Almost over night, our babies seem to go from placid bundles, who happily go with the flow to refusing to have their nappies changed/clothes put on/ sit in their high chair (or any chair!)/ go in the car seat… ok, you get the picture!
What on earth is happening? First of, saying NO is exactly what should be happening at this stage! There are big changes going on in a toddler’s internal landscape. Toddlers are beginning to realise that they are separate people with their own wants and abilities. With this comes an increased need for autonomy, hence the common “ME DO IT!” and the refusal to follow our agenda.
Secondly, it is a really healthy sign that your toddler has a secure bond with you. This explains why you might have experienced your toddler switching between cooperative 'yes mode' with grandma or at nursery into full on 'no mode' when they are with mum or dad. As frustrating and unfair as this seems, it is a compliment, as it is a sign that your toddler feels safe and secure with you.
Now that we've established that toddler refusal is healthy and part of the toddler job description, it still leaves us with finding ways to make this, often challenging stage, a little easier. How can we support our toddlers in experimenting with and asserting their power, whilst holding onto our own sanity?! This is where our handy TEACH acronym comes in:
Allow plenty of time for dressing, nappy changes and generally getting organised and out of the house. This might mean getting up 20 minutes earlier or starting to get ready to leave half an hour before you need to go out. Toddlers often respond to feelings of pressure with resistance. We’re back to the need for autonomy again! When the pressure lessens, the resistance lessens. Extra time–even five minutes–can reduce that. Sometimes, when our toddlers refuse to cooperate in the first instance, leaving it for five minutes and asking again can help.
Putting yourself in your toddlers position, so that we can really appreciate how unpleasant it might be to be restrained in a car seat; or to have little control over what is happening in their day for that matter. Connecting with our toddler and acknowledging, "I know you don't like it when ...." can let your toddler know that you hear and understand where they are.
Before making a request, giving some warning, e.g 'we are going to brush our teeth in 3 minutes' can help. It can also help to have cues that your toddler comes to associate with some requests. For example, on leaving the house, we put on our shoes and have a hug before getting in the car.
This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often we think we are communicating with our toddlers, when in reality we are talking whilst doing something else. For example, telling our toddler what is about to happen, as we rush around looking for the car keys (guilty!). To truly communicate with our toddler, we need to be at their level, give eye contact and use simple language.
Ok, this is cheating a bit. I have sneaked in an extra C! Offering a choice helps to encourage autonomy. “Do you want to wear your stripy socks or the socks with stars?”, “Do you want to have a new nappy on now or in five minutes?”, “Do you want to climb into the car seat yourself or do you want me to help you?”. It’s all about giving choices, so that your toddler feels less bossed around.
Holistic view –
Looking to the bigger picture can help us to understand what else we can do to ease the transition into toddlerhood. Having a predictable rhythm to the day can create a sense of safety and security for your toddler. Is your toddler adjusting to bigger life changes, such as mum returning to work or a new sibling? Do they need more time to connect with mum or dad? Do they need time to adjust to a slightly different rhythm and if so it is understandable that attempts to assert power might increase during times of change? Making sure that your toddler has plenty of opportunities to develop their autonomy throughout the day through offering choices can help to take the heat out of the times when they are more likely to refuse.
Lastly, I would like to come back to Time again…. Just like when they fitted into the crook of your arm, this too shall pass x
Connect to Thrive offer workshops on Toddler behaviour for parents and carers interested in gentle and evidence based approaches. We are currently running workshops at KnotStressed in Edinburgh. More information can be found here:
We also offer workshops in Fife and Falkirk. Further details to follow on our Facebook page and website.