Let me paint you a picture. For some of you, this will be all too familiar. For others, you’ll have no idea, and still others will recognise the dilemma, but have different details.
It’s Monday morning, and you’re meeting your friend at the park. It’s a beautiful day; sunny, but not too warm. You know the park will be quiet enough not to lose your two year old, but with your friends daughter there, they will have plenty of fun playing.
You go into our daughters bedroom and get out her clothes. Park clothes. An old tshirt and shorts that you don’t mind if they get too dirty.
You call your daughter to you to get dressed, and she happily comes until she sees the outfit you have picked out.
It is not ‘pretty’ enough for her. She wants to wear a dress.
‘You can’t wear a dress,’ you tell her patiently. ‘It will get dirty.’
She’s not happy with the answer.
In fact, she is very unhappy with the answer. She kicks and screams and absolutely refuses to let you dress her.
You send her to her room for timeout, and she runs down the hall screaming all the way, and then, once she reaches the confines of her bedroom, the screams stop. This is typical. She usually calms down.
You sit on the couch waiting for her to come out, but she doesn’t come. Wondering what she is doing, you walk down to the room and discover that she has removed every item of clothing from her cupboard on to her floor, and is holding her best dress in her hands. ‘Wear this one,’ she says.
You stare brokenly at the mess, and foresee a huge clean up job ahead of you; you’re so deflated you have no more fight in you, and so you give in. The dress goes on and you leave the house, putting off the clean-up till you come home.
You don’t feel guilty; instead you’re just relieved the screaming is over, and you tell yourself you did good. You have to pick your battles, and this was one you didn’t want to pick….
I’m a huge fan of wise parenting. We can’t fight our children over everything, all day every day. That would be exhausting for all of us. I believe very strongly in the idea of ‘pick your battles.’
It just worries me sometimes, how that phrase is used.
The tiny humans are incredibly clever. They learn very quickly our strengths and our weaknesses. They know when we’re distracted, and at what point we will lose it if we have to repeat ourselves again. They know, better than we know, exactly how far we can be pushed.
So they know when you mean business.
The question is, do you?
If we want our children to have any level of respect for us, or to listen when we are spoken to, then we need to be prepared to fight every battle we pick. And by that, I mean that we need to realise that every time you tell your child to do something, you have picked your battle.
If you tell your child to do something, you need to follow through. You can’t get halfway through a tantrum, and then give in because you’re choosing not to fight That’s too late. The minute they said no, the battle lines were drawn and you were at war. The person who wins is the one who gives in first, and if that’s you, then that gives them the power. That shows them exactly how far they need to push you next time. How many no’s need to be said, how many screams need to be screamed, and how many tears need to be shed.
Most toddlers don’t take a blind risk in saying no; they take a calculated one based on past experience and knowing exactly where your weakness is.
So what do you do?
One of two things:
1. Change your wording. If you don’t want to fight over clothes, then don’t say, ‘this is what we are wearing today.’ Let them choose from a selection, or, if you want, from whatever. Don’t give them the chance to disobey
2. Remove all choices. This will be hard, and involves a few days of absolute craziness, but it will make life easier in the future. Check out this post to see what I’m talking about.
3. Don’t back down. If you find yourself in a battle, whatever you do, don’t let them win. For the sake of all of you, you need to insist that your directives are carried through. This is not just you and your toddler; this is war, and you can’t afford to surrender.
How do you go about picking your battles?