Needs clear rules
October 12, 2012 11:58 AM   Subscribe

My 18-month-old suddenly has very specific ideas about what she wants or doesn't want to do RIGHT NOW. And boy, does she holler when she is thwarted! I end up not being as consistent as I want to be. Please help me come up with a strategy.

My problem is, my default attitude when other people want to do something with me that I am not crazy about is, "well ok, not my cup of tea, but if they really want to..." I am working on having the confidence of expressing what I want, but in the meantime this is getting in the way of parenting.

I came up with a plan that said "since I tend to be overpermissive, I am going to err on the side of strictness. Whenever Toddler Nom does something I am not crazy about, I am going to say no. As a mom, I am allowed to say no for not better reason than that I don't like something."

But then when it comes to saying no, I run up against my other rule which is "pick your battles". And I think, "so she's eating a cookie on the sofa, which I told her I don't like because of the potential mess. But is this really the hill I want to die on? What does it matter in the long run if she does spread a few cookie crumbs on the sofa?"

And so I second guess myself and I start dithering, which is against my most important rule, "be consistent"!

Another example is, I wanted to put her in the carrier to go shopping for dinner. But she was just busy playing with my purse. I took the purse away, she screamed. I took her out again and thought about it. Then, I put her into the carrier with my purse, she screamed again. I took her out again. Then, after scratching my head and thinking "this is ridiculous", I just put the yelling kid into the carrier by force and walked out. I feel like I could have spared us both the yelling by being more consistent.

Despite all that I did get yelled at at least 15 times today. Sometimes I got so frustrated at being yelled at despite my leniency that I just walked out for a bit. But I also know that Toddler Nom's behaviour is completely age appropriate and that from her point of view, she ALWAYS loses!

I feel like I'm a pretty bad parent at the moment and I would like some help at coming up with a strategy I can draw on while making my decision when my kid starts yelling. Thank you!
posted by Omnomnom to Human Relations (35 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not a parent, so please take this suggestion with a grain of salt. But it occurs to me that perhaps there is a middle ground between telling her "no" all the time and being overpermissive? For example, when she was eating a cookie on the couch, you could simply tell her after she finishes eating "I noticed you ate a cookie on the couch: would you please clean up the crumbs with this dustpan?" She probably won't do too good a job, but having a mildly unpleasant responsibility as a result of breaking your rule might make her less inclined to do it again as well as helping to make it clear to her why the rule exists (ie, rather than thinking your rule is arbitrary, she understands that it's because somebody has to clean afterwards). Just a thought.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:08 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I understand that we have been taught to respect children and all that, but stop for a second and think. She's 18 months old. She is not a fully functional human at this point.

You can ramp up your consideration of her feelings when she gets older. At this point you need to be extremely consistent or this sort of behavior will get a lot worse. The most important thing for her health and well-being is to know with certainty the consequences of her actions. She's quite naturally unconsciously testing the boundaries and you are not showing her where those are, and that is very confusing and upsetting. We all want to live in a logical, consistent universe.

So regardless of whether you decide cookies are ok on the couch or not, you have to stick to that. And it's okay to change that, and explain, but don't enforce things arbitrarily without explanation.

There are no guarantees and every child is different, but this is what I was formally taught in terms of pediatric psychology.

I wish you the best of luck and hope you continue to be patient. It's a long, difficult road that many parents give up on.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 12:16 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

And boy, does she holler when she is thwarted!

A simple, pleasing distraction can be enough to short-circuit this and bend them to your will - an example:

Yesterday morning my 19 mo. old son really wanted to be in bed with his mom (who wasn't feeling well) and nurse, and protested loudly when I tried to take him into the kitchen to feed him breakfast - going limp, yelling, kicking, etc.

I went into the kitchen, got a pear and an apple - he's sort of fixated on fruit right now - held them up and said, "Want to come help me cut some fruit for breakfast? You can hold the apple." He stopped moaning, slid off the bed, and walked to the kitchen with me, carrying the apple.

RE: your purse example - I've found this works best when you use something unrelated to the context of the immediate conflict to distract them.

I tend to be overpermissive, I am going to err on the side of strictness. Whenever Toddler Nom does something I am not crazy about, I am going to say no.

There's not much reasoning with them at 18 mos. - they just aren't there yet developmentally. I think it pays to say a firm "no" and express clear disapproval at dangerous or really anti-social acts to slowly begin building a base of understanding RE: these, but to take advantage of their short attention spans, curiosity, and inability to hold a grudge when the stakes are lower.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:18 PM on October 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

I am a parent. A parent of now three teenagers. Putting limits on them is the best thing you can do for them. You hit it on the head with the word consistent. Make a decision and stick to it. Obviously there are times to back down or change the plan, but for the most part, stick to the plan. Give them choice, but false choice. "We are going to the stores. Do you want to go to the drug store first or the dry cleaners?" "Help me pick out lunch. Do you want broccoli or squash with your bagel?"

