communication and toddlers

What does it mean or look like, to trust a toddler or young child to make decisions?

Another way to frame this whole question is to step back from ideas about choices a little and think about how communication works. I'm thinking in particular about a "we need to leave" scenario. There are plenty of reasons to need to leave very soon - wanting to avoid getting stuck in rush hour traffic, needing to pick up something before a store closes, having another kid starting to freak out (btdt)!

In conventional parenting, communication is mostly one way: parents tell, kids listen. So even if you're trying to get away from that, it's easy to fall back into that pattern. "Giving simple choices" is a kinder-and-gentler tactic for telling, but it's not necessarily the best way to communicate with someone you care about.

Communication starts with listening and observation - isn't that why we want our kids to listen? We know that. But that knowledge gets tangled up in our own baggage that's saying that we're the adults, it's our turn to do the telling. We forget to listen and observe. Or maybe we didn't learn it very well from our own "do as I say, not as I do" childhood experiences

It's also important to recognize that tears and protests are valid forms of communication, expressing valid feelings. It's okay for kids to be unhappy when things don't work out the way they want. The goal isn't to get compliance with a smile, it's for kids to feel like parents are on their side in the larger context of their lives. Sometimes that means carrying a crying child to the car with sympathy, "hearing" their pain, even when there's no good solution to it in the moment.

So in the case of needing to leave, it helps to start by thinking about what you know about your kid. Maybe you're getting the idea that transitions are tough right now - that's normal with toddlers - in which case offering a choice could only prolong the agony. Maybe you know that your kid likes a lot of warning, warning that doesn't need to be framed as a choice, just: "five more minutes, dude!" Maybe you know that your kid is really good at communicating verbally and will be able to negotiate. Maybe it's just a matter of saying "wanna get ice cream?" Or asking "how can I help?" All of those things depend on individual personality and development and can take some trial and error to figure out. And sometimes there's nothing to figure out beyond how to carry a crying, writhing toddler to the car with as much sympathy as you can muster, because transitions are hard right now.

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