And, while this isn’t always possible, research is increasingly demonstrating that the more in control of their lives your child feels, the happier, and more co-operative, they are likely to be.
If you’re looking for ways to give your child back some control without feeling as though they are controlling the whole house, you might be interested in our 6 best ideas for helping your child to feel more in control of their lives:
1. Let them decorate their own room. OK, so maybe letting them loose with a tin of paint and a roller might not be the best idea, but there are lots of ways in which your toddler can dress their own space. From hanging hand art canvasses to revamping clocks and other décor with their paints, buttons and felt collection, adding their own touch to their personal space is also a great way to encourage positive feelings about bedtime.
2. Follow a predictable routine. It doesn’t have to be rigid and it doesn’t have to be set by you, many children have a way of setting their own routines, but research has repeatedly demonstrated that toddlers who have little concept of time feel more in control of their world when they can judge where they are in their day with a familiar routine to rely on.
3. Discuss the following day’s events. Following on from having a predictable routine, some children prefer to be given time to think about what is going to happen the next day if there is going to be a big change, like an outing. Though spontaneous outings are often great fun for us, it can be overwhelming for little people. If your toddler seems not to enjoy days out that you have expected them to love, it may be that they simply need a little more prep time.
4. Offer choices. Rather than asking them to turn the light off at bedtime, try asking if they would like you to do it, if they would like to do it or if they’d like their favourite toy to do it. The end point is still the same, but they had a number of choices as to how it came to be. This can help them to feel as though it was their choice and, though this is a little bit of a sneaky one, sometimes some things just have to happen and helping them to feel more in control of those things is a positive move.
5. Consider “Unfooding”. Unfooding is the natural extension of feeding on demand and baby-led weaning. Your child decides when to eat, where to eat, what to eat and how much. The idea being that they will continue to choose the right foods for their bodies, as with baby-led weaning, and creating forbidden fruits has been shown to increase the risk of binging on junk foods in adolescence and adulthood. Having control over food has also been associated with a decreased risk of poor eating habits.
6. Pick your battles. If your toddler asks to do something like going out without a coat or shoes on, try letting them. Stay close so that they can’t hurt their feet and be sure to bring their coat and shoes along with you. It isn’t usually long before they ask to put them on and they have learned, through their own scientific investigations, why it’s important to wear them. They are much more likely, as a result, to co-operate with other requests when you choose to be firm about only the more important issues and allow them freedom to learn for themselves where possible.
There are many ways to give control back to your toddler and to be a child-led parent, helping and supporting them with gentle feedback and guidance as they experiment. The added benefit of many of the points above is that they can help your child to learn about self-control and self-regulation; important skills that are best learned through exploration in a safe and loving environment.