As a toddler mom, I believe it's my job to keep my kid out of trouble, meaning out of the bathroom, off the bookshelves, and away from gross crumbs that'll inevitably end up in his mouth. While this job can be frustrating at times, after successfully making it through the toddler years with his older brother and sister I've learned that recognizing when to give a little can go a long way. In fact, there are times you should definitely follow your toddler's lead, and giving them the space to take the proverbial reins will only make your job easier.
Now, I am not talking about following them into the street or letting them eat ice cream for dinner. Obviously, as the parent, you're often the one tasked with charting the course and making sure everyone follows closely behind. But when it comes to, say, my child's body and the foods he eats and how he plays, I let him call the shots. I believe that all people, big and small, deserve to control what happens to their bodies and with exceptions for things like diaper changes, vaccinations, and brushing their teeth, I don't touch my kids without their permission. The same goes for giving hugs and kisses, and choosing what, if anything, they eat at meal times.
I've also learned that there are things you absolutely can't force your toddler to do, like poop in the toilet before they are ready, or not climbing out of their crib. So, in those moments, I don't force the issue, especially since I've found it's much easier to let them take the lead and let me know when they're ready for a change. You might think I am a bit too permissive, and that can be a fair argument, but my toddler is also my third child so, at this point, I'm all for making my life easier. I also don't see the point in fighting with my kids all damn day, especially about things that don't matter in the long run. So you better believe there are times when I let my toddler set the pace, including the following.
When They Don't Want A Kiss Or Hug
I will never force my child to hug or kiss anyone they don't want to, including me. They deserve control over what happens to their bodies, and without receiving flack or being told they should feel guilty. When it comes to affection, they get to decide when they want to give, or receive, hugs and kisses.
When They Decide They Are Done With Their Crib
My daughter started climbing out of her crib at just 14 months. I'm not going to lie, it sucked to have to transition her to a toddler bed at such a young age. But the alternative was risking she would get herself hurt trying to escape, and that was a risk I wasn't willing to take.
(I am praying my youngest stays a little while longer, though.)
When They Don't Want To Smile For The Camera
Everyone says "smile" when they are taking family pictures, right? I mean, what's the harm in trying to get your kid to "turn on the charm" for the camera? When you think about it, though, that charm and those smiles always look forced, and never capture who your child truly is. Plus, I hate being told to smile, so I don't think it's fair I turn around and ask my child to do the same.
When They Want Don't Want A Hair Cut
My kids' hair is part of their bodies. And since I don't own them or their bodies, I am not going to make them get a hair cut until they are old enough to ask for one.
When They Don't Want To Eat
A couple of years ago I discovered what the Ellyn Satter Institute calls division of responsibility. It has made mealtimes with my toddler so much easier. Basically, adults decide what to serve and when, and kids decide what they are going to eat. It's as simple as that. I have to admit that there are days when my toddler seems to exist on nothing but air and veggie straws, but, for the most part, he's a great eater.
When he's in the lead, I face less resistance.
When They Choose A Lovey
I wish I could have imposed a cute and cuddly lovey on each of my kids, but it's just not possible. My kids will form an attachment with whatever strikes their fancy, and that object will help them get through rough transitions. I'm just glad I have an extra for the inevitable moments when they'll lose their most prized possession.
When They Aren't Ready For Potty Training
I learned the hard way that if you try to potty train a toddler before they're ready, you're going to be stuck on the struggle bus for the foreseeable future. It took me months to potty train my oldest, and I kept trying to force the issue with three day potty training boot camps and candy rewards.
My second child pretty much potty trained himself, with no intervention from me, because I simply waited until he showed me he was ready. Why, oh why, did I make things harder than I had to?
When They Want To Play Their Own Way
While it's tempting to show my kids how their toys are supposed to work, I've found that kids are so much more imaginative than I am, especially when it comes to play. So, if they think a box is a drum, a cup is a hat, or a stuffed bear is their BFF for life, I let them choose their own adventures.
When They Experience Big Emotions
Toddlers have huge emotions, and often have a hard time expressing them. So, instead of telling them to stop crying, or that they are OK, I validate their emotions and allow them the space to feel whatever it is they're feeling. I often find myself doing what child development expert Magda Gerber called "sportscasting." Basically, I say things like, "It looks like you are really frustrated with your toy not working, how can I help?" It really helps me — and my toddler — get through tantrums.