Get Your Toddler to Cooperate During Daily Tasks

If your child puts up a fight every time you try to change his diaper or start his bath, we'll help you get him to cooperate during these tough tasks.

Your toddler has a will of his own. He wants to do things when, where, and how he pleases. So if you tell him that it's time to put on his pajamas or to go for a car ride, you should be prepared for a protest. "Kids this age like to call the shots, says Erik A. Fisher, Ph.D., author of The Art of Empowered Parenting. "And that can turn daily chores into constant battles." Fortunately, there are some time-tested ways to ease your child's resistance to these everyday essentials.

Climbing Into the Car Seat

Being restrained, even for a short trip, can feel like torture to a toddler. To avoid meltdowns, give him fair warning before you leave, suggests Bridget Boyd, M.D., a pediatrician at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. You could say, "After your snack, we'll drive to Aunt Sarah's house." Turn the walk to your car into a diversion by marching like soldiers as you chant, "One, two, three, four." Let him get into the seat on his own (you need to secure the straps). Then take out some stowed toys saved just for the car. Talk to your toddler so he doesn't feel lonely in back. Or play some of his favorite tunes, which will help him associate driving with fun rather than boredom.

Brushing Teeth

It happens to almost every parent at some point: As soon as you take out a toothbrush, your child clamps her mouth shut or runs away. After all, it's no fun to have an object poked into your mouth! But you can make the routine seem more agreeable. Pick a kid-size brush with soft bristles (and perhaps a cartoon character she likes), and use a gentle motion that won't irritate her gums, suggests Grace Yum, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. You can give her some control by letting her choose between two brands of toothpaste and decide whether to brush before or after her bath. Set an example by having her watch you polish your own teeth. Ask her to "practice" on a favorite doll (with a dry brush, of course). When it's time for the real thing, let her try brushing first -- as long as she lets you finish up. You can also sing a silly song about dental hygiene ("Brusha, brusha, brusha, it's so fun to brusha!") and see if it motivates her to open wide.

  • Shop kids' toothbrushes.

Diaper Changes

Don't be surprised if your child revolts when you try to put on a fresh diaper. Toddlers don't like having their playtime disrupted or being forced to lie down, even for a minute, says Amy McCready, author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time ... Pick a moment when she's switching to a new activity. Distractions often help: Sing "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes," and ask her to point out the body parts as you go. Let her show off her big-girl skills by unfastening the Velcro or pulling up her pants when you're done. And try switching to the floor instead of a changing table, as many toddlers find it more agreeable.

Sitting Through Dinner

Once your child is too big for a high chair, mealtime often becomes a battle. He'll take a bite, go play, then come back for another bite. That's normal. Toddlers don't grow as fast as babies do, so their appetite tends to decrease. "They're also seeking other exciting things to do besides eat," says Dr. Fisher. Engage your kid by having him help with prep (stirring ingredients, rinsing veggies), including him in your mealtime conversations, and letting him choose which item on his plate he wants to eat first. Be sure the TV is off. And adjust your expectations: Don't assume he'll last at the table more than ten minutes.


If your kid throws a tantrum when you fill up the tub, she could be afraid of the drain or worried about getting soap in her eyes, says McCready. Try to figure out what's bugging her and make adjustments. Place a toy in the tub and have her watch the water go down, so she sees that Froggy won't disappear (and neither will she). Swim goggles will protect her eyes from suds. To make her feel in command, you can give her the washcloth and let her do the scrubbing. Also throw a variety of playthings into the mix. Boats, stacking cups, washable crayons, and waterproof books can turn bathing into a treat rather than a perceived punishment.

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