Kids Motherhood

The Art of the Outsmart: Five Ways to Positively Motivate a Toddler

Written by Marisa Svalstedt

During nearly the first two years of my daughter’s life I got used to doing everything for my little one. I’d grown accustomed to dictating the food she’d eat, the outfits she’d wear, and control the pace in getting to the places we’d go (because she didn’t walk confidently until around fifteen months).  While it is tiring doing everything for someone else there is something far more exhausting; it is far more draining having someone suddenly pushing back every step of the way, in every possible scenario. My husband looked at my frustrated face and simply said, “We just have to outsmart her.” I knew he was right, but it doesn’t always come easy. It takes patience, and test runs to find just the right things to do or say to make a once difficult scenario easier, but in time we both discovered some things that really worked.  When we aren’t yelling, demanding or pleading, everyone is happy and everyone wins. 

  1. Offer to help when you are aware they don’t want any assistance

One of the things that worked well for me is asking clearly, “Do you need me to help you?” I don’t think there has been a single instance when she’s come back with a fight or projected additional stubbornness after I’ve asked that question.  My daughter likes to climb in her car seat on her own, but sometimes she dawdles as means of controlling the situation, not caring mommy is standing in the rain while she takes her sweet time deciding if she wants to get into her seat at all. The moment I take a step forward and offer to help her if she can’t do it she is in that seat like a flash of lightning.

  1. Tell them you know they are really amazing at doing it all on their own

If there is a day my child is being stubborn about something I know she can do, but she simply doesn’t wish to be told, I’ll change the tone. For instance, if she doesn’t want to pick up her toys or put on shoes, instead of demanding as is my first thought, I’ll stop and say, “I bet you can do that really fast because you are so great at it!” Typically, she feels empowered by these words because I’m letting her know I’ve noticed her doing something very well that I’m proud of, and is happy with being praised, even if it’s over cleaning.

  1. When possible, allow a few choices

I love picking out cute outfits for my child, but there are times here and there when she’s just not in the mood to wear a certain ensemble, or she is fixated on that pair of purple pants that are sitting inside the washing machine.  I take out three outfits, lay them on the floor, and tell my daughter, “These are some pretty choices. You can wear whichever one you want.  What do YOU feel like wearing”? Nine times out of ten my child will become interested in choosing her own outfit, and lose her fixation over the purple pants or the outfit I previously attempted to make her wear.

  1. Ask for assistance

There are days when I’ve listed ten food options and my child says, “No thanks” to every single one. While I don’t want to wish to dangle the golden carrot of dessert as a consistent motivation for eating what I’ve made, it happens; however, I did find that often my child will respond to items she can help put together. I ask, “Will you help mommy make your meal,” and she is very eager to be of assistance. She happily stirs the oatmeal, drops the hot dog into boiling water as I watch her with my eagle eye, grabs condiments from the fridge, and carefully picks out her blueberries and strawberries from their containers all on her own. She feels proud helping make her own meals, and is therefore excited to eat what she’s put together.

  1. Bedtime is not the end of the party; it’s a time to get comfy!

“OK, get in and get super cozy,” are the words I use every night before bed. I don’t give my daughter a warning that it’s nearly time to stop playing. Instead, I tell her we are brushing teeth and getting comfy. She doesn’t see bedtime as the end of play, and therefore does not see it as something to avoid. Sometimes she falls right to sleep, other times she plays quietly with toys or her Hello Kitty guitar before nodding off, but she goes in without a fight, and falls asleep within fifteen minutes.   I recall always viewing bed as a threat of no fun. Seeing sleep as relaxing, cozy, and most importantly, not forced, works wonders in our house.

Of course every child and what they respond to is different, but after many hair pulling moments in my experiences as a first time parent, I’ve developed my own way of outsmarting my little smarty. Kids are very intelligent, and not always so easy to outwit, but one thing I’ve discovered is negativity is responded to with negativity, and while there are times as a parent that I do need to yell, attempting to persuade with a positive statement is often a lot more productive, and nurturing to their autonomy than participating in a constant standoff.

About the author

Marisa Svalstedt

Marisa Svalstedt is a stay-at-home mom living in her hometown of Bethel, Connecticut, with her husband, and their daughter. She received her MA in English from Western Connecticut State. In addition to writing Marisa enjoys photography, modeling, and crochet.

  • missfrilly

    You are so super smart!!!!