How Giving My Toddler Choices Eliminated Meltdowns

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Terrible Twos. Threenager. Fournado. There is a reason people use these terms about their 2-4 year olds; raising a toddler isn’t easy.  After many years of professional development for being an elementary school teacher, you tend to pick up on a few things in meetings that you find success with. And I thought: Hey, it works in the classroom, why not try it with my toddler? Once my son turned 2 and the meltdowns began I started using my teacher’s brain to think about ways I can help him stay his “happy go lucky self” more often. What did I do? I gave him choices.  

What does this mean? 

I started simple. My toddler’s first meltdowns were always around bedtime. He was overly tired and basically couldn’t function, which meant he was not going to make good behavior choices. I would ask him if he wanted to “fly like a bird” or “hop like a bunny” up the stairs to his bedroom. This gave him a choice, but it didn’t allow him to say “no” to my husband or I. Often, he would make the choice the first time, but not always. If he didn’t answer or would refuse to answer, I would present a new option such as “slither like a snake” or “walk/roar like a tiger”.  It usually only took a few choices and he would choose and head to bed. This allowed him to be a part of the decision making and distract him a little about being upset about bedtime.  

Now, I know the non-believers are already coming at me saying I am giving my toddler the “upper hand” or giving him too much power. Honestly, I thought those same things as well, until I asked myself “Am I just on a power trip and trying to prove I’m in control?” I realized that giving him a choice allowed him to have a say in the activity, consequence, or daily chore that was taking his emotions on a wild roller coaster.  I wanted him to know that his voice mattered, and I was there to listen to his needs as well.  

The great thing about this is that now a year later, my three-year-old does not need me to make choices very often, especially when going to bed. We occasionally use it when it is time to leave a museum, park, zoo, etc. and it is often simple “Do you want to see the orangutan or the flamingos before we leave?” This preps him to know the time at the zoo is ending and he has a say in what his last event will be. People are creatures of habit. Adults don’t like when their schedules/plans get interrupted, how can you expect a 3 year old regulate his emotions better than an adult?

This is meant to be used in the short term when emotions are high and you are trying to avoid a kicking/screaming fit from your toddler. I do not feel I have raised a kid who “thinks he is in charge” or thinks that he “makes the rules” by using this. It has created a relationship between the two of us that knows I am here to listen and help.  

And hang in there mama, the toddler years don’t last forever, although I hear the teens years aren’t going to be a treat. Maybe I’ll be breaking this back out in 10 years again. Time will only tell. Feel free to share in the comments what triggers your toddler and together we can brainstorm choices to get your little one (and you!) through this difficult time. 

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