Top 10 Ways to Avoid Conflict with a Toddler

I have a wonderful strong willed daughter. She has a fierce sense of justice, strong opinions that she is not afraid to voice, and a kind streak that is a mile wide. Unfortunately, she is not an adult, which means that, well, sometimes her decisions are not as fully informed as one might like. With that in mind, I’d like to offer 10 ways to avoid conflict with your toddler.

10. When offering choices, only offer 2 options that are acceptable to you. Instead of “Do you want to eat brussel sprouts?” say “Do you want to eat brussels sprouts with butter or plain?”

9. As long as the clothes will not cause harm, give up on controlling them. Crocs give my daughter blisters, so I don’t buy them any more. On a cold day, I’m going to make sure she wears long sleeves – but to avoid conflict, I simply hide all the summer clothes so even if she pulls out every shirt, they’ll all work for me. If she wants to wear a hoodie with a tutu, or pants under a skirt, or mismatched shoes, fine, whatever!

8. Stand your ground. Every time you set a boundary and stand your ground, your precious one has a job: to find out if s/he can break the boundary. That’s literally her job! If you give in after 5 hours of this, she will know exactly what is necessary to break the boundary. Expect testing of limits, which leads me to…

7. Pick your battles carefully. Your toddler’s job is to establish independence. Make sure that the rules you set are essential and that you are willing to die on that hill. If it’s not that important, then let it go. He wants to watch the same episode of Dora the Explorer every day for 6 months? Fine. She wants to stay in the bathtub even though the water is, at best, tepid? Fine.

6. Be aware of your own child’s abilities. I know that a toddler can’t sit at a table for longer than 15 minutes, so I don’t try to force that behavior. If your toddler is consistently failing an expectation, spend some time making sure that expectation is developmentally appropriate. Ask your pediatrician or child’s daycare teacher for more information.

5. Remove temptation. We child proof our homes once babies start moving – be sure to stay up to date with the child proofing! Anchor bookshelves to the wall. Lock cabinets with breakable objects. If you don’t want the toddler touching an object then keep it out of reach.

4. Tell, don’t ask. If something is nonnegotiable, then don’t present it as a question or a choice. It’s SO easy to fall into this trap, because of good manners. When at a coffee shop with an adult, we say things like, “Can we sit in a booth instead of a table?” Or at the mall we say, “Do you mind if I just run by the tea store really quickly?” And then, when at the mall with our toddler, our habit cues us to say, “Mommy needs to run by the tea store, OK?” This invites the toddler to express her opinion, which is likely going to be “NO!” Remember to tell: “We are going to the tea store now.”

3. Play physical games with your toddler. I know we’re all tired, but physical connection is hugely important to small kids, and physical games, including tickle fights, relieve stress and bring emotional connection, which can reduce a toddler’s desire to resist. Any kind of silly game that brings laughter and physical motion is good.

2. Build your schedule on toddler time. On a good day, I have at least 30 minutes of completely free time with my toddler to play and cuddle and read books. On a bad day (oversleeping, food spills, injury, got up on the wrong side of the bed, etc.), I still have time to get her to school on time. Knowing that I have more than enough time relaxes me, which in turn relaxes her, because she knows that if she needs a cuddle, I’m not going to be rushing through it. Toddlers live at a different pace than us: create space for them.

1. Stop fighting. In case of emergency, you can always use your physical strength to enforce a rule (IE, fire, crossing a street, falling off furniture). If it’s not a true emergency, just walk away. It does take two to fight!

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