We all want to give our children lots of opportunity to make choices and have these choices respected somewhat………but we also need to realise that the tiny humans need us big humans to be in charge.
This might sound somewhat conflicting, and that is where a lot of parents get confused and start to let their toddler rule the roost.
In truth when we let our toddlers make all the decisions, we are essentially putting them in charge of the family.
Without realizing it, this lack of leadership, and lack of boundaries leads to toddlers who are whiny, clingy, or throwing tantrums because the stress of lack of boundaries and lack of leadership is too much for them. Their sense of security is reduced, and they begin to test boundaries in all areas of parenting.
Diane Levy, bestselling author of parenting books, phenomenally successful family therapist, counsellor, and parenting coach explains this perfectly in her book “Of course I love you now go to your room”.
What often turns this behavior around……………. Is parents stepping up, and putting those boundaries in place, and essentially make the decisions for the toddler. We provide security by not allowing our toddlers to be in charge and make all the decisions.
We see this frequently when we visit families to deliver sleep consults for toddlers who just won’t go to bed, or stay in bed.
The toddlers get up over and over, they are asked “what do you need”, or without the verbal confirmation, their demands for things like water, or more stories, or mummy lie here, daddy stand there, now I need the potty, tuck me in……………are all met by the parents over and over.
This complete lack of boundaries and leadership lets the toddler know they are in charge, and consequently, they feel less secure and struggle with things like sleeping and staying in bed.
These parents quickly learn that once we put some kind, gentle, and fair boundaries in place, and lead the children with consistency, they start to feel more secure, become more compliant, stay in bed, and sleep better.
Not only do they sleep better. This new found confidence and ability to set limits and boundaries leads to happier toddlers. Happier, more compliant, more confident, less tantrum throwing, tiny humans.
Bed time boundaries and limits usually looks a little like consistent bedtime rules, or manners, consistent consequences for getting out of bed after a nice bed time routine, reasonable rewards for following the bed time rules, and parents who are confident enough to be consistent.
Navigating when to give your toddler choices and when to put boundaries in place can be difficult.
I always found limited choices around things which didn’t matter too much gave my toddlers a sense of control, without creating that insecurity by making the tiny humans think they are in charge.
Limited choices work on decisions such as
- Which t shirt to wear
- Skirt or shorts
- Blue shoes or red shoes
- This story or that story
- Mum brush your teeth or dad
- Walk to the car or hop like a kangaroo
- Triangle toast or square toast
- Walk to bed, or ride mum like a horse
Then setting limits around things which really matter comes easier with less resistance and creates security.
Boundaries and limits around things which really matter
- It’s bedtime
- Stay in bed
- Hop in your car seat
- Don’t hit your sister
- Sit at the table to eat
Each family will have a different set of boundaries and limits, but a good hint, is if something is making you regularly angry or frustrated, this is a sign you need to set a limit and a boundary for it.
This is the case for most of our toddler clients, they are frustrated, exhausted and even angry that their toddlers bed time is taking so long, draining so much energy and ruining the end of the day.
Is your toddlers bed time making you frustrated or angry?
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“I was working with Abby to try to get my toddler to sleep before 9pm. She would come out over and over, and eventually I just gave up and let her do what she wanted until she was eventually so tired I could carry her to bed and she wouldn’t fight me.
She was hard work in the day…fighting me on simple requests like putting her shoes on, getting in the car. It was exhausting and I thought if I could get her sleep sorted maybe her behavior in the day would change.
We established some bed time rules with Abby on our consult. They were simple, stay in bed, be quiet, and close your eyes. Abby explained that we needed a natural consequence if she got out of bed, or was super noisy.
I decided on silent returns if she got out of bed, and her door shut if she was noisy. I liked that I could say to Maia – you are hurting my ears with your screaming, I am going to shut the door.
It seemed logical and natural.
Previously I had tried begging her, bribbing her with snacks, and threatening her with not having the ipad in the morning.
None of that had worked which is why Abby was there in the first place!
Maia’s sleep was sorted in 3 nights.
But what I noticed after this was Maia started to comply a little more in the day when I made simple requests.
I think she started to realise I was in charge and that I was serious.
She didn’t hate me for it either!
She was so happy, and we began to have great car singalongs on the way to pre school because getting her ready was a breeze.
If I did hit a hurdle, from my experience with Abby I realised in all things parenting I needed to have a plan, and I needed to set boundaries for Maia.
I thought what are the day time rules?
We put our shoes on nicely, we use the car seat when mummy asks, and we don’t throw food.
I then realized I needed some natural consequences for these “rules” being broken. It wasn’t like I turned into super nanny, but I quickly realized if I’d asked Maia to sit nicely so I could put her shoes on and she was kicking me, this wasn’t ok, and she wasn’t in charge , this behavior was unacceptable.
Popping Maia in her room until she was ready to put her shoes on nicely worked so quickly! The rest of the day was a breeze!
Previously I thought I needed to allow my toddler to learn from kindness, me always giving her what she wanted, me allowing her to decide when exactly we could leave the house (when she would let me put her shoes on), but all along she wanted me to lead, she wanted me to set the boundaries.
Today we are still navigating the challenging under 5 years, but what I learned on that sleep consult was life changing!”
~Grace Auckland mum of Maia
Emma is the owner and founder of Baby Sleep Consultant, she is a certified infant and child sleep consultant, Happiest Baby on the block educator, has a Bachelor of Science, and Diploma in Education. Emma is a mother to 3 children, and loves writing when she isn’t working with tired clients and cheering on her team helping thousands of mums just like you.