Using the cookie example, I would say, "You need to come into the kitchen to eat your cookie. Come sit with Papa in the kitchen and we can eat together." If she balks at that, tell her her choices are eat cookie in kitchen or no cookie. When she is old enough and if you really don't think it is such a big deal to get some crumbs on sofa, tell her she can eat on sofa, but she has to use the dust buster afterwards to clean up.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:18 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Parent of two here, youngest almost two, so this is fresh territory.

Do be consistent. Kids may test boundaries, but they are reassured to know the boundaries are there.

You don't have to pick a ton of battles if you have some bright-line rules: "Food stays at the table" and "Toys stay in the play area" etc.

Not clear if you do this already, but huge benefit in giving the two minute warning before changing activities: "In two minutes we are going to the store" etc. Kids need time to change gears, so give her advance warning.
posted by ambrosia at 12:19 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am not a parent, but I did train to be a speech therapist, which involved getting lots of small people to do things that were frankly boring many times.

One approach to try is to make positive statements rather than negative ones, so instead of telling her not to eat her cookies on the couch, you tell her that she must use a plate or that cookies get eaten at the table. That way it doesn't turn into I SAID NO, but into 'ooops, better move to the table'.

I had great success with the "can you do this before I count to three? 1 . . .2 . . ." etc. Works better if there's something else nice to move on to afterwards.

I found it really useful to ignore bad behaviour when it was just to get attention. It's terribly difficult to ignore someone laughing for 15 minutes with a completely blank face but if you're boring enough eventually the behaviour will stop. Of course you have to be completely consistent.

Something that worked in therapy is praising what they're doing well - 'good sitting! good listening!' and ignore what they're doing badly. That's easier when you're trying to get them to keep still than when you're trying to get them to do something specific.

Sometimes distraction is the only way, especially at 18 months. If you have to put her somewhere have a distraction ready afterwards. I assume you're already talking her through things and giving at least as much warning as you would like to have from another adult.

If even one of these works then you have another thing to try.
posted by kadia_a at 12:21 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

It totally is just this age. Every one of mine started throwing tantrums at this stage - they're old enough understand "no" and be offended by "no" because they want to be doing what they're doing, but they're not old enough to express themselves any other way or to understand WHY you're saying "no"! Right now my youngest is 17 months so we're in the thick of it yet again.

The way I handle tantrums at this age is:

1) Try not to create a tantrum situation to begin with. All mine have been pretty consistent with naptimes and eating times so the tantrums are more likely if we're going off routine - if she's hungry or tired or we're not doing the thing that she expects it's time to be doing. I try not to go off routine if I can help it, there's a lot of warning signs that we've taken too long shopping or she's done at the playground and I have to be alert to those. It's hard not to be more flexible right now but they do outgrow this stage so...

2) Try not to create a tantrum situation by being arbitrary. This is hard for me as well because I do tend to be an "because I said so" kind of parent - but it's easier because this is my fifth child and I did expect more from the older ones. Now I really have internalized that she's just at the stage where she's going to explore everything and she doesn't understand what's off-limits so it's on me a lot more to make sure there isn't anything in her path that she can get into trouble with. At this age they need a lot of reinforcement and they can't understand a bunch of rules so yes, pick your battles. "Touch gentle" is important, for instance, but "argh don't make a mess!" is not.

3) Ignore & don't let it get to you. I put her where she is safe (in the stroller, for instance) and grit my teeth and get on with things without letting myself get too upset about it. Yes, people will give you looks - but every parent has been there. And it's not good to pay too much attention to tantrums now - it sets you up for trouble later!

4) Remove. Go somewhere else. You won't win a public tantrum ever, so just move on out - if you're shopping, leave. At the park - go home.

5) Distract. Ripping a book? Take the book away, give her a newspaper to rip instead. Or mine, she loves to play with my cell phone and I don't let her have it very often so that's an instant soother. That sort of thing.
posted by flex at 12:21 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

One thing about that age is that they understand WAY more than they can express with words.

She's constantly frustrated because she has a perfectly good reason for doing what she's doing and if only she could TELL you, you'd understand, but she can't and you don't. AAAAAARRRRRGHHHHH!

So, you need to say, "I see that you want to play with my purse. It's fun isn't it? But right now, it's not purse playing time, it's marketing time. When we're done with the shopping, we'll come home and you can play with my purse then."

You're acknowleding that she's got something going on. You explain why that's not going to happen right now, and you give her something to do instead or you postpone the fun thing.

