Toddlers and the Power of Choice
BabyC and I have been struggling with diaper changes recently. When BabyC was a younger infant, diaper changes were good times – a chance to check in together, have a little conversation, and give her 100% of my attention. These last few months, BabyC has really resisted diaper changes. At 14 months, she is now quite mobile and strong, and diaper changes have turned into a three-ring circus, with her rolling over and popping up to stand at each step. If I try to do part of the diaper change while she is standing, she sits down. She seems to resist every step, kicking and crying. I try my best to be patient, keep moving slowly and respectfully, and talk her through each step (see Janet Lansbury’s brilliant post on this), but I haven’t seen much reward for these efforts, until recently.
A few days ago, I accidentally happened upon one solution to the diaper change debacle. BabyC and I were in the kitchen. She was playing with some toys while I fixed dinner. I noticed that she paused what she was doing, and an intense look of concentration came over her face. Poop time. I made a mental note but wanted to finish what I was doing before taking a break for the dreaded diaper change.
But BabyC came over to me and started to tug on my jeans, trying to get my attention. “BabyC, do you need to have your diaper changed?” I asked. She nodded a very confident “Yes!” I was taken aback. I realized that when I had asked the question, I had assumed that she either wouldn’t understand it or would shake her head “no,” since she usually protests diaper changes so much. Wow, mental note to never underestimate a toddler!
I wiped my hands off and reached down to pick her up, but stopped myself when I realized she was holding up her hand for me. I took her hand, and we walked together to the changing table in her bedroom. It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. She actually still protested during the diaper change, but only briefly. For most of it, she babbled happily with me, and I think was quite proud that all of this was her idea!
What an epiphany! These last few days, we have had three diaper changes that went the same way. Now I just need to remember to try to ask her more often if she needs her diaper changed. I realize that the novelty of this particular choice may wear off soon. BabyC might start practicing her “no” answer more. I’m prepared to start asking, “Do you want to have your diaper changed now or in a few minutes?” For now, I’m enjoying the fact that diaper changes are a cooperative event – more of a partner dance than a three-ring circus.
As a side note, a few weeks ago I found that giving BabyC a choice of color for her new diaper (one of the benefits of using cloth diapers with fun colors!) often helped diaper changes go more smoothly. That lasted about a week, and then the novelty seemed to wear off. If she was already worked up about the diaper change, she wasn’t interested in choosing a color anyway. Now that we’re having more cooperative diaper changes, she is really into making the color choice again.
All of this has reminded me…
Toddlers are all about exploring and asserting their independence. They like to be given choices and to have some control over the course of their day. Give a toddler a choice, and the two of you become partners. The child enjoys the opportunity to make decisions, and it’s more fun for both of you.
I’ve known this about toddlers for a long time. I babysat many young children as a teenager and through college, and I worked at a childcare center. I have seen the power of choice in toddlers firsthand, again and again. The thing is, I’m used to thinking about giving choices to toddlers with more language skills. Giving a child a choice such as, “Do you want some help putting on your jacket or would you like to do it yourself?” requires a certain amount of comprehension and the skills to respond with an answer, either with signs, gestures, or words. So while I know how powerful it can be to give toddlers choices, I hadn’t used them much with BabyC. I realize now that I have been underestimating her.
Just in the last week, BabyC has been really into nodding “yes” or shaking her head “no.” Between this and her ability to point and use a few signs, this opens up a huge amount of conversation for us and choices for her. I’m looking forward to learning more about her preferences through conversation rather than crying and protesting. There are days when I feel BabyC is growing up way too fast, but it is milestones like this that make me love watching her learn and grow.
Have you had any parenting epiphanies lately? Please share so we can learn from each other!