Taming the Terrible Twos

The Art of Toddler Persuasion

Terrific Twos

Although we talk about parents "socializing their toddlers," the truth is that the whole process of growing up belongs far more to the child than to her parents. You can put a child on a potty, even find ways to encourage her to stay there for a while, but you can't make her do anything. The parents who have the hardest time with toddlers (and with teens, for that matter) are those who get into power struggles and feel they have a moral right to win them. Most of the time, the harder you push, the more your toddler will resist and the more frustrated you'll get.

Instead, if you think of getting your toddler to want to behave the way you'd prefer and of helping him manage it, you'll meet with less resistance and more success. Think "potty mastery" -- a matter of empowering your child by teaching him to recognize when he needs to go and get there himself -- rather than "potty training" -- which is you taking charge of him and his body.

It isn't easy, though, because in the meantime your toddler may seem less reasonable than she did as a 6-month-old. When you went to get her in the morning a year ago, she held up her arms to be lifted and hugged. When you go to get her up now, she's standing and rattling the crib bars. But when you try to lift her, she goes all stiff and heavy; she wants to get out by herself.

There's never just one right way to go, but you could try pretending to be a helicopter that's flying her across the room. When your toddler wants to do something that isn't safe for her to try, making a game out of it is often the best way to get her to abandon the idea. But do find ways for her to handle things herself whenever it's safe. Even doing a little bit today and then a little bit more next week will keep her cheerful and learning.

It can take 10 minutes (or more) to get a toddler dressed. He doesn't want help but he can't do it himself, so he wiggles and grumbles (or kicks and yells!). Find one thing he can do while you do the rest. Let him pick the socks so you can help with his sweater. And if he won't let you put the coat on him, pretending to put it on yourself may turn grumbling into giggling.

If you want your toddler to understand something, you need to show her what you want as well as explain it. ("This way up for the sweater, see?") If you want her to do something, you usually need to do it with her. If you want her to go somewhere, take her there. If you want her to come, go get her. When you need to protect her from traffic, use your body to keep her in safety as well as your voice to tell her to stop.

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