It’s so easy to label something that your child does as “bad behavior”, isn’t it? Sometimes it isn’t what your child does, it’s what they don’t do. You tell your toddler to go do something, he or she refuses and you get mad. You raise your voice, your child cries, and you’re all having wonderful fun, right?
Let me share a little secret with you. Parents almost always forget to ask questions, therefore missing an opportunity to gather important information. Asking a few simple questions to your toddler or young child will often solve problems.
Here’s an example from my own life. My youngest daughter was just shy of her third birthday. We had finished “quiet time” in Mommy and Daddy’s room, watching some cartoon shows together before bed. The kids knew the routine well. 7pm rolls around and it’s bedtime. First we brush teeth, and then we go snuggle together and read books.
When I said, “OK – time to go brush your teeth”, my daughter looked at me and said, “No, I don’t want to brush my teeth”. I began to explain to her that we’d snuggle and read books only after she brushed, but I could see she was already starting to tear up. Something was not normal about this.
I think that in most child/parent scenarios, this would have turned into a tantrum, and nobody would have been happy. But I knew the power of asking questions. So I asked a very simple question. “Sweetie, what is it that you don’t like about brushing your teeth?”
You know what she said to me? I would never have expected this reply. She said, “I don’t like the toothpaste”. She said it with a hint of fear, as if brushing her teeth was an act that forced her to taste something awful. Immediately I remembered that we had just bought the kids a new tube of toothpaste. It was different than what we normally used. Obviously, she didn’t approve – but she hadn’t said anything before this moment.
I put my arm around her and said, “Oh – I understand … you are telling me that you don’t like the toothpaste. That’s ok. We don’t have to use that toothpaste. We can just brush with water tonight. No toothpaste. We can go to the store together and get you a new toothpaste that you’ll like”.
If you are thinking that I’m just a big softie, think again. There is no reason that I feel compelled to force my kid to brush with toothpaste that she hates. If I hated my own toothpaste, I’d throw it away and buy a new brand. Why treat her with any less respect? This isn’t prison.
In the end, she was completely happy to brush her teeth, just not with that particular brand of paste. I got her to bed with no fights, no crying, and plenty of hugs.
The most powerful lessons in life are often very simple. In this case, the lesson is to ask good questions. If your toddler doesn’t want to eat something, ask what it is about it they don’t like. If your child won’t wear a particular piece of clothing that you’re trying to dress him in, ask what he doesn’t like about it. You might just be surprised to find out that the food gets stuck in his teeth, or the shirt has a tag that itches the back of his neck. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.