“No no no no no no…no!” My 18 month old nephew had his arms firmly folded across his chest and his eye’s double dog dared me to try to put that shirt on him. We had gone around like this at least 3 times…”Elliott, do you want to go outside?” I would ask to which he resolutely stated “Yes!”. Now I had him…”Okay well you have to put your shirt on, its coooollldddd” (picture me pretending to shiver to show him just how cold it is outside). I received no response. As I reached for his arm and started to snake his hand through the shirt he snatched it back, folded his arms across his chest and we were back to square one “no no no no no no….NO!”
Many parents at this point feel a variety of things: frustrated, irritated, probably tired, and a lot of times guilt! Yep, Christian guilt no less. Their child is NOT going to disobey them…words like “strong willed” start floating around their heads and they are now determined to “make” their child bend to their will (how else will he bend to God’s? we rationalize). The sign of a good parent is, after all, a child who listens. However, if we stop and take into consideration what is going on with our child developmentally and emotionally we might make a different choice. Around this age children are beginning to find their own will and own independence which we want them to do in order to have healthy relationships in the future. They also want to know why. They are curious and want to make connections between putting that shirt on and being cold. They want to have a voice and be heard. This is one of the first times that as parents you’re given the chance to shame them or allow them to develop autonomy with your guidance. Trust me, if autonomy is not developed here, it will be developed later and usually not with your guidance. So instead of a spank, or wrestling with that child on the floor while they are writhing and screaming and you both emerge bloody but he’s got that shirt on, you can look for creative ways to help form his will, not strip him of it.
I decided to try one more thing. I asked Elliott again if he wanted to go outside and he did. So we went into the 45 degree Florida morning weather with his shirt in my hand. He looked at me as soon as we stepped out and we both shivered (for real this time). And when I asked him to put his shirt on he smiled and helped me do it! Now of course this will not always work, and is not appropriate for every situation, however, if we can change our mindset from winning every battle to developing a confident and emotionally strong toddler, our children benefit. It takes a strong parent to “lose” a battle for your child’s benefit but the outcome is well worth it!