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Setting Boundaries With Toddlers (cont)

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3. Keep Your Word: Don’t go back on what you say. When you tell the child that you’ll turn the car around if xyz happens, then you really need to be prepared to turn the car around if xyz happens. And if you can’t turn the car around (say if you’re on your way to an expensive vacation) then don’t threaten that you will. That punishment can be something else, “I’ll turn off the music,” “You won’t have any more candy” etc.

This is an incredibly powerful tool. I know that any time I really do follow through, the next time I set rules, the kids listen because they know I mean it.

This goes for good things too. Don’t promise things you can’t deliver: “If you eat all your dinner, we’ll go out for ice cream.” If you break your word with positive promises, there is no reason for your child to trust you when you try to lay down the law.

4. The Power of Eye Contact: When your child comes up to say something to you, stop what you’re doing and look him in the eye. Let him know that they have your 100% attention at that moment. I realize every child is different, but it works for me every time. I can be on the phone, typing on the computer or struggling to keep my sanity when I can’t find my keys, but if my child comes up to me and says, “Excuse me mommy!” or “Mommy, look what I found.” I very intentionally stop what I’m doing, look him in the eye and listen to what he’s saying.

Chances are, the exciting story won’t take more than 30 seconds, but he will be satisfied that you paid attention and you can continue what you were doing.

5. Phone Rules: The one exception to number four above is when I’m on the phone. And the only difference is that I don’t let the child tell the story. When I’m not on the phone, I remind my child that we don’t interrupt mommy when she’s on the phone.

If something comes up, and my child tries to talk to me when I’m on the phone, I will look him in the eye, point to the phone and mouth, “Not right now, five more minutes.” This usually works. If the child keeps talking, I ask the person on the phone if they could hold on for just one second. I mute the phone, look the kid in the eye and say, “Are you OK?” Usually the answer is “yes.” “OK. Good. Mommy is on the phone right now, I cannot talk to you. I will come and find you when I’m off the phone. Do you understand?” And smile brightly with lots of eye contact. That will usually do it.

And obviously if things are not OK, I can use this opportunity to get off the phone and let the other person know I’ll call him or her back.

What I would not recommend is continuing to talk to the person on the other end of the phone and allow yourself to be interrupted by your child at her whim. We’ve all been on the phone when this happens, and it’s not a good experience for anyone involved. It goes something like this, “Yeah, we had a really good time last…Sammy! Put that down…sorry…yeah, last night. It was great when…Sammy! I have to talk to you later…sorry…what was I saying?…Honey I don’t know where your toy is…” Yuck.

This is just my humble opinion, but I think this teaches our kids that we are at their beck and call, and that our lives and conversations are not as important as theirs. Not a good message to send. And, it certainly makes the person on the other end of the phone feel like they don’t matter. Set the rules, be the parent. Kids like that.

6. Your Enemy, The Word “OK”: Do not end sentences with the word “OK?” I think we all say it because we want the child to acknowledge that she heard us. And that part of it is great, we should ask for that. But the word “OK” implies asking them if it’s OK for us to be the parents.

We all know there are plenty of two and three-year-olds running households in this country. And I believe that one word, “OK” has a lot to do with it. We’re the parents, not them. Obviously none of us has ever used the word “OK” thinking we’e asking our children for permission, but that is the effect it seems to have. Just my two cents. 

I’ve taken to using “Did you hear me?” or “Did you understand what Mommy just said?” And I don’t say it in a mean way or an indignant way, but in a kind respectful way. That way, I know the child has heard me, but I’m not asking him or her to sign off on what I just said.

I think when we say, “It’s time for dinner, OK?” It’s almost like asking them if dinner wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience. As opposed to, “Sweetheart, it’s time for dinner.” And if there is silence, it’s, “Sammy? Did you hear me? Are you OK?”


“Great, then come now. It’s dinner time.” …(cont)

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