Or, "You can't play with my purse, I need that, but how about you take Mr. Bunny and play with him?"

As for eating on the sofa. Toddlers have a tiny, Id brain. It's all about what I want, when I want it.

"I see you're eating on the sofa. I don't want you to eat on the sofa. Please sit down on the floor until you're done with the cookie." With the cats, I snap my finger for emphasis. You might want to do that too, although other parents will look at you funny.

If there's continued noming and no moving, approach and hold out your hand, "You can stay on the couch, but I'll hold the cookie until you're ready to get down and eat it on the floor," (or in the kitchen or wherever you want her to eat the cookie.)

Also, you might want to re-think a lot of this stuff. You're going to be a parent for a long, long time and you'll have lots of other sofas.

I believe in being strict but there's only so much you can do with an 18-month old. Re-direction is good, a test of wills isn't.

Relax a bit on cleanliness, plan for the fact that things will take longer. But make this the regular thing. Stay firm and consistant on the important stuff. Bedtime, bathtime, staying away from electrical sockets with forks.

Don't be so hard on yourself. You're doing fine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:24 PM on October 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

The golden rule of parenting: If you tell a kid that, if he/she eats cookies on the couch, you will throw him/her out the window, you darn well better never put any couches on the second floor of the house.

The first time you don't throw little Nom out the window after a couch/cookie incident, you've lost the battle and, perhaps, the war.

Don't set rules you can't/won't enforce every time, and enforce every time it is broken.
posted by HuronBob at 12:26 PM on October 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think it's important that every time (or at least most times) you say "no" to a child, you help re-direct them by showing them the alternatives that are acceptable. So you are being consistent about what they can't do while at the same time also emphasizing positive things, and sometimes even fun or funny things.

"You can't make crumbs on the sofa, but if we sit outside, maybe we'll see some ants carry away some crumbs".

"You can't make crumbs on the sofa, but we can make them on a plate at the table and then we can have a plate licking contest!"

"You can't make crumbs on the sofa, but let's have a contest at the table to see who can make the least crumbs".

"You can't make crumbs on the sofa, but we can make crumbs on our plate at the table and then when we are done eating we can sweep all the crumbs together on the plate with our fingers and see how big the pile is".

So the point is, be consistent about no but proactive and creative about re-direction alternatives if you want to quiet the fussing/whining/crying and move on as quickly as possible.
posted by Dansaman at 12:40 PM on October 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

If you can lead your child beforehand, instead of correcting them after, you and they will have an easier time.

And if you are able, through parent exhaustion and running around, to let go of other things in order to give yourself the space to think about what an action will mean to the kid, before you do it, that will go a long ways.

To an 18 month old's mind, surprise (taking the purse) is Not Good. So instead, you can in advance say "dear, in two minutes, mom needs her purse back." Or you can think "do I need this?" before taking it.

But lest I sound preachy, 18 month old kids are: a) smart, b) mostly helpless, c) awash in a sea of everything is new and what are the rules?!?, and so d) very invested in figuring out how to make you do things, because (a) and (b) and (c).

And, they're growing at a fast rate, so constantly hungry and tired, and way too young to be in control of their emotions, even if they seem intellectually on top of things (imagine this: if you were brain-transplanted into a new body, even with a lifetime of experience, how long would it take you to adjust? Well, that's a toddler, except take away the lifetime of experience).

If you provide structure and run through the HALT checklist when a meltdown seems imminent, you'll have an easier time.

Examples of structured vs unstructured situations:

Unstructured: here, tired, weepy child, have a cookie. And there's no way you're going to be receptive to eating that where I tell you because tired and weepy. No you cannot eat it on the couch.
Structured: here, not yet tired, weepy child, sit on the stool in the kitchen with me and have a cookie!

Unstructured: we're going to a restaurant, they may or may not have things you like to eat, and I don't know if you napped beforehand. [Meltdown occurs at the restaurant.]
Structured: now that you've had a nap and a snack, we;re going to the restaurant. Guess what? They serve mac and cheese, and they give you crayons! (and I've packed a snack and a coloring book for you, just in case).

Then there's dealing with the craziness, which for an 18 month old, or an adult, can often be anticipated and addressed as follows.

HALT: Hungry, angry, lonely, tired.

When you see a meltdown coming, or are in the midst of a full on tantrum, it's a handy mnemonic for addressing possible causes of the meltdown, that are more effective than saying "now behave."

Is the kid hungry? Are they angry? Are they lonely? Are they tired? Try addressing these issues. Hungry? Here's a snack. Angry? Give them time to talk or cool down. Lonely? Hug! Story time! Tired? Here's your blanket and a place to nap.

Even if you cannot address these things immediately, if any of the HALT items are true, then it's likely that any boundary setting you need to do will be more effective if you can wait.

