Magazine article Work & Family Life

Helping Toddlers Learn to Accept Limits

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Helping Toddlers Learn to Accept Limits

Article excerpt

My 2-year-old always has to have her way-from what she wean to the bowl she uses for cereal How can I get her to be more flexible?

A flexible toddler-is it possible? Actually, what looks and feels like total inflexibility is a natural part of children's growth, and it signals an important leap in a child's development. Two-year-olds are at a stage when their sense of self is emerging. They are strong-willed, they know what they want and don't want, and they have the communication skills to tell you just how they feel.

At the same time, children this age are more involved in the world around them. They have a lot more to manage each day as they take in new experiences and encounter new people. Their world becomes less predictable. To feel secure, they desperately seek to control whatever they can.

This need for sameness and predictability makes routines especially important. As trivial as it may seem, using the same bowl may be a part of your child's daily ritual that helps her or him to feel "okay."

A sense of ownership

It is also in the toddler years when the concept of ownership begins to take root. This new understanding of "mine" is important to your child's growing sense of self. You can see how toddlers' sense of ownership and need for predictability can lead them to assert more control over their world.

Temperament plays a big role in a child's flexibility as well. More cautious kids who are slow to warm up need more consistency to feel safe and, thus, may seem less flexible than their more easygoing peers. The challenge for parents is to respect children's unique needs while helping them learn how to adapt when things don't go their way.

Learning to set limits

Part of how you do this is to set sensible limits. Whether it's about choosing what to wear or what dish to use, accepting limitsthat kids can't always get what they want-is an essential part of their development as it will help them function successfully in the real world with all its rules and expectations.

So when your child is demanding something that you don't feel is appropriate, see it as an opportunity-a teachable moment. You can use the following six steps to help children become more flexible while respecting their temperament, acknowledging their feelings and needs, and offering them real choices as well as appropriate limits.

Decide if the behavior needs to be modified, also known as "choosing your battles. …

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