It is Saturday afternoon. In 30 minutes you need to be out the door with a beautifully dressed family ready for a friend’s wedding. And yet your child is running around in a ballet outfit with a tiara, insisting on wearing that to the party. You, not new to this game, say, “We are going to our friends’ wedding and we have to get really dressed up for weddings! So, what you are wearing is not an option. Here are two great other options: This pretty purple dress or this cute sparkly pantsuit.”
Hopefully the battle is over at this juncture. However, sometimes our children “don’t like the choices you are choicing” them (Lerner, 2015) and then what?
You make the choice.
Then you, as calmly and gently (emotionally and physically) as you can, help your child out of the ballet costume and into the wedding attire you chose.
Unhappiness is highly likely to follow. Help soothe your child by empathizing with her and validating her feelings. Provide her with distractions and ways to start self-soothing. You only have 5 minutes now before you should be out the door, but you can put your sad (potentially wailing) child in the car with a toy, a book, or a special treat, and play his favorite song that he just cannot resist singing along to. (My sister played Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” just about the entire ride from DC to New York for her sweet 1 year old.)
Give him time to self-soothe and work it out on his own. He may need you to ignore his screaming, even though you obviously want to try to help calm the tears as fast as possible.
Miss the wedding ceremony if you must to give your child time to calm her emotions. It is better to miss the ceremony and make it for the reception than to have to leave mid-ceremony to take a screaming child home because you simply cannot take it anymore and the evening is ruined for you anyway. Both of you will be happy if you can stay for all the dancing and cake!
One morning in Pre-K, a typically happy, independent girl wanted her mom to stay at school with her. She cried for almost the entire hour of free play (the first hour of every day in Pre-K). My fellow teacher and I (and some of the other students!) worked to soothe and distract her. However, she ended up just crying on my lap (while I watched and had conversations with the other students) until she decided on her own that it would be way better to play with her friends than to cry about missing her mom. This is a large part of what being a 4 year old is about! Learning limits, how to make choices, and to self-soothe.
Lerner, C. (2015). I said I want the red bowl! Responding to toddlers’ irrational behavior. PBSParents.org