All of these things seem obvious, but it can be really hard to keep them in mind when you've got the little love of your life in a whirling teary fury. But keep that mnemonic in mind, and it may give the two of you extra breathing room. That, and more leading than reacting, and I think you'll have an easier time.
posted by zippy at 12:43 PM on October 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

She's 18 months old, so unless you've told her today that she cannot eat a cookie on the couch, I'm not sure you've built an actual hill for actual dying.

One approach is to try to say No less often and use redirection and choices more often. Otherwise, with a toddler, it's really easy to feel like a crappy No Machine. Don't be so hard on yourself.

"Sit on the floor with the cookie, sit on the couch without the cookie" is a good example. Don't be so afraid of the yelling. "I'm sorry you are sad about the purse. We're going to the market now. It will be here later." is a fine thing to say, and her yelling, crying or screaming doesn't make it not fine.

On reflection, I wonder if what you actually need is better strategy for dealing with toddler tantrums?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:52 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

You know what? You're doing great. Seriously. You're being an active parent who is trying to figure out how to do your best - who can ask for more than that?

Everyone is going to have different strategies. I think that all of them involve a certain amount of the child crying when thwarted. At 18 mos a lot of parenting is manipulation (the bait-and-switch) and manhandling (you ARE going to be strapped into your carseat).

It's good you're getting a handle on this consistency thing now because it only gets more intense from here. (I say this as a mom of a 2yr old and a 4 yr old)
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:59 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a three year old. It is still impossible to reason with her half of the time, especially when she is cranky. Distraction and redirection are your best allies.
posted by gnutron at 1:04 PM on October 12, 2012

I've got your problem right here!

"As a mom, I am allowed to say no for not better reason than that I don't like something."

Yeah, don't do that. When you say "no" explain why, and make it a good reason. Trust me, your 18 month old can understand you, or at least will understand that you are being consistent for a reason. Once explained, you are free to enforce your "no", while continuing to kindly repeat the explanation.

My son is 18 months old and super willful (takes after me!) I try not to insult him by saying no without an explanation. The explanation is always in positive terms, and couched in terms of his safety and wellbeing. I'm not sure that he understands all of my words, but for sure he understands my intentions and it cuts down on his frustration.

Hope that helps. It takes practice, so don't give up.

I think speaking your reasons outloud will also give YOU more reinforcement that it is OK to set boundaries.
posted by jbenben at 1:19 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a lot of success, with my two (the younger of whom is about your child's age), with pre-explaining what's going to happen, and making sure to always end on the fun thing: "Do you want to go to the store? Yes? Yay! Okay, we are going to change your diaper (something he hates), put on a coat (doesn't mind the coat, hates the process), put on shoes (indifferent), and then go to the store (fun!)!" "Oh, I know you don't like diaper changes, but as soon as we're done, we're going to put on your coat and shoes and go to the store!" and so on. The two keys are specificity and wrapping up the not-fun things in the fun things. "Do you want a cookie? Yay, let's come into the kitchen and have a cookie!"

Redirection worked AWESOME with my first and doesn't work EVEN A LITTLE with my second.

Personally I pick my battles, and the ones I pick are safety and kindness, and then I accept that everything in the living room is fair game for destruction. If they're pulling all the books off the shelves, well, I do not like that. But it's not unsafe and it's not unkind. If they're trying to climb UP the bookshelf, that's unsafe and I stop that. If they're trying to pull the cat's tail, that's unkind, and that shit stops now. Play wrestling okay, wrestling near the table where someone might hit their head not okay, wrestling after one person wants to stop not okay.

Other than safety and kindness, we use "natural consequences" a lot. With your cookie example, that would mean she cleans up the mess afterwards. For us it was a lot of dumping out the milk cup on purpose. "Whoops! You spilled! Go get a rag to clean it up!" We'd make it sound fun, not punitive, but both my kids know when you spill you have to clean it up. It does lead to a week where they dump out their cups constantly so they can have the fun of cleaning it up, but that gets old and they quit it. You just ask yourself, "If I, as an adult, made this mess/had this accident/did this thing, what would happen? I'd have to clean it up/fix it/put it back. Nobody would come shout at me about it, I'd just have to clean it up." (In fact, if you were at a friend's and you spilled, your friend would probably say, "Oh, don't worry about it, let me get a towel!" rather than "Why are you always spilling your wine on my carpet??? GAAAAH!") I usually say, "Let me help you" because (obviously) they do a pretty terrible job, and then "Thanks for cleaning up!" The bonus is when I drop something, my toddler now comes running and says, "Mommy I will help you!" Whatever the "natural consequence" is, I tell them, "I will always help you if you need help, but you have to be the one doing it, I won't do it for you."

