Ending Toddler/Preschooler Battles in 3 Easy Steps

Anyone with a child one year and up knows what it means to have bedtime battles…and daytime battles too! They call it the “terrible twos” but if you ask me it starts at a year old when they can walk and talk and doesn’t end until they’re 4, 5 or sometimes never! As parents, we wish so hard for our babies to start walking and talking, and then when they do we wish they would sit and be quiet. We’re just never happy, are we?!

Our jobs as parents is to teach our kids how to be independent. Almost everything we teach them has to do with independence! Think about it. We teach them to hold their own toys, hold their bottle/cup, hold their own forks and spoons, feed themselves, roll, sit up, crawl, walk, climb, talk, get dressed, use the potty, write/draw, and of course sleep. We are supposed to teach our kids how to do things and think for themselves, yet as soon as they do those things we are often shocked and annoyed. “Tommy, why won’t you just listen to me and put that shirt on?!” Well, that’s because you taught him how to have an opinion and how to get dressed himself. Congrats, mom, because that’s what you were supposed to do!

That being said, I know it’s frustrating though to have these little independent thinkers when we need to hurry up and leave in the mornings. Believe me, with four kids, I REALLY understand! So what do we do with these newfound independence seekers? I have 3 tips that will help you better manage your day and night battles.

1) Provide 2-3 choices. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. Would you appreciate being told what to do, how to act, and what to wear every second of the day? Of course not, and neither do our children. We all prefer choices and options where we can make up our own minds. Whenever you can, find two or three acceptable choices that you can give your child so you can avoid a battle.

* Instead of saying, “Abby, put this purple shirt on”, try saying “Abby, would you like to wear your purple shirt or your pink one?” Now instead of Abby wanting to scream no and run off, she’s more willing to stay and listen, because you’re offering her a choice.

2) Give 5 minute warnings. Giving a 5 minute warning that a change is coming is helpful for kids in this age group. If they’re in the middle of doing something, it gives them an opportunity to finish up what they’re doing, as well as giving them a warning of what’s to come (ie they have to leave somewhere, get a bath, go eat dinner, go to bed, etc). Again, it’s no different for us as adults. I don’t know about you, but I like to finish things I’m in the middle of before moving onto something different.

You might thinking that playing blocks or dolls is not as important as your finishing your work, food, cup of coffee or wine, cooking, cleaning, or using the bathroom, but I assure you it is to your toddler or preschooler! Now I’m not saying that your child will easily and quickly get up and do what you want them to do when that 5 minutes is up, but at least you gave them a warning beforehand which really does help. Make sure though that it’s just one warning and that’s it. Any more than that and you’ll never get any cooperation, as your kid will assume one warning means they’ll always get at least two or three.

3) Set enforceable rules and then follow-through. I saved the best for last. This one is trickiest for you as a parent to do, but it works quite well. We’re often demanding and threatening to do things when our kids won’t listen, yet those things rarely work. Why is that? Why won’t they just listen to us? Well, it’s usually because we’re not consistent with our follow-through. If you say it’s bedtime, but then give in to multiple demands like giving extra water or just one more hug, then you’re doing a disservice to both you and your child. Without follow-through, our requests mean nothing. What motivation does your child have to do as you’ve asked, when they can ignore the first request and get you to keep giving in?

* Instead of saying “Please lie down in your bed so I can turn off the light”, try saying “I’m leaving the room in 5 seconds. Would you like to be in bed already before I shut the light off or will you get in bed after I’ve left?” See the difference here? The first one is nice sounding but it’s still a demand that kids like to disagree with. When you turn the statement around to say exactly what’s going to happen (ie setting the expectation and scene), followed by giving a choice (both which are acceptable), you’ve closed the door for too much push back or resistance.

Now when 5 seconds are up, you would be turning off the light and leaving the room, regardless of whether or not they’re in their bed. You will follow-through on the things that you have control over (ie the enforceable rules), and they will do what they have control over. It’s up to your child to decide if your tucking them in first is important enough to them. For most kids, the answer is definitely yes, though it might take them a time or two of tucking themselves into bed after you’ve gone for them to realize it!

As you can see, these things are not rocket science but they do take time and consistency – on YOUR part! We’re always looking to change our kids. What do I need to do in order to make my kid listen? But really we should be asking, what do I need to do in order to stop battling my kid? It really starts and ends with us as a parent. We set the rules and the expectations but then we do a poor job at following-through with rewards and/or consequences. So we’re sending a pretty unclear message to our kids as to what we really want and when. If we clean up our message, presentation, and delivery system, we will find happier (yes, they actually prefer to know what we want vs having to try to read our minds) children who are listening to us without us having to threaten, nag, or even raise our voices. So go ahead and it give it a try today, because it really works well! And then come back and post here and let me know if it worked for you and your child!

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*If you liked what you read, and are located in the Bethlehem, PA (USA) area, you should definitely check out my new parenting class starting this May! It’s the “Love & Logic Early Childhood Parenting Made Fun™” curriculum, and it’s for parents of children aged 6 months to 6 years old. Love & Logic has been around for more than 40 years, so they know what works and what doesn’t. I can tell you that I’ve been using this with my own children recently, and it works great (as long as I do my part)! If you want to learn more about what will be covered in the class, you can check out the Parenting Page. At the bottom of that page you can click on Register or you can click HERE to register now. Hurry though because class size is limited!

**As always, I offer free 15min phone assessments if you’d like to talk about your child, teen, or adult sleep issues. I’d love to better understand your unique sleep situation! Not sure why it is I do and what services I offer? No problem, have a peek over on the Services page to find out!

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