OK, I am not promising miracles, but this has worked out great for us and has greatly reduced fights and tantrums when it comes to bath, bedtime, etc.

Toddlers, most certainly mine, are very much into a routine. This is a great start, however, when my daughter is having a great time building blocks or coloring, she’s just really not a fan of giving that up to go take her bath without warning. Enter a tantrum.

I had read somewhere that toddlers like to know what is going on – no surprises. Their routine and knowing what is going on provides a sense of security and familiarity. This is why your toddler will read the same book several times a day, everyday. It certainly made sense, so I started this 5, 3, 1 deal where I let her know exactly what is going to happen in 5, 3 and 1 minute. Then at the end I count to 5 and go do it.

Here is how it would work at bath time:

1. I say “Ellery, in 5 minutes we are going to put the blocks away and take a bath.” Make sure you say EXACTLY what is going to happen in 5 minutes, so just saying “You got 5 more minutes,” does not mean anything to your toddler.
2. At the 3 minute mark, same thing “Ellery, in 3 minutes we are going to put the blocks away and take a bath.”
3. Same deal at the 1 minute mark.
4. Then at the end of that minute, I say “Ellery, I am going to count to 5 then we are going to put the blocks away and take a bath.”
5. Then do exactly what you said you were going to do. It may take a couple times, but now I find Ellery will sometimes go to bed or head for the bath when I give her the 5 minute warning!!

The other beauty is your toddler can’t tell time, so if I don’t have 5 minutes, I still use this 5, 3, 1 method, only give her the warning every minute or 30 seconds, depending on how much time I have. This way, what I say is consistent even if the timing may not be and a toddler understands words more than time.

My husband also came up with a supplemental 1, 2 rule. Sometimes she may want to have yogurt before she gets dressed or wants to watch Elmo before brushing her teeth, so he will say “Brush teeth 1, Elmo 2” to let her know the order of things. And she does seem to be responding to this as well, even if she does not like the answer.

When your toddler is a little older, a timer may work well. “When the timer goes off, we are putting the crayons away and taking a bath.” I know several parents who use this successfully with their roughly 3 and older crowd. Ellery is 22 months and a little young for the timer.

For things like getting dressed, well, this one has been a challenge for us since she prefers to be naked. We have naked time after her bath so she can get it out of her system. However, getting dressed for school in the morning has been a challenge. Some suggestions I had were get her dressed before anything else while she is still sleepy; get her dressed before eating, TV or anything else; and teach her to dress herself (which resulted in clothes being thrown across the room with a loud, protesting “NO!”). What did work was to pick her current favorite character, Olivia from the same named book, and ask if she wants to wear a sweater and pants like Olivia. It has totally worked and she now asks to dress like Olivia in the mornings.

I read some of “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” by Dr. Harvey Karp. I did not really find it helpful and Ellery did not like it when I talked to her in the way he suggested. I was already doing his fast-food rule where you repeat back to your toddler what she is saying to you. I find this helps stop the tears because your toddler realizes you understand what she is saying. I then say in short simple words why we could not go outside when it is raining, for example.
She cries “Jacket, jacket.”
And I say, “You want jacket?”
Tears stop “Yes.”
“You want to go outside?” (Or say “You want go?” and point outside)
“No, it’s wet. No jacket, no outside, it’s raining,” and would show her the rain out the window. At first I would let her feel the rain on her hand so she could make the connection. Usually she is still upset, but that’s when I excitedly offer a distraction like play-dough or finger paint.

Speaking of distractions, they are not so easily used on a toddler since they have a long-term memory. It is not so “out of sight, out of mind” anymore. But if it is a distraction she loves, like anything art-related, she will usually accept it. And sometimes she does not let me forget she still remembers she wanted to go outside because she may point to the door and say “wet.” I will reassure her with “That’s right baby, we can’t go outside because it is wet.” And she happily continues to do her art. It does not have to be art – use whatever favorite activity your toddler may have.

This is what has worked for us, and hope it can help others too! You may also be interested in seeing how I got my toddler to brush her teeth.

Now if we can only get her to sit still when we are out to eat. She does great for a little while, but especially if there are other kids, she wants to run off and play. She is very active and does not sit still for long.

One thought on “Get Your Toddler to Cooperate

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