Two-year-old Michael got tired of walking around the toy store so he flung some boxes of Day-glo Slinkys off the shelves and then tried to total the toy train display with a plastic bat. With diplomacy dripping from her voice his mother asked, “Would you like to get into your stroller now?” “No!” said Michael. “Don’t you think it’s a good time to go home and nap?” This suggestion produced a tantrum of Hollywood proportions. Finally the poor woman wised up, picked him up, plunked him in the stroller and rolled him out of the mall. (He was asleep before she got to her car.) Being a parent would be far less challenging if all it took was giving gentle suggestions to children rather than handing out direct orders. But for the diaper set commands are de rigeur. Yes, you want to teach your child to make his own choices. But there are times when the best motto is (to borrow one of my dad’s favorite cornballs): “When I want your opinion I’ll give it to you.” You don’t ever have to come on like a drill sergeant. But don’t give your toddler a say if there’s only one “right” answer. If there’s no time to spare and your child won’t get into the stroller, exit the playground, or put down the electric cord you need to gently but firmly make him to do what you need him to, whether that means you lift him up or force dangerous objects out of his grip. Just a firm but pleasant (if you can manage it) “time to go” is all you need say. You’re the parent, he’s the child. You make the rules. And that’s the way it is.
Not only does being authoritarian when necessary make life run more smoothly-and safely-it also prevents you from overburdening a tot with decision-making she’s not really ready to handle. No self-respecting two- year-old will willingly get back into the stroller when fatigue strikes at the playground. She’s more apt to get hyper-to try to climb up that slide one more time even if that means she’s going to tumble off. She’s not old enough to know what’s good for her-so you have to make choices for her. Asking her a loaded question isn’t just unfair and manipulative, it’s more likely to make her uncooperative. If your child is feeling disagreeable (and, let’s face, at this age it’s their job to feel that way) all you get for your diplomacy is a major power struggle. To borrow a cornball from my mother: A family is not always a democracy. If you don’t want your child to have a choice in the matter, don’t give her a vote.