Anyway, may or may not work, just some ideas.

"she's eating a cookie on the sofa, which I told her I don't like because of the potential mess."

"I don't like it," isn't a rule -- "Yes, you may," or "No, you may not," is a rule. She can't interpret "I don't like that." You have to be very literal. Toddlers are very literal. "No cookies on the sofa, it makes too many crumbs." I don't think it does matter in the long run if she does or doesn't eat cookies on the sofa, but you have to be clear about what the rule is.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:33 PM on October 12, 2012 [17 favorites]

Response by poster: Reading all your answers it occurs to me that my problem is less enforcing a rule that I am certain about. My problem is being certain of my rules.

I always doubt my decisions. To continue the cookie example: When I enforce "no cookies on the sofa" I worry that I am being needlessly strict and pointlessly causing meltdowns. When I let her eat the cookies I worry that I am letting her grow up like a wild thing and will have worse problems down the line.

I guess it doesn't really matter which I do as long as I am consistent?

Also, I appreciate all the suggestions as to distractions and alternatives to a straight "no". I don't think of that normally.

The people who infer that I spend a lot of time reacting instead of acting, and who suggest ways of managing her moods and expactations more actively, are exactly right.

jbenben: I do normally explain why I say no in short terms. What I mean is that I am allowed to say "no" to things that inconvenience me (because I have to clean the crumbs off the sofa later), right? Not just things that are clearly dangerous and wrong.

DarlingBri: As to strategies to dealing with tantrums, I do the caveman thing: "Want! Want purse! Nom wants purse! But oh no! You can't have the purse right now, because we need to leave!" And then hug the kid. It seems to work remarkably well, even though it feels stupid.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:37 PM on October 12, 2012

"When I let her eat the cookies I worry that I am letting her grow up like a wild thing and will have worse problems down the line."

Every parent of a toddler worries about this, especially with a first one.

First, a lot of their worst/messiest/least socially acceptable behavior settles down. I've said before, my first child ate like a wild beast, no utensils, shoving it in, well past the age where other kids were using spoons and not storing food in their hair. But all at once he turned into Mr. Fork and wants a napkin in his lap. For normal toddler behavior, just keep setting an example. 9 times out of 10, it'll sort itself out.

Second, you CAN change rules ... but only like once. So let's say you decide to let her eat the cookies on the sofa, it turns into a catastrophe, and you decide the rule has to change. You explain the rule is changing, no cookies on the sofa now, and enforce it. It will be much more irritating to get her to adhere to the new rule, but she eventually will. You just can't go back and forth all the time. You can try out a rule, and if it doesn't work out, pick a new rule. Just accept that it'll always be harder to change a behavior than to establish it in the first place.

Third, "What I mean is that I am allowed to say "no" to things that inconvenience me (because I have to clean the crumbs off the sofa later), right? Not just things that are clearly dangerous and wrong." -- Well, yes, you are. With a toddler, though, your best bet is to create as much of a "yes environment" as possible: In whatever room your toddler spends the most time, try to create a space where very little is off limits and she can't do much to hurt herself. It's just a lot less-frustrating for both of you. It removes the source of a lot of these little conflicts -- messes and inconveniences she can't really understand, temptations she can't resist. Creating a "yes environment" was a hassle (and I still have some piles of displaced stuff in the corner of my bedroom that I still haven't sorted through!), but it was the biggest payoff of anything we did for our first. I mean, even the carpet in my living room is old and ugly I can't wait to get rid of it ... except I'm totally waiting to get rid of it, because if my kids spill something and it stains, OH WELL! World's ugliest carpet, now slightly uglier! We put a heavy canvas couch cover (from Target) on the couch, so jam handprints don't wreck the couch and can be easily laundered away. And so on. It's a little depressing as a living room for adults, but it's not for that long and it's saving everyone a lot of frustration.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:52 PM on October 12, 2012

You are TOTALLY allowed to say no to things that inconvenience you. We're in the middle of this right now -- we have a 19-month-old, and I take care of another 19-month-old 3-4 days/week. The first two weeks that I had two toddlers in the house, I kept up my laissez-faire attitude towards food. After spending an hour last weekend cleaning rice cake bits out of the carpet, I decided that, nope. Food must be eaten at specific food-eating locations (big table, kids' table, kitchen). So far it's been fine. I don't give them food unless they're sitting in their chairs (or are in the kitchen), and if they want to leave those places, the food needs to stay there. It takes a lot of monitoring, but it's going well. I just say, "The cheese needs to stay at the table. Are you all done?" (If they say yes.) "Great, let's put the cheese down and go play." It's way easier than cleaning up half-eaten, smooshed disgusting bits of cheese.

