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Toddler looking Sad

I’m very lucky to have a very well-behaved little boy. He’s sweet and thoughtful, and a big helper with his baby brother or chores around the house. But even so, like any normal preschooler, he’s prone to occasional rough patches, and I like to have a plan in place for when they crop up. Here are some of the ways I handle a rough patch with my kid: 

  • Let him have lots of choices throughout the day. He’s small, but growing, and beginning to have opinions that he wants to voice and exercise. I let him choose his own clothes, pick what he’d like to eat for lunch (within reason) and help me to plan how we spend our time during the day so that he doesn’t start to chafe at the constraints of being a child with caring and involved parents. 
  • Limit my “no”s (or, choose my battles). If my son hears, “no” all day long, it’s as though he grows immune to it. The word loses its meaning. If I let him have (mostly) free reign, and just use my “no” for the important things, it carries much more weight. 
  • Three chances. I know many parents prefer to give endless opportunities for good behavior, but when I’m on my seventh time of the same request, I’m starting to lose my patience. Being angry and frustrated doesn’t help me to make great parenting choices, so I try to prevent getting to that point by only giving three chances to do as I request. 
  • Allow him to say his piece. If I’m asking my son to do something, I try not to talk over him or cut him off mid-sentence. Even though, as parent I have the final say, that doesn’t mean he gets no say at all. 
  • Remind him (and myself) that this behavior is rare for him. When he’s having a bad stretch, I usually say something along the lines of, “I’m surprised at this attitude from someone who is usually such a good listener.” By reminding him and myself that this isn’t how he typically behaves, I keep myself from slipping into treating him like a “bad kid.” 
  • Give him logical consequences (and use that word). My son’s a smart, logical boy (even if he’s not acting like it), so I make sure to explain to him what the consequences of his actions are. If he’s being too rough with his baby brother, he can’t be near him because I need to keep the baby safe. If he’s not playing nicely with his toys, the toys go away. Consequences that logically follow help him to understand what’s happening and to remember why. 
  • Leave room for a fresh start. Those logical consequences that I mentioned above are immediately lifted if he somehow fixes whatever he’s doing wrong. I also make sure to use language that emphasizes that this defiance is short-lived and can be fixed, by using phrases like “fresh start” and “rough patch.” When he feels like there isn’t an out, we both get trapped in a bad cycle. 

Every kid has tough days and bad stretches. I try to remember that it’s a normal part of development and doesn’t mean either of us is doing something wrong, while also staying firm and consistent. How do you handle rough patches with your child?

Liz Moorhead

Liz Moorhead is an English teacher-turned-writer and illustrator. She paints stationery, writes for a top wedding site, and blogs at Happy Sighs between walks to the park with her two boys.