or more of that. You can reflect her feelings if she gets upset. “Yes, it’s hard to miss out on the thing you didn’t choose. As soon as you finish the juice, you may have some cow’s milk.”
Let her own her feelings. Don’t try to make her happy all the time, and don’t consider her frustration a sign of you or her having failed. Negative feelings just are. The more you fear them and try to make them go away, the more likely she is to set up camp there.
It’s okay to change your mind, but you don’t want to give in. Giving in means we allow our children’s big feelings to wear us down until we just give them what they want. This teaches them that this poor behavior is the way to get what they want. Instead, I will tell my children, “I am open to considering other options and your wishes, but I insist that you speak respectfully to me – and the choice to change or not is mine. Poor behavior does not get you what you want in our home.” So, if my daughter melts down I might tell her, “I will get you the apple. How can you ask me in a nicer way?” Or, “I see that this is more important to you than I realized. I will let you have the juice. Can you ask me in a way that shows your respect me?”
Make it safe to explore choices. I speak as one who has always had a hard time making choices. I only learned last year that it’s actually part of my learning style, my temperament, and my personality. I felt I was doomed in this area. But now, the safer I feel to change my mind and explore my options, the more confident I have become at making decisions. There are also times where I push the envelope and want to know why I must choose only one or the other.
1, 2, 3 Transition.
I can’t get my 2 1/2-year-old to let me change his diaper without a huge battle, especially if he’s busy playing. What can I do?
You need to transition your son from one activity to another. This is the age, with Liam, where I developed this tool. There are some things that just need to be done. Depending on the diaper, diaper changes can be one of them. Buckling the car seat (or getting in the car seat) is another. Getting dressed, putting on shoes, etc. I introduced the tool by explaining the guidelines to my child. “You will have until the count of three to do X however you want. If you haven’t done it by the time I get to three, then I will get to do it my way.” For example, with diaper changes, while I counted slowly he could run around and lay down wherever he wanted and I would change him there. If he hadn’t laid down by the time I got to three, I’d say, “Okay, I’m coming to help you if you don’t do it right now,” and I would chase him playfully, grab him up, and lay him down for a change. He didn’t have to like it, but it was getting done. And I would remind him that, next time, he could decide where his diaper was changed if he did it fast enough. I think it took Liam only once or twice to figure out he enjoyed it much more when he was in control of as much as he could be.
This is a tough age, but it doesn’t have to get to you. I hope some of this helps.