The art of not asking toddlers open-ended questions
Several weeks ago, my wife and I were able to help our daughter when she was delivering her new baby boy. I took care of our 3-year-old granddaughter when my daughter went into labor. My wife attended the birth. On January 31st, Simon, at over 9 pounds and 23 inches came into the world—no doubt, at that size, a future linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks!
I got to spend a lot of time with my 3-year-old granddaughter and observe her family’s interactions with her. Toddlers are the coolest creatures around. They are curious about everything— “Grandpa, why can’t I go to the hospital to be with mommy when she has baby Simon?” “Why does the grass grow? “They want to understand everything. They see humor everywhere. They’re delightful. Except when they’re not.
But as most parents know, toddlers can be like Genghis Kahn when they want something. When they want something, they practice persistence with a vengeance. They can try the patience of a parent applying for sainthood.
Many parents offer their youngsters too many choices—too many possibilities for their little minds to absorb. I heard questions like— “What would you like for lunch?” or “What would you like to do this morning?” Open-ended questions, like these, are mind boggling to a toddler. And what if they come up with something that’s not on the approved list?
Trust me, toddlers specialize in the quirky— “What would you like for breakfast,” asks Dad. “I want chocolate ice cream,” the toddler replies. Now we’re in for a toddler tussle.
So, what makes sense for our toddlers?
Offer two choices-no more. Sure, we want our kids to make decisions. But little minds prefer structure and predictability. Too much freedom and too many options can be anxiety provoking. And little kids can’t understand why they can’t eat ice cream for breakfast. Of course, they could—but would it be a healthy choice? The “why” questions that follow will drive you nuts.
Don’t negotiate. Toddlers, especially 2 to 4-year-olds, argue their point like Attila the Hun. Their basic approach—take no prisoners. It’s fun to watch an adult try to negotiate with a toddler. It’s like watching a dog chase its tail—lots of action with no result.
Pick your battles and stick to your guns. Maybe it’s not so important that Sarah wants to watch “Dinosaur Train” versus “Daniel the Tiger”—but ice cream for breakfast? Pizza three times a day? Two hours of screen time? When you make a decision, do not waiver, give in, or give up. Children need to learn that moms and dads are in charge. “No” always means no, no matter how high the volume gets. When little kids know that their parents are running the show, they settle down. They feel more secure.
Validate their feelings. Tolerate their frustration. Be consistent. “I know you really love ice cream,” I said. “I know you’re mad. But ice cream isn’t a breakfast food. Would you like an egg or some cereal?” I listened to a couple of minutes of “why’s” before I repeated her two choices. She wasn’t happy—but she did eat her egg sandwich.
She knew grandpa Paul wasn't going to cave.