And, yeah, consistency seems to be everything. Take walks: my partner is okay letting our kiddo climb stairs and run around in driveways or on lawns while they're walking. I am NOT; kiddo needs to hold my hand while we're walking. It seems to be okay that my partner and I have these different rules, as long as we don't dither about them. Our kid gets it, and when he's frustrated by my restrictive rules, I say, "I know Papa lets you ___. Mama doesn't. Please hold my hand," and leave it at that.

(None of which is to say that I actually know what I'm doing. My partner is currently upstairs wrangling the toddler, who is loudly refusing his nap, so.)

I think you're on the right track. It is hard to figure out how to discipline them without turning into a No Monster. Trying to work with them can be helpful, as well as acknowledging the fact that they don't just magically know what their emotions are or how to deal with them. Adding to your purse dialogue, you could say, "You seem angry," or "It must be frustrating to leave the purse." It takes a lot of repetition. Yesterday I had a conversation where I said (three times!), "We have to leave the bear in the bike trailer when we go into the library. Can you say bye to the bear?" Finally, kiddo said, "Bye, bear. See you. Love you," and it was FINE.

Sorry if this is rambly. I have a lot of thoughts about toddler behavior. There are some books that have helped me a lot. They are:
The Emotional Life of the Toddler by Alicia F. Lieberman
T. Berry Brazelton's "Touchpoints," the section on 18-month-olds
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk
posted by linettasky at 1:53 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Consistency is so freaking important. My parents had ZERO consistency. One day you'd get smacked for an action that the next day would just make them laugh. Never any idea what was going to happen, if there'd be any punishment, if they'd created a punishment they often never followed through. It's really unnerving, like the floor under you keeps shifting around.

For what rules to create and keep, always remember that you are helping a small human turn into an adult. What would their potential spouse or roommate want to deal with? Crumbs all over the couch?
posted by Dynex at 2:36 PM on October 12, 2012

I have parented toddlers.

My way to survive was to make few rules but enforce the heck out of the rules I did make. The kids had to know that if I said something, it was LAW. This is not cruelty, this is not being overbearing, this is giving them consistency. And kids need that. They need to have a confidence and a foundation that if you say it, that's it.

Believe me, it will make life easier and more fun for you all.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:44 PM on October 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

Parent of a two year old here. I hear you on the rules thing, i mean is it really that big of a deal if my kiddo wants to play with my keys? The challenge is that you want them to feel safe and secure, and the only way to do this is to have those rules. I think it really really doesn't matter what the rules are, just as long as they are steady and consistent. One of the best pieces of advice I got about parenting is that when they're old enough, they will try to talk you into changing the rules. Be open to it then. Right now, she just wants what she wants, but what she needs is for you to have boundaries.

Someday, the issue may be one of safety. She needs to know without doubt that when you say "stop right now" she must stop.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 3:12 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

At this age you need to be 100% consistent. When she gets older you can relax the rules because she'll be old enough to handle some inconsistency and understand the concept of an occasional treat or bending of the rules. Right now she is just beginning to grasp cause and effect, and things will be worse for both of you if you're not always consistent.

This requires a lot of self-discipline on your part, because you have to be consistent with yourself! It is much, much easier in the short term to give in. The way to enforce this self-discipline is to decide what your hard and fast rules are in advance. Then stick to them, always. If you decide BEFORE it happens, based on what you think reflects how you want her to behave and what she is capable of at this age, you won't second-guess yourself.
posted by chickenmagazine at 3:36 PM on October 12, 2012

I can't read everyone's answers right now but I want to recommend this old school set of books that I picked up from the library. I'm reading Your one-year-old by Louise Bates Ames right now and it had been so reassuring and reaffirming. It starts off with 18-21 months (and then goes back to some other milestones). I found this phase to be really frustrating but, like clockwork, my 21-1/2 month old is coming out of it. My biggest takeaway is that I'm not ruining her yet by some of my inconsistencies. And this is a good time to figure out my rules and the best way to deal with her character. She can't reason or understand yet. She understands "no" but only a little and she doesn't have the communication or coordination to express herself. It's super frustrating for her and she takes that out on mama. I find being firm and redirecting works best. Even like, "hey look! A bird!" Seriously.

Get this book. Read the first chapter and know that this is normal and it will pass. In the meantime, learn about your boundaries and find some hacks for your temperament. I have yelled at my child once or twice in the past couple months when we both reached the end of our rope. It wasn't pretty. It's a time for reflection.

This is not a permanent phase and there's only one way through it which is straight on ahead. You're not ruining your child yet. This is practice and she's testing you hardcore. It's what they are, apparently, programmed to do right now. Hang in there!
posted by amanda at 4:20 PM on October 12, 2012

To clarify, they understand a heck of a lot right now. It's good practice to explain what you want but they can't really put your desires into practice. Try to set them up for success as much as possible.
posted by amanda at 4:23 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have found that at this age, there is less reasoning and more learning behavior. Cry, get what you want. Can't get what you want? Scream. Now that gets baby the results baby wants!

