Embracing Your Independent Toddlerby Elizabeth MacDonald
The term ‘strong-willed’ is being thrown around like gold fish crackers at the playgrounds these days, and it seems as though everyone has one of these ‘hard’ tots at home. I’m serious; every single mom friend I have tells me she has the next world leader under her roof. With that many strong-willed kids, you’d think there was something in the air…
After our first was a sweet little ‘easy’ toddler, I swore my second was from another planet. Then came my third, who still challenges me like no other. That was until my fourth hit that 20ish month age range where the two’s seemed to start early. He is now 26 months and just has an evil villain laugh as he says, “Neveeeeeeeeeeeeer!” and runs away from me. If my fifth is any harder, I’ll need therapy to help me not lose my mind. I kid… kind of.
My point is this, perhaps everyone’s ‘strong-willed’ child is not truly strong-willed, but instead, is a normal toddler seeking the independence needed to test boundaries and build the foundation of his (or her) own self-confidence. Yes, there are some little ones who are just beyond the norm, and there are others (like my first) who are just easy-going and want to please the world. But, the largest chunk of toddlers are developmentally pushing all those buttons and taking years from our lives because they need to learn and grow and figure out their own selves.
The problem is that when a toddler is simply labeled ‘strong-willed,’ most parents tend to just laugh things off and let this child run the course doing whatever to avoid the confrontations and tantrums. Here’s the deal though, you can find a balance. You can pick your battles while embracing your toddler’s fierce independence, and you can feel like parent-of-the-year as you continue to guide him with love and strong boundaries.
I’ve spent some time evaluating myself and watching other parents handle their toddlers. I’ve spoken with parents and laughed so hard that I cried over the stories about toddler nakedness, breakdowns in aisle 5, curse words, food selections, and stand-offs. Every parent could relate, though. I wondered if our kids were normal and we (as parents) had just lost our wisdom over time? Research shows that spanking is a crapshoot; over coddling creates co-dependence, and nothing we do is ever actually right. After 5 kids, I’m throwing in the towel on all of this. I’m done worrying about research and the like. Instead, I’m just embracing my toddlers for who they are right now.
How to Embrace Your Toddler’s Independence
Ground Rules are ALWAYS Important
You are the adult. You get to make the ground rules. These should always be in place when safety is an issue. For example, walking in a parking lot, or across the street is a non-negotiable hand-holding act. Hold hands or be carried. Run away, and he will be picked up and removed from fun (or will return to the car until ready to walk safely). Biting, hitting, spitting, and hurting others is also a no-go. Don’t get caught up in anything other than safety and common sense rules though – it’ll get exhausting.
Choices are Key
If you provide tempting choices, a toddler has a higher chance of feeling ‘in charge’ and meeting your desires. However, this may only work 30% of the time. Contemplate your own choices here. Will your day be ruined by a ridiculous outfit selection? No.
Let Them Try
Scrapped knees and bruised egos are ok. You can be close enough to catch them before they fall/drown/get hurt/start a fire/whatever, but still far enough away to give them freedom to try. Let him cut the veggies. Let her explore outside. Let him learn by doing.
Let Go of Perfection
Perfection is boring, let your kid’s personality shine. As long as your child is learning (by example) kindness, safety, and respect, you are winning.
Happiness is Amazing, but Not Always Possible
If everyone is happy, you deserve a cookie. That’s pretty rare around here… In between my gray hairs popping up, we all silently laugh and hold back tears as our current toddler tries to push every boundary drawn.
Remember that this stage is important, and you should not try to mold your child into the vision you had. Instead, turn on the music, take pictures, and document the hell out of this stage. Nothing will make better senior yearbook photo spreads than these moments.