Today we are going to talk about a really common mistake parents make when they are trying to get their kids to listen.
With this one simple tool, you could drastically cut down the amount of arguing your toddler or child does with you. Often when kids argue, it’s really just because they don’t actually know what they want and they are just testing out the options to see what they can have. But at the same time, they want to feel like they have control over the situation and ownership over their decisions – so it puts them in a bind.
This is especially true of toddlers and young children. Younger children tend to respond more easily to this tool but it works with older kids as well. It just make take longer to see results with an older child – Especially if it’s an area that you have a history of arguing a lot over.
The reason it’s so important to use this tool is because daily arguments and bickering disrupt your quality time with your child and add stress for both of you. These ‘problem areas’ where you always seem to bicker no matter what also pose a danger of turning into a pattern that can be hard to break once your children get older.
But don’t worry, if you have older children the tool can still work. Just practice and be patient and you’ll see results over time. Don’t try the tool just once and write it off if they still argue! If you want to see results you have to practice being consistent!
With one family I worked with, they had a two year old who was a really picky eater. Because her parents knew that she wouldn’t eat what they put on her plate they had a great idea – at every meal time she would be asked “what do you want to eat”?
Although their intentions were good – being a two year old, she was overwhelmed by all the options and simultaneously wanted to push the boundaries on what she could get away with… Who wouldn’t want cookies for lunch? You couldn’t blame her for asking.
So it would usually go something like this:
“Eva , what do you want to eat?”
“Ummmm, cookies? No.. pancakes… no yogurt.”
“Eva, you have to have something healthy, how about a turkey sandwich?”
And then a meltdown or argument would follow…
After some time of dealing with this, the parents were so exhausted from arguing with her that they found themselves giving in and letting her have whatever she wanted. Meal times had become a major source of frustration in their household.
When I started working with them, we decided to try a new approach of how we talked about meal time. We simplified her options which made it much easier for her to make a choice.
For example, she would sit down for dinner and we would say,
“Eva, you need to have some protein with your dinner. I can make you meatballs or I can make you chicken strips. Which one would you like?”
This shifted the conversation from a huge blank slate where she had the feeling she was being forced into something she didn’t want. And at the same time, gave her the power to choose and have some ownership over her choices without feeling like she needed to test to see just how much she could get away with.
This way of talking set up a dynamic where she could feel that ownership and independence but still be kept within healthy boundaries – without an argument!
I call this the “2 choices rule” and I encourage parents to use this in any situation where your children often argue with you or where they have to make some kind of choice. It is very simple process and you can practice it in so many different situations with your children.
The basic structure is:
“This is what we are doing, would you like like this or this?”
So the first thing to remember is to keep the options simple.
“It’s time to go play outside. Would you like to ride your bike or play with sidewalk chalk?”
“It’s time to do your homework. Would you like to do your Math or English first?”
“I need for you to clean your room and get your homework done before dinner. Which one would you like to do first?”
Firm boundaries with Flexibility Create Long Term Relationships with Your Kids
Your kids may still argue with you and say they don’t want to play on their bike or with sidewalk chalk, but what’s important is that you are showing them that you set the structure for their lives but that they still have freedom of decision and compromise within that.
Kids whose parents have firm boundaries but are willing to negotiate in reasonable ways have closer long term relationships.
Now, if your child is still resisting despite consistently using this tool, you have to build their trust by explaining to them what you are doing. Be really open with your kids!
That way they understand why you are asking them to do things and why you are asking in this way. Don’t think of this as a way to trick kids into doing things because they are smart and they will see right through that.
Instead, explain to them why what you are having them do is important.
For example, “It’s important to me that you get fresh air and play outside because it’s good for your health and your mood – but I want to find a way that it can be fun for you.”
When you explain your reasons for your requests and you make it clear that you are looking for a way that you can both be happy with the situation it builds trust and cooperation in your relationship.
So next time you are going into a situation where you know you tend to argue with your toddler or child, try getting really clear with them about what you want, and providing them with two simple options. Stay firm in your boundaries but willing to hear them out and build trust with them by being really transparent and explaining why you are speaking to them in this way.