You have to show baby Nom who is boss right now. I know, it sounds mean and very tigermomish, but you are the boss. For now.

Decide not to be embarrassed by her yelling in public. Tell her she looks like a fool and you are going to just stand there until she stops. Don't yell, don't raise your voice, just lean in and say "stop, because we will just wait until you calm down." I know this works because I have cared for many children and I have one of my own.

I lose it sometimes, but I save that for when I am at home. When my daughter yells at the top of her lungs, I do the same. When it startles her, I tell her that is what she sounds like. I had to do that three times. No more yelling now. Whew, because it was annoying.

Like many have said, it is about consistency. If you buckle once, the baby will remember that and know that if she just has the endurance to yell and cry, she will get what she wants. When she learns you can out-do her, she will no longer do that. It may take time, but do it now while she is still young. You don't want her to learn a bad behavior because it will become habitual.

My brother is having this problem now. I told him if the baby screams in a restaurant, take him outside of the restaurant, tell him that is not acceptable behavior (in whatever way you speak to him) and stand there with him until he stops. Go back in. If he screams again, repeat. Or let him yell and scream at the restaurant like he doesn't exist. The worst thing that could happen is that you will never go back there again.

So, remember that you have to show her you can ignore the screaming because when mommy says no, mommy means no.
posted by Yellow at 4:31 PM on October 12, 2012

Be strict. Seriously. It's a million times easier to let things slide when they get older than it is to teach them new rules.

That said, you should be guiding her to making the right choice, meaning handing her the cookie and reminding her where she's allowed to eat it. "Here's a cookie, you can eat it in your chair. Oops, let's go back to your chair. Thank you!"

There are some things that aren't rules, you just want her to do something she's not currently doing. Put a time limit: "Two more minutes to play with mommy's purse, then we're leaving. Two more minutes." It's not polite to just grab her and grab it out of her hands; at the same time, you don't have to wait on her forever.

Good luck!
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:20 PM on October 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

One of the best pieces of advice I received as a young mom was this: even though kids will push and rail against it, they actually need and want boundaries. They want to know in any given situation where the line is, and it is so important to be consistent in instructing them on where those lines are.

It creates confidence in a child when he or she knows that if they do x, the result is y. Consistently. And not, "if I do x, sometimes y happens, sometimes z happens, sometimes sometimes Mommy thinks I'm cute, and sometimes she gets angry."

Yes, any parent will tell you that it can get frustrating to teach these lessons over and over and over. And over. But your child is watching and learning from you. Parenting is hard. But it's the best job you'll ever have.
posted by Gathering Rosebuds at 8:12 PM on October 12, 2012

Parent of a 4 year old here. I'm going to agree with a lot of above but couch it in a little bit of a different way. I suggest that before you say no to anything you really think about whether you will change your mind. As St. Alia said above: few rules but those are LAW. I am seemingly more permissive than a lot of my daughter's peer's parents, but if I do say no, she knows I mean it. And more importantly, she knows that no amount of wheedling will get me to change my mind (of course, the begging and pleading start a little later than 18mo, but the foundation can be laid down now.)
posted by gaspode at 8:24 PM on October 12, 2012

Here's the thing, you don't need to worry about being too strict. An 18 month old will always try to push every single boundary, that's how they learn. The fact that you are concerned about being too strict means that you wont ever be too strict, even when you are telling her no all the time. The fact that she can't eat a cookie on the couch is not going to hurt her in any way down the line.

Faltering on your decisions, on the other hand, will have longer term consequences. She will learn that if she fusses enough, she will get her way. This means that in 6 months when you tell her not to have a cookie on the couch, she will fuss and whine and then start throwing things and breaking stuff. You need to set a firm foundation that when you say no to something, that means no, and no amount of fussing is going to change that.

Also, you said you told her you don't like her to eat a cookie on the couch because of the potential mess. At 18 months, that's not the way to go about it. Just say "no cookies on the couch". Don't try explain why. Right now you want to teach her that there are rules, and she needs to follow the rules. Explanations about the rules are going to go right over her head, and cause her to lose focus on the important part of what you are saying (no cookies on the couch).

So, be strict, and don't worry about over doing it. At this age the best thing you can do as a parent is teach your child that when you set a rule, they have to follow it. They are going to scream for months, but over time it will get better.

