Your usually compliant fifteen month old starts arching her back to avoid getting into her car seat. Tooth brushing is met with firmly sealed lips. Perhaps changing into pajamas gets to be a struggle. Suddenly everything you do with your 15 to 18 month old child’s body becomes a wrestling match. What is going on? How should parents face these challenging struggles?
I see many parents who spend time every day trying to rationally talk their toddler into doing what the parents want. They often give up with a frustrated shrug saying “he just won’t cooperate”. It is quite natural for children of this age to refuse to have things done to their bodies. At a year and a half of age children become very focused on “me”. They strive for control of things for themselves. At the same time that they refuse to have things done for them they often demand that “I do it”. Of course they may not have the skills to do things well such as brushing their teeth or buckling their car seat. Nevertheless, they want to do it themselves. Interceding with their process causes a fit. So what is the best way to face this willfulness?
Children at this age do not respond to reasoning very well. After all, they do not have a reasonable assessment of their ability to accomplish certain tasks, do they? Parents will waste time and energy trying to rationally discuss the approach to the problem at hand. We do better giving the child a fair chance at the task and them taking over with “our turn”. Many children won’t react well to even a shared task. Nevertheless, parents need not allow the child to control the situation for too long. After a couple of options and a certain amount of time my wife and I would resolve the situation by saying “sorry, its time to just do it”. We would know that we would face a struggle but we would be ready for it. The first step in “doing it” was being in position to avoid an escape. Often my son or daughter would need to be held. Gentle consistent pressure would overcome any back bending resistance to a car seat. It takes practice to hold your child and brush teeth or change a diaper. A colleague of mine was in the practice of changing a diaper with her knees holding her child’s torso so her face, body and arms faced her child’s legs. Her arms were free to clean the dirty diaper area. It seems mean and we need to be careful about how much force we use. But because many toddlers resist things that need to be done, parents need to have a point to “just do it”. It’s not only a slogan for Nike. It is a necessity in homes with toddlers around. Yes we can give toddlers choices. We can give them a moment to decide to cooperate.