The other day my two-year-old was fussing about his diaper. “Itches,” he complained, scratching at the diaper where the flaps were taped. Every time I suggested changing his diaper, he’d vehemently say, “No!”
Okay, fine. Live with your itchy diaper then.
But he whined about it again so I picked him up and tried to lay him down on his changing table. “No—get down!” he yelled. Okay, fine. Live with your itchy diaper then. For real, this time.
He ran to his bed and cried for a few seconds. I just looked at him exasperated. He calmed down after a few more seconds so that his cries died to sniffles. Then he even attempted small talk: “How many blankets?” My face softened as I gave a small smile and responded, “You have three.”
Finally he gave me a look and quietly said, “Want diaper change.” I was surprised at his change of mind, especially because it didn’t seem like he was being fickle the way he does when he throws a tantrum. I said, “Okay, let’s get you up on the changing pad.” And he climbed out of bed and willingly let himself be changed.
Pick your battles
Our pediatrician reminded us of sage advice when my toddler was entering his defiant, independent age. She said, “Pick your battles. If he’s not hurting anyone, just let him be. If it’s not necessary, let it go.”
We were having breakfast last weekend when LO wanted to eat but didn’t want to part with his book. “You can put it on the couch,” we told him. “You can have it after you’re done eating.” This, after all, abides by our efforts not to have toys or books on the table while we’re eating. “No,” he replied. He started getting fussy. Then my husband suggested, “Do we really want to start off the day fighting over a book?” We picked our battle and let him have his book.
Letting him win
And when we did, I wondered if we undermined our authority by letting him “win.” You always hear about the importance of staying consistent with rules. What if he now thinks he can bring a toy or book with him to the dining table all the time? What if he starts being rebellious? Will he listen next time if we ask him to put his toys and books on the couch before going to eat?
The answer? Yes. He still listens.
Just this afternoon, LO wanted to eat (a not-uncommon occurrence it seems!). Not only did he willingly put his toy on the couch before sitting down, he did so without being asked or told. I don’t think that by “letting him win” did he permanently think that he can get away with every misbehavior he can think of. Maybe he thought, “I’ve been following the rules, I know what’s expected, but maybe just today I wanted to have this book in my hands.”
Nagging doesn’t work for the long-term
Think about all the effort it takes to nag and fight: you have to harangue someone who really doesn’t want to listen to you right now because he has his own agenda in mind. Nagging often involves telling, telling, telling without really putting ourselves into the other person’s perspective. And my toddler is almost always obedient and a self-starter; do I really need to bug him about the rare times he bends the rules? Probably not.
I tell myself that if I had to fight with my toddler—someone whom I love beyond this world—then it better be for a darn good reason. There’s the obvious scolding for serious offenses, like the one time he purposely took a few steps towards the street instead of staying on the sidewalk. Or to a less dangerous degree, when we have to leave the house at a certain time, we absolutely have to go despite any protests or tears. But let’s say we’re going to the park just to hang out. We probably don’t have to go right this minute; maybe we can wait until he’s done playing with the toy he’s focused on.
Prevention is key
Even though I write about my toddler’s tantrums and our temperamental differences, most of our days are good days and thankfully we don’t argue all that often. One tactic we’ve used is prevention: avoid the battle before it even begins. If the environment or situation isn’t conducive to a toddler, you might as well welcome a battle right then and there. For instance, if we want to leave the house by 8:20, we don’t introduce a new toy or even try to go to a new room when it’s 8:15. That’s just not fair: why offer him this new activity only to tell him five minutes later that he now has to stop playing with it? Don’t introduce the new toy: battle averted.
Letting me win?
I wondered about that day when my toddler suddenly changed his mind and let himself get a diaper change. In the simplest terms, maybe he finally realized that the diaper really did itch and he wanted to take it off. Or maybe… he learned to pick his own battles. Maybe he realized that this is silly and we don’t have to ruin the wonderful day we were having to spend the rest of it crying or yelling. Who knows. But at that moment, when my toddler I looked at each other, I felt as if we were saying to one another, “This is unnecessary.”
How do you pick your battles? How do you resolve conflict with your kids?