We had about 3 months where my son would scream and fuss and fight over things at least 20 times a day, every single day of the week. Once that phase passed, things got a whole lot easier, and now (at 2 1/2), when I tell him no to something, he will either accept it, or if not, I give him a few specific warnings and he gives up the fight. We only have about 2-3 bouts of fussing or screaming a week at most, and usually they last for about a minute.
posted by markblasco at 8:45 PM on October 12, 2012

Lots of specific suggestions: How to say no without ever uttering the word

"Tired of saying no to your children, but not quite ready to say yes all the time? Children hear the word “no” many more times a day than more positives ones when it comes to their requests and behaviors. One unwanted result is a loss of motivation on their part to try again, or the feeling that they can’t do anything right. Want to try some alternatives? Let’s go ..."
posted by Carol Anne at 7:58 AM on October 13, 2012

I have a few other thoughts I'd throw out to you. Last night, my kid sat on the counter and helped "cook" the dinner. I tried to do this even a month ago (20 months old) and it was fairly impossible. Way too much of getting into the "wrong" things -- being super messy in a a-ha-this-will-get-mama-going way and it was a little too fraught to be much fun for either of us. (Here's the thread I started about cooking with toddlers.) So for her to be able to have just a scotch more maturity in the span of 5 weeks to make it fun is just amazing.

Yesterday was a great day with my kid. One of the best. However, we still did two time-outs. 1 for kicking me and the cat and 1 for hitting and spitting on me. (Oh the spitting thing is going to send me round the bend. I blame daycare but it's probably just a phase. Somebody tell me it's a phase!) Our version of a time-out is sitting on the floor together in a designated spot where I talk about the bad behavior and I tell her we will count to 10. So far, all it really does, is, well, give us both a time-out. Then I immediately distract after giving a hug. These things, kicking, hitting, being an asshole will be things that we will be consistent on forever and ever so it's good practice to do that now. But, there's no way she's ready yet to go off and sit down and listen to a timer or whatever. She's just not there yet.

But, with the specific cookie thing, I think others are right on that you just need to change the game. She doesn't get free-floating cookie privileges if it results in strife between you two. That doesn't mean she won't get them ever or that when she is more able to contain her mess that you won't allow it. You (and I) need to think in the day and be consistent with what they are capable of and what we are capable of enforcing. Eventually everything will be a negotiation and you need practice now on being consistent. I have nieces who are six months and two years older and I'm so, so lucky to have my sister-in-law to watch both the triumphs and the tragedies of raising kids. None of us are perfect but so far the only thing that I've seen work is consistency and ingenuity. Change the game. "It's time to sit in the cookie chair! The cookie chair! The cookie chair! Oh! You don't want to sit here with your cookie. That's okay. It will be here when you get back. Nope. Cookies stay here at the table." Repeat until it sticks. It'll stick!

Anyway, thanks for this thread, it's really helped me clarify a few things that have been going on around here and given me some resolve. And, really, get that book -- the series has a book for each year and they're short and super readable and very matter-of-fact which is lacking in a lot of modern "parenting" books, I think.
posted by amanda at 8:40 AM on October 13, 2012

What I did with my children, and still do with my grandchildren, was to take the cookie, drink or whatever it was and put it on the table. I would tell the child in question, that food and drinks belong at the table or on the counter in the kitchen. If, and when, they cried or threw a fit, I would tell them that they can scream all they want, but the rules are not going to change. The key is as everyone says is consistency.
posted by JAD'E at 11:53 AM on October 13, 2012

Totally seconding the Louise Bates Ames' books. You don't need to buy them, I bet your local library has them. And there's one for every year. Sanity savers!

Nthing deciding what your most important rules are and enforcing them without fail. At this age, when they do stuff they're not supposed to, half of it is them trying to get away with something, half is them honestly not knowing what the rule is. Repeat the rules so they can learn them.

What helped me was keeping the principles rather than the specifics in mind, like the kindness and safety idea above. It allows you to be creative while also being consistent. And it gives you a way to check in with yourself about whether you're just saying no to say no or if you really do need to stop it.

Also, be kind to yourself. Toddlers are jerks! You are doing hard and excellent work, no parent is perfect, and before you know it, she'll be four.
posted by looli at 3:53 PM on October 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thank you everyone who posted here for helping me be a better parent.
I marked Eyebrows McGee's post as best answer because it made me feel like YES inside - it speaks to my personality or something - but in the end just about every answer here gave me something valuable to think about.

I guess deep inside I thought redirecting the attention or removing all but the most hazardous temptaions was somehow cheating as a parent. So now I get to make life easier for myself, don't have to say no quite as many times and I still get to feel like I'm doing it right! Ha!

Also, all the advice on "how to say no without saying no" was helpful.

And you've given me a better idea on what is normal behaviour to be outgrown for a 1,5 year old and what needs correction immediately.

Well, thank you!
posted by Omnomnom at